Spring Break Arrests: Avoid the Common Mistakes

March 14, 2011

It’s that time of year again. Young students from all across the country flock to Florida for Spring Break looking to blow off some steam from the stresses of their studies. However, inevitably for some of the spring breakers, things get out of hand and they get arrested or cited for a crime. Aside from the obvious point that you should not break the law and get arrested in the first place; don’t make the common mistakes which can impact you for the rest of your life.

1. Plea to the charge at your First Appearance Hearing
It’s normal that once you are in jail that your initial thought is to get out of there as soon as possible. You may not be able to bond out right away and within 24 hours, Florida law requires that you must make a First Appearance before a judge. It is at this time that the Judge may offer to resolve your case for a fine or for “time served.” The natural inclination may be to take it and get out of jail. That may be a huge mistake. Depending on how the case gets resolved, you may not be able to seal or expunge that charge or any subsequent one for that matter. This could have an impact on your current or future employment. It could impact scholarships. It may seem like the path of least resistance at the time; but it could come back to haunt you. You may be pleading to a case that the State Attorney was not going to file at all. There may not be sufficient evidence to convict you for the charge. In other words, you may be doing the prosecutor a favor by pleading to the charge. Don’t waive important rights and defenses you may have just because you want to get out of jail; or you want to resolve you case as fast as possible.

2. Plea and fail to pay the fine or complete your conditions of probation
So you decided to plea at the first appearance hearing. As I discussed above, that can be a mistake. However, don’t compound it by failing to pay your fine or complete some condition of your sentence or probation. It is your responsibility to make sure you know how much your fine is and what conditions, if any, you have to complete as part of your sentence. If you get out of jail and fly back to your home out of state or out of town, don’t think you can ignore your sentence. It WILL come back to haunt you. Eventually you’ll have a warrant for your arrest for violating probation or your driver’s license may get suspended. In the age of computers, they will ultimately find you.

3. Fail to Appear for court
If you do bond out or simply get a criminal citation or Notice to Appear, do NOT ignore your court date. If you fail to appear (FTA), the Court will issue a warrant for your arrest and perhaps suspend your driver’s license depending on the charge. Warrants will remain active for years. They will ultimately catch up with you.

4. Wait for the State to make a filing decision
Be proactive in this situation. Hire a local criminal defense attorney to address your charge as early as possible. Please see my earlier blog post, Criminal Pre-Filing Decision: Don’t Miss Your Window of Opportunity!

5. Believe that you must return to Florida to resolve your case
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor crime, Florida law allows for you to resolve your case without having to actually appear in court. The process is called a Plea in Absentia. Your criminal defense attorney can appear in court on your behalf and file the Plea in Absentia while you remain in your home state. If your charge is a felony, your criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate a reduced charge with the State Attorney so that you can resolve your case with a Plea in Absentia.

Conclusion
If you are arrested on Spring Break or at any other time, remember that a criminal charge can have a significant impact on your life now and into the future. Don’t take the path of least resistance and ignore it altogether or plea just to get out of jail. You may be waiving important rights and defenses. You should seek legal counsel before you resolve any criminal case.

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