Former Public Defender Aaron Thomas shares tips on how to stay out of jail.
1) Don’t Do Two Stupid Things At The Same Time.
I learned this rule while in court with a client who was pleading guilty to possession of marijuana less than one ounce, a misdemeanor in Georgia. I advised the client as I did all others: be respectful, nod when the judge talks, don’t say a single word more than necessary. This particular client nodded his head, walked up to the podium, and launched into a tirade on how marijuana wasn’t that bad, was better for you than alcohol and cigarettes, and should be legal.
I was inches away from yanking my client away from the microphone when the judge gave a surprising speech to the courtroom.
“I’m not here to debate the harmfulness of marijuana versus other substances. In all honesty, I don’t know that an occasional doobie is the worst thing in the world—it probably is less harmful to society than cigarettes or alcohol. But the fact is that it’s against the law, and the law provides penalties for possessing it. Point is, if you don’t want to get arrested, don’t do two illegal things at the same time. If you have marijuana in your car, make sure your tags are up to date. If you’re driving without insurance, make sure there is no marijuana in the car.”
Light bulb went off in my head.
Most people know someone who has smoked marijuana for years and years without ever getting arrested or in trouble for it. How? They don’t do stupid stuff while they have the marijuana in their car, and then they smoke it in private.
Almost every marijuana arrest I would see was the result of not just possessing marijuana, but doing something else illegal at the same time. If you never get pulled over, the cops never have a chance to smell the marijuana in your vehicle. It’s only when you are violating some other law—speeding, expired tags, running a stop sign, improper turns, or some other crime that you get arrested for while having weed in your pocket. Rarely does someone obeying the law in all other respects get caught with dope in their pocket.
2) Lose the Need to “Keep It Real.”
Probably one of the most frustrating things I saw in my time at the public defender’s office was young people that got arrested for crimes—anywhere from small misdemeanors to serious felonies – who got caught up in the inexplicable need to keep it real.
What is keeping it real? Keeping it real is a need to show how much you don’t care. It’s showing off for the sake of showing off. If you get points for showing off, showing off in a way that shows how little you care about getting caught earns you double points.
It’s not enough to smoke some marijuana. You have to roll the blunt while driving a car by the police station.
You’re not just stealing a car to sell it for money and get away with it. You have to screech the tires out of the neighborhood and blow the speakers out with the windows down.
Where some crime is committed for an end goal—like selling drugs to get money, or taking drugs to get high—”keep it real” crime seems to be for the purpose of committing the crime itself. There’s no end goal in mind – just the knowledge that you’re breaking the law is the high.
I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to risk my freedom, I need to get something valuable in return for it. If I want a rush, I’ll ride a rollercoaster.
3) Get Rid Of Stupid Friends
If I’m not willing to risk my freedom for my own stupid idea, I’m definitely not willing to risk it for someone else’s.
Most states have some version of a law that says if you are committing a crime with one or more people, and someone in the group kills someone, you can be convicted of murder as well. In Georgia, it’s called the “party to a crime” statute.
If you go to Wal-Mart with another guy to steal TVs, and he pulls out a gun and starts killing people, you’re guilty for the murder. This is true even if you had no idea that the other guy was going to kill anyone. If you had a conversation with the dude before going in and you both specifically pinky-swore that no one would be hurt, and then he went and killed someone, you can be found guilty of murder.
The “party to a crime” statute makes it much easier to pit co-defendants against each other who would otherwise refuse to snitch. If you thought you were stealing TVs and your cohort began shooting people, you’d probably be much more likely to spill the beans on everything you know about the guy if it gets you out of a murder charge.
The “party to a crime” statute also makes it much more likely that you can get arrested just from hanging around someone stupid. If you’re riding in the car with someone who is driving 30 miles over the speed limit with a bag of marijuana in the car, (see part 1 above) you may be totally innocent, and you can still end up in the paddy wagon. If no one in the car claims the weed that the police find, guess what happens? The officer will arrest everyone in the car unless/until someone claims it.
I can hear the protests in your head now: But what if I didn’t even know about the weed? You can’t arrest me for marijuana that’s in someone else’s car, right? Wrong. Take the case to trial and argue your point, and hopefully you’ll win. This piece isn’t about how not to get convicted of a crime. It’s about how not to get arrested.
We usually think about getting sentenced as the time you are punished for your crime, but there is a lot of punishment from just getting arrested. In a typical felony arrest, it is not unusual for a person to have their car impounded, some possessions seized as evidence, fail to make bail, lose their job, lose their apartment (along with belongings inside of it), and several other consequences—all before a thing is proven. You can be found not guilty after all that, and it doesn’t change a damn thing. No one is offering you a dime in compensation for everything you lost. Take your permanently sullied arrest record and be happy with it.
Beating a charge after you get arrested is important, which is where a good defense attorney comes into play. But the only way to prevent negative consequences from an encounter with the criminal justice system is to avoid getting arrested altogether. Follow the above rules and stay out of county orange.
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