I have been a criminal defense attorney for over 20 years, and have spent almost all of that time in New Orleans. Over the course of my career, I have handled hundreds of cases arising out of arrests during New Year’s Eve and the Sugar Bowl.
New Orleans is a popular destination around the holidays, and this time of year I get a lot of phone calls and emails looking for advice about how to handle what for many is an inevitable brush with the law. In that spirit, I have compiled a list of my top 5 things everyone should know about a New Year’s Eve or Sugar Bowl arrest.
1. The worst is probably behind you. If you are reading this post from the comfort of your home or hotel room, it is extremely likely that the worst part of this experience is already over. For most kinds of cases that stem from “party-related” arrests, the time you just spent in jail after your arrest is almost certainly going to be the only time you spend behind bars. Obviously, the more serious the charges the more likely you might be looking at jail time, but in the vast majority of cases I handle around the holidays, the odds of serving any amount of jail time are pretty small.
2. You will have to go to court. Despite what the officer who arrested you told you, there is no way to call the court and pay a fine on your case – you will receive a date to appear in court, and you need to be there. If you fail to appear on your appointed court date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest, but 2b. In most cases an attorney can appear in court for you. The bright side of having to appear in court, is that if you can’t be there, an attorney can appear for you on any misdemeanor or municipal charge. (It is possible for an attorney to appear for an absent defendant on a felony, but it requires some special consideration). Don’t panic if your vacation is ending and you have a date to appear after you are scheduled to leave. There is a simple solution.
3. You don’t need a lawyer in Municipal Court. While I generally think it is a good idea to be represented in court, the simple truth is that the law does not require you to appear with a lawyer if your case is in New Orleans Municipal Court. You can represent yourself if you wish. I give people advice all of the time, and even though it means I might lose a fee, sometimes my advice is that you don’t need to hire a lawyer.
4. You should never plead guilty “just to get it over”. People tell me all the time, “I just want to plead guilty to get it over with”. While the decision to plead guilty or not-guilty is your’s to make, and quick guilty plea might keep a your case from hanging over your head, the long-term effects of that plea can hang over you for a lifetime. Misdemeanor and municipal charges are criminal convictions – even if you just pay a fine; and felony convictions can have devastating effects on your future. Most misdemeanor and municipal charges can be dismissed, or at least resolved in a way that minimizes fines and protects a defendant’s long-term record. Even felony crimes have the potential to be reduced or dismissed with some help from a lawyer.
5. You might actually save money if you hire a lawyer to represent you. While many people have the impression that lawyers are prohibitively expensive, when you factor in the court fines and travel expenses you might save by hiring a lawyer to handle your case, it is very possible what you spend to hire a lawyer will be far less than what you otherwise would have to spend to represent yourself. When you add in the additional benefit of potentially achieving a better result, and not having to worry about the mechanics of making court appearances in an unfamiliar setting, the cost to benefit ratio of having the assistance of a lawyer can be appealing.