The year-end holiday season is coming soon with Thanksgiving less than 2 weeks away. You know what that means: family and parties galore. You might be surprised to hear I tend to get asked about some charges more than usual after the parties. It's sad but true, during that time of year when people are getting nostalgic for yesteryear and dreaming of a white Christmas, they're also getting stressed out with the additional work of getting ready for the holidays or a little too relaxed with the help of alcohol at holiday parties.
Take a look at this list and plan ahead to avoid putting yourself in a position where you might get into trouble, especially if you like to drink. This year, let's all try to get along with each other. In fact, I'll go first. It's bad for a criminal lawyer's business to point out the areas where people are most vulnerable to getting arrested and suggest you avoid getting into those situations. But, that's what I'm doing here. These are the five crimes where I tend to see an increase of client inquiries every holiday season and some friendly tips to avoid temptation.
5. Reckless Driving/Aggressive Driving: We've all got extra traveling to do at this time of year, whether it's visiting family members who don't live with us, shopping for gifts and party supplies, and of course, going to those parties. Driving 100 miles an hour, weaving between cars to get “there” first, and fighting to the death for a parking spot are just plain crazy and dangerous. That's why it's a misdemeanor and not “just a ticket.” Plan some extra driving time into your schedule, so you don't have to go to court where you could face jail time, fines, and suspension of your driver's license.
4. Shoplifting: You've got to love the stores. They're always telling us how much more money we need to spend. Why we can even buy far more than we can afford if we just max out our credit cards and use layaway! The pressure is on to get the biggest and best gift out there, but sometimes it's more than we can handle. Take it from someone who knows—it's best to turn off the ads and stay home from the malls. Busy yourself baking cookies and decorating your home so there's no time left to notice all the shopping you feel bad about being unable to do.
If you do give in to temptation, it's best to talk to a lawyer about this right away. Some counties have a diversion program that may or may not be good for an accused depending on their individual life circumstances. Others don't. Some county courts even tend to impose jail time for all theft offenses, no matter how minor they may be. A lawyer can help you understand what you're realistically facing and plan to present the best defense possible in court.
Another variation is “discounted” gift cards that are sold in questionable places like street corners. If you're buying a gift card for less than face value, it might be homemade using a stolen account number. You could start the new year with felony credit card theft and forgery charges. Buyer beware…
3. Drunk in Public: Holiday parties can be lots of fun, but they can also be lots of drinking. Appearing to be drunk in public is a class 4 misdemeanor with the maximum possible penalty being a $250 fine. Because there's no jail time involved other than what it takes for you to sober up, courts don't appoint lawyers to these cases. However, some people worry about having any conviction on their record or being labeled a criminal for something so minor.
Lawyers can help you fight the charge in court. They can also help you negotiate an agreement with the prosecutor, maybe even for dismissal. Every case is different and it's unethical for a lawyer to guarantee results, but you should at least consult with a lawyer before deciding how you want to handle your case.
2. Domestic Assault: Believe it or not, a turkey leg was never meant to be a blunt object used to smack your cousin around. Likewise, stabbing your brother with a wing does not make him your “wing man”! But seriously, family get-togethers can be quite stressful. You've known each other your whole lives. Maybe there's something embarrassing from the past that becomes a topic of conversation at the dinner table. Maybe there's a past hurt that has not yet healed in the family. An argument develops and the next thing you, there's a punch or a kick or grabbing by the throat. The winner gets a trip to the jailhouse and a temporary protective order! Trust me, if you feel yourself going down this road, the best choice you can make is to leave and not come back for the rest of the celebration.
Domestic assault has some pretty serious consequences. There is a diversion program for first offenses, but it's not always the best choice, especially if you are not an American citizen or getting close to starting a divorce or child custody case. If you are facing such a charge, you will need a lawyer to guide you through the court process.
1. Drunk Driving – Somehow, it's not surprising drunk driving should be number 1 for this list. There's the office party, the family get-togethers, and lots of parties with friends coming up between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.
We all know drunk driving is against the law, except of course when we're drunk and tell ourselves we're ok to drive. If you have the slightest “buzzed” feeling, you really should play it safe and call a cab. .08 is not a hard number to reach.
I like to advise people who like the occasional drink to buy a personal breath tester. There are some available at your local drug store and some models even work with your smart phone. If you blow .05 or above, assume an official police test would put you over .08 and take a cab.
If you know you're going to drive, have just 1 drink early into the party and then switch to soda for the rest of the night. Even better, don't drink at all. Where does it say you can't have fun and let loose without getting wasted? This way you get to keep the memory of a good time without having it spoiled by the memory of field sobriety tests, and a trip to jail, followed by court hearings and harsh penalties if convicted. For information about what the police are looking for during a drunk driving stop, check out the DWI page of my website at http://raimolawoffice.com/practice-areas/traffic-defense-law/driving-while-intoxicated/.
Of course, if you do get in trouble with any of these charges or something else comes up, I'm always around helping people just like you. Call (703) 591-4868 today to schedule a free consultation and request a copy of my book about what it's like to go to court. Have a same, safe, and wonderful holiday season.