Washington, DC Criminal Lawyer Blog
|D.C. Misdemeanor Arrests Should Not Involve Jail Time, Group Says|
Source: Washington DC Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog
Friday, 17 May 2013 12:24
The Council for Court Excellence, a watchdog of D.C. courts, is proposing a statute that would require law enforcement to immediately release people who are arrested for non-violent, misdemeanor crimes.
The law would be primarily intended for those arrested on offenses like possessing an open container of alcohol or minor incidents of shoplifting.
As written, it would not be applicable for those charged with a felony or domestic violence (regardless of whether it was filed as a misdemeanor or felony) or anyone who is already on parole or probation or who is considered to be a potential flight risk.
A measure like this could ease many burdens for those in D.C. Still, it's important to point out that even if it does pass, we don't want to give people a false sense of relief that a conviction isn't going to mean any jail time. This law would pertain only to the initial arrest period. If you are convicted, a judge could still potentially sentence you to up to a year in jail for a misdemeanor.
The best way to avoid this fate is to avoid the conviction. The best way to do that is to hire a good attorney.
No lawyer can promise you a favorable outcome, but having one in a misdemeanor criminal case can bolster your chances. That's because in misdemeanor cases, unlike felony cases, you aren't automatically entitled to an attorney. That means if you don't seek your own, the court isn't going to assign you one and you'll be left to navigate the system on your own.
We're definitely in favor of a measure like this, which would reduce the amount of hassle a non-violent offender would face. The way it is now, a person arrested for urinating in public would be arrested, sent to jail and might have to wait there for several hours or possibly even several days before receiving a court hearing. Under the new measure, they'd pay a $35 fine and be released. If the person couldn't afford to pay the fine, they would be released to ensure there would be some measure of economic equity among defendants.
The council noted that if District officials adopt the proposal, police officers too would spend far less time and energy jailing people on minor nuisances that could easily be handled with a quick citation or summons.
The chances of this measure passing seem fair. You may recall two years ago that the council passed a measure repealing all criminal penalties for those nabbed driving with expired license plates that were more than a month overdue. The move came after two arrests made headlines: Including a mother with an infant in the back seat and another a Navy lieutenant commander who was detained for hours, locked in a jail cell, fingerprinted and photographed - because their tags had expired.