Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!! From Black Friday to New Years, the holidays and the biggest shopping days of the year are here again. That means that every retail store from Walmart to Kroger are not only trying to lure you in with sales, but they are also beefing up their security. Stores have developed elaborate systems to combat and prevent offenses ranging from credit card and check fraud, counterfeiting and shoplifting, and even pickpocketing and snatch and grab thefts. Undercover operatives roam the aisles and sophisticated camera networks spy on us from above. And where there are holiday parties there is also alcohol, and maybe even drugs. Police make hundreds of alcohol and drug related arrests during these few weeks.
Recently, I got a call from a mother whose college freshman son had been arrested for drug possession. I could see the expression on her face through the sound of her voice. It is the same timeless expression my parents had when I got in trouble when I was 17 years old. Growing up, I was the last of four children by nine years, so when an officer cited me for being a minor in possession of alcohol, my parents really weren't even overly angry. In fact, they knew (or at least had an idea of) what was going to happen to me. That is no indictment of my older siblings, of course (*wink*). It's just a fact. But even though my parents might have had prior similar experiences, they were still caught off guard by my teenage recklessness. They were still worried, as only parents can be, and desperate to know what steps to take to avoid the worst effects that being charged with a criminal offense could have on my future.
Another weekend, another festival in Atlanta. Music Midtown is over and Tomorrowland, another one of the world's biggest music festivals, is coming next. Thousands of people flock to Atlanta for concerts, music fests, art shows, and sporting events. It is the perfect opportunity to cut loose and have fun. But it is also the perfect opportunity to get into trouble.
Police swarm these events. Hundreds of officers in uniform and hundreds more undercover are lurking and waiting to turn your fun filled weekend into a nightmare. Thinking you are immune from getting arrested is the easiest way to make it happen. You will get careless and not take the proper precautions. I know what it's like to get caught up in the revelry. Believe me. I've been there. But you have to be aware of your surroundings, and you need to know who to call if something goes wrong.
Ever get into a spat with your spouse? Have you and your girlfriend or boyfriend, brother or sister, son, daughter, or parent been so angry at each other that one or both of you do something you immediately regret? Has it ever resulted in someone calling the police? If so, I'll bet you never thought somebody would actually be arrested and hauled off to jail, did you? You just wanted the police to come and calm things down, cool things off, right? Then you found out the hard way that that is not a police officer's job, and they are not your friends, didn't you? "BUT I DON'T WANNA PRESS CHARGES," you scream, only to find out that that's just "TV talk." Well, you're not alone. It happens every single day.
Georgia considers domestic violence to be any acts of unwarranted aggression between married or formerly married couples, boyfriends and girlfriends (if they live together, or if they don't live together but have children together - baby-mamas and baby-daddys), parents and children (including step or foster parents and step or foster children), and siblings; really, pretty much anyone in a domestic relationship.
Well we are definitely in the heart of festival and concert season in Atlanta. From Braves games, to beer fests, to neighborhood events like the Inman Park festival, Sweetwater 420 Fest, Atlanta Dogwood Festival, the Highlands Summerfest, the 4th of July, and many others, spring and summer in Atlanta means hundreds of opportunities to celebrate good times with family and friends. It also means hundreds of opportunities to get in trouble.
No one ever plans on being in a situation where they face being arrested. But let's be realistic. Alcohol, drugs, sunshine, loud music, and general vacation revelry put police especially on edge and make them ever vigilant and on the lookout for situations that get out of hand.
Remember Billy from Part 1? He was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession two years ago. It was his first offense and he did not hire an attorney. He plead guilty under Georgia's conditional discharge drug first offender law when he might have been able to take advantage of, and participate in, a pretrial diversion program. He was recently arrested again for the same offense and won't be able to take advantage of either one. Billy's situation illustrates the importance of people facing criminal charges to hire or consult with an attorney, especially first time offenders.
Now meet Brenda. Brenda was pulled over in Cobb County and received a ticket for driving with an expired tag and she was given a date to appear in court. Before she was able to renew her tag, she was pulled over again in Dekalb County and received the same citation. Brenda's Dekalb Recorders Court date was prior to her required appearance in Cobb County, so she appeared in Dekalb Recorders Court and disposed of her case. Brenda made a critical error, however. Without speaking to a lawyer, she thought that since she renewed her tag and her case was closed in dekalb that she did not have to go to court in Cobb. She was very wrong.
The importance of seeking the advice of a lawyer when you are facing a criminal offense, no matter how insignificant you think it is, can not be overstated. Not long ago i spoke with two people whose recent legal difficulties are a direct result of not hiring an attorney when they faced prior criminal offenses.
Meet Billy. Two years ago, Billy was pulled over in in Dekalb County and consented to a search of his car. The police found a small bag containing less than an ounce of marijuana and he was arrested and taken to jail. Although police officers may take it somewhat easier on you if you cooperate, my advice, generally, is that you should not consent to a search. The State is obligated to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty using evidence that its agents (the police) find and collect. You have no obligation to help them collect the evidence. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution protect us against unreasonable search and seizures and self-incrimination. But once you consent to a search, all bets are off. The police can almost do whatever they want. So don't consent to a search. Make them do their job.
Other than being an international city, Atlanta is certainly one of the United States' top five intercontinental cities. This past weekend was no exception. Between hosting the NCAA final four basketball tournament championship, the Chicago Cubs in town to play the Atlanta Braves, free concerts by the likes of The Zac Brown Band, Sting, and The Dave Matthews Band, and other fun celebratory events, thousands of Atlanta residents welcomed tens of thousands more people from all over the country to enjoy the festivities and the perfect weather. These times of the year are huge boosts to the local economy. But a lot of the money generated by these kinds of events comes from a source that most people forget. Criminal fines.
Any time Atlanta plays host to so many people doing so many different things, the many police departments within Atlanta and the surrounding Atlanta metropolitan area become especially vigilant. Officers work extra shifts and longer hours, so more officers are in more places. Police will issue hundreds upon hundreds of traffic tickets, and even more citations for other minor offenses. Police will likely make several thousand more arrests for offenses like disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, public drunkenness, minor in possession of alcohol, DUI and other alcohol related crimes; misdemeanor marijuana possession and other drug related offenses; different types of violent crimes like battery, domestic violence, assault, and possession of guns and other weapons; and theft offenses like shoplifting, fraud and identity theft.
Who shoplifts? That is really a rhetorical question. It doesn't have a specific answer. The shoplifter is profile-proof. There are certainly career criminals out there, those who are simply seeking a cheap thrill (literally), and those that just decide at the last minute that they want to get something for nothing. Women shoplift. Men shoplift. Children and adults alike, rich people, poor people, nobodies and public figures are all guilty of shoplifting.
A common thread of shoplifting, however, is that it rarely has anything to do with whether or not a person can afford to pay for the merchandise. The stereotype is, of course, the daring, adrenaline junkie teenager. But more often than not the shoplifter suffers from underlying psychological stresses that they are trying to mask or alleviate. Almost invariably, if you ask someone why they did it, "i don't know" will likely be the response you get.
It can become an addiction as strong as any other vice. Shoplifters know right from wrong. But when depression, anxiety, fears, and other stresses become overwhelming, the act of shoplifting takes their mind off of those problems, and the rush achieved from a successful "take" can be like a drug. What they do not acknowledge or admit to themselves, however, is that it only makes those negative and painful feelings worse. According the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, about a third of the people involved in psychological studies conducted on shoplifters suffer from some form of depression.
You might be surprised to learn how easy it is for one person to have a warrant taken out for another person's arrest. It happens all the time in theft cases; or in fraud cases, if someone passes a bad check; or in assault and battery, and domestic violence cases where police either were not called, or were called but did not discover enough evidence to make an arrest.
The procedure is relatively easy. If a person wants to take out a warrant for your arrest, all they have to do is go to the magistrate court of the county where the alleged wrongdoing took place and fill out a warrant application. The applicant provides as much information as they want to describe why they want a warrant against you. Once the application is filed, the court will send out a notice for you to appear in court before the magistrate judge. Here the applicant will have the opportunity to present whatever evidence they have to support their allegation, and you have the opportunity to defend yourself in an effort to prevent the judge from issuing the warrant.
Around the country, local governments are finding ways to confront and tackle the problem of underage drug and alcohol use. It is against the law for everyone to possess and ingest illegal drugs; and of course is already against the law for people under the age of 21 to drink. But over the last two years local governments have been trending towards extending the liability of underage drinking to children's parents and/or guardians.
Referred to generally as "party ordinances" or "host ordinances," these laws are designed to impose criminal penalties against the parents or guardians, or owners, or occupiers of residences where alcohol is knowingly supplied and furnished, and children are allowed to drink it. Two Cobb County cities have jumped on this bandwagon, The City of Austell and The City of Kennesaw. Now, when City of Austell and Kennesaw police officers crash a party, they will arrest all minors for being in possession or consuming alcohol, and they will also charge the people chaperoning the party.
Minors who are arrested for the first time might be entitled to participate in a pre-trial intervention or diversion program. If so, they will generally be required to perform such tasks as community service, get drug and alcohol evaluations, provide clean urine drug and alcohol tests, write statements admitting what happened and what they have learned from the experience, and sometimes to write a statement implicating who hosted the party and supplied them with the alcohol. These programs are important, however, because competing one of these types of programs results in a dismissal of the case and eligibility to have criminal records cleaned. Minors who do not qualify for a diversion program face a host of harsh and unforgiving consequences ranging from probation, fines, community service, and suspension of their driver's license if they have one.
Georgia law does allow alcohol to be furnished to those under the age of 21 in certain narrow circumstances:
The terror attacks of 9/11/2001 resulted in a new era of restrictions and laws concerning airport security. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) continues to develop new and increasingly invasive technologies and procedures to stop people from sneaking dangerous devises onto planes.
Lately, USA Today reported that according to the TSA more than 1500 guns were discovered at airport checkpoints throughout the United States in 2012. In 2011, more than 1300, many of them loaded. Through the end of November 2012, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport confiscated 80 handguns, the most of any other airport. USA Today quoted David Castelveter, spokesman for the TSA, acknowledging that people who probably "didn't know they couldn't carry them or were not aware they were in the bag" bring the majority of weapons that come through airports.
New laws taking effect January 1, 2013 could have a large impact on Georgia drivers convicted of DUI. The changes include new consequences for drivers under the age of 21 convicted of DUI as well as new rules effecting drivers applying for limited use permits during their probationary period. Generally, the new laws encourage convicted drivers to seek treatment and risk evaluation in exchange for increased opportunities to begin driving sooner. The changes are supported by legislators, judges, and criminal defense attorneys alike, and are considered mostly positive developments in the area of Georgia DUI law.
Have you ever sat on a criminal jury? If so, you have participated in one of our most basic and fundamental civic duties. Your decision will literally impact the defendant on trial for the rest of his or her life. Did the State do its job? Is the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, or not? What if, beyond a reasonable doubt, you believe the defendant is technically guilty but you simply just do not want to vote to convict him or her? Do you have a choice? Do you have to convict this person? Are you required, obligated, and bound to convict?
The answer may surprise you.
The answer is NO. You are not required or obligated to do anything that you do not want to do. If you feel the law that you are asked to apply is unjust, you can vote to acquit the defendant even if you still believe that he or she is technically guilty.
This is jury nullification. A man was recently found not guilty of a felony marijuana charge in New Hampshire. There, the judge actually charged the jury on their right to nullification before they deliberated the case by telling them that they could find the defendant not guilty if they had "a conscientious feeling that a not guilty verdict would be a fair result." That would be unheard of in a Georgia court.
Nullification does happen in Georgia, but it is very very rare because people as jurors just simply don't know they can do it. If they did, it would probably happen on a much larger scale. Jurors are typically fair-minded people, but when defendants are technically guilty of the offense for which they are accused, most jurors feel they have no choice, even if they believe a conviction and punishment for the defendant's actions would be unfair. For instance, what if you believe, as the New Hampshire jury may have believed, that use of marijuana should be legal and the laws against such use are too strict and punished too severely? You could do exactly what the New Hampshire jury did. Or, what if you were sitting on a jury deciding the fate of someone accused of shoplifting a loaf of bread and peanut butter because she and her child were homeless and hungry? Technically speaking, the fact that she is guilty under the law is probably undisputed. Are you required to vote to convict her? No. You are not.
So the next time you find yourself on a criminal jury, and a person's life literally hangs on your decision, listen to the facts carefully and ask yourself how you would want to be treated if your roles were reversed. Because even if you believe the facts show the defendant to be technically guilty, you still have a choice.
Throughout the year, and especially during the holiday season, many people find themselves in desperate financial circumstances. When shopping for themselves or loved ones for food, or clothing, or other items, many people will take risks that they otherwise would not take. From undercover agents posing as shoppers to cameras placed throughout the store, most retail establishments are armed with sophisticated measures to combat and respond to theft. If a person is detected by store security, they can be held and detained for a reasonable time for investigative purposes until police arrive.
Georgia law defines shoplifting as any act by someone who (1) conceals or takes possession of the goods, (2) alters the price tag, (3) transfers the goods from one container to another, (4) interchanges the label or price tag, or (5) wrongfully causes the amount paid to be less than the merchant's stated price for the merchandise. OCGA 16-8-14(a).
Georgia law changed this year making the theft of an item, or items with a collective value of $500 or more a felony. This is up from $300. If a person is arrested for misdemeanor shoplifting they face up to a year in jail and/or probation, and up to a $1000 fine. Some things, however, make the potential consequences much worse. A second conviction for misdemeanor shoplifting carries a minimum $500 fine; and a third conviction carries a sentence of 30-120 days in jail or house arrest; and a fourth conviction for shoplifting, regardless of the value of the item/s taken, is a felony. A person faces 1-10 years in prison for felony shoplifting.
An arrest for anything can be a life altering experience. But arrests for theft offenses can have particularly devastating consequences making it extremely difficult to seek future employment. That's why many jurisdictions offer pretrial intervention and diversion programs for first time offenders as an alternative to prosecution, affording them opportunities to clean their records and get a second chance.
Throughout the year, but especially during holidays when retailers are particularly vigilant, call The Hirsch Firm if you find yourself needing help and guidance through the court system due to an arrest for shoplifting.