client avoids losing Job by getting lawyer right away on desk appearance ticket

I will call our client  Jane.  Jane is a licensed professional who was arrested for shoplifting and given a DAT to appear about three months in the future.  The police officer who arrested her told her it was no big deal and that she did not need to hire a lawyer, even though she was a professional and clearly ineligible for a Government paid lawyer.

Nevertheless, on the correct assumption that the police officer who arrested her was not the person to rely on for legal advice, Jane contacted me.  Not only was she worried about the fact that she had been arrested, but she was highly concerned that she was going to lose her professional license, at least temporarily.  She was worried about her license because it just so happened that Jane's professional license was due to renew in two months, and one of the questions on her renewal asked whether she had any pending criminal charges against her.  She realized that she was going to have to answer yes to that question, and that at least until the case was settled, she may lose her license to practice her profession.  

The problem was that the Court date scheduled was three months out.  Because Jane contacted me, I was able to advise her that the District Attorney's Office in the county where her case was being heard, would sometimes agree to have cases advanced if a compelling reason for advancing them can be established.  I advised Jane that in this instance, they might agree to advance her case to a date prior to her recertification deadline.

I reached out to the appropriate person in the District Attorney's Office and explained the situation.  After some consideration, she agreed to advance the case to a date before Jane's certification was due.

But while this was of course great news to Jane, this only solved part of the problem.  While we now had a better date, there was still the issue of how we were going to solve the case in the best possible way to preserve her chances of not having problems with her professional recertification.

One of the nicest ways to solve shoplifting charges, that works for most people, is something called an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal, where in exchange for community service or participation in a counseling session, or both, a case is put down for a delayed dismissal six months later.  In the end the case gets dismissed and no plea of guilt to anything is ever recorded.

I was confident that in Jane's case, we would be able to negotiate an ACD, but the problem in her case was the six month delay before it would be dismissed.  Sometimes, the District Attorney and the Court will agree to shorten the delay period, but not until the community service or the counseling session is completed, and the backlog on that can sometimes be considerable.  Jane was concerned, and it was a legitimate concern, that the "delay period" would cause her case to still be considered a "pending case" to the organization evaluating her recertification.  While I could provide her an argument that an ACD'd case is not "pending," I was not motivated to put her in a position of needing an argument to defend herself against a recertification denial because they decided that she misrepresented her situation.

I therefore suggested that we take a proactive approach so that we could come to Court on her new date with something to show that she was taking steps herself to address the issue and not wait for the Court to tell her what to do.  I recommended that Jane register for and complete a Stoplift counseling session even before being mandated by the Court.  I wanted to come to Court with a certificate of completion from Stoplift in our hands with a view toward then being able to negotiate a terribly short ACD or even an outright dismissal.  Our alternative was to settle the case with a plea to a non-criminal offense and a fine on the theory that although this would be pleading guilty to something, it would be a trivial offense like a parking ticket and it would be concluded that day, without any debate about it being a "pending" case.

When we got to Court, I was able to meet with the District Attorney supervisor who we were able to speak to about the situation and this supervisor ultimately agreed, in part because Jane had already completed the Stoplift class, simply to dismiss the case there and then.

This immediate and outright, no-strings dismissal would absolutely never have happened had Jane taken the advice of the police officer and simply shown up to Court by herself on the originally scheduled date hoping for the best.

By: Don Murray, Esq., partner at Shalley and Murray

NOTE: It is important to remember that the outcome of any particular case, including the outcome discussed above is not some sort of guarantee that all similar cases will turn out the same way.  The case described above involved several factors that made it highly specific.  There are also variables of the court, the particular assistant district attorney's views, existing policies of various prosecutor offices, and others.  The case study above is meant to illustrate the general value of taking Desk Appearance Tickets seriously and getting legal help long before the Court appearance date.