Many people — not all, of course! — are celebrating Christmas today. I don’t want to rain on your Christmas parade, but as a criminal defense lawyer, writing on a criminal defense blog, on a criminal defense website, I would be remiss if I didn’t give you a little Christmas warning. Unlike a lot of my posts, it will be short — I promise — because I don’t really want to ruin your holiday cheer. You don’t want criminal charges for Christmas!
Christmas Can Be Stressful
For most everyone, Christmas is a time of happiness, joy, and peace. But for many, it can also be a time of great stress. Even the least likely to commit crimes may find themselves inadvertently trapped in the legal system.
Every year, my Facebook feed is filled with people anxiously looking forward to Christmas. Some are anxious for it to hurry up and get here, because they know it as a time of family, friends, and presents. But anxiety over trying to get everything done makes some people dread the arrival of Saint Nick. And then there are those Scrooges who can’t wait for it to be over. (Is it because they will have a reformation in their lives, and they can’t wait to send a nice fat goose to Tiny Tim? I have my doubts.)
I decided to send my best Christmas wishes, and a Christmas warning, for all you anxious folk out there.
Finances, Families, and Felonies
I wish I did not need to point this out, but holidays increase the strain on pocketbooks, and — with COVID not absent, but manageable — an increase in the people getting together in groups. More people drink more alcohol than at other times of the year.
You don’t have to be a bad person to have a bad encounter during Christmas, whether it be at home, out shopping, or on the road.
According to some domestic violence groups, and police departments, Christmas brings out both the best, and worst, in people: days of celebration and love also bring an increase in domestic violence. Others say the evidence of increased domestic violence during the holidays is “inconclusive.”
Regardless, domestic violence charges may result from a momentary lapse in judgment. A flash of anger. Impulse control reduced by drinking. Take this as your Christmas warning: They have the potential to ruin your life.
In California, Penal Code secction 273.5, subdivision (a) — a frequent charge for people accused of domestic violence — can be a strike. As in “three strikes and you’re out.” This charge can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. In California, we call such crimes “wobblers.” But, even as a misdemeanor, domestic violence comes with serious consequences, including the abolition of the Constitution as it applies to your gun rights. (Something criminal defense lawyers like me are working to fix.)
Drinking, Drugs, and Distracted Driving
I hope it is no surprise to you that drinking increases in the period between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Some people drink more than twice as much in the time between Thanksgiving and the New Year as they do during the rest of the year!
Christmas warning! The po-po know this. California’s Highway Patrol is on “maximum enforcement patrol.”
This might surprise you: a number of DUI arrests result because someone’s tail light was out. (I saw someone pulling away from a house in my cul-de-sac just yesterday with a tail light that was out. I wanted to warn them, but it was too late.) Or maybe you’re pulling out of a bright parking lot after a holiday party, and didn’t realize you’d forgotten to turn on your headlights.
Driving under the influence of either drugs, alcohol, or both can significantly impact your life. Aside from the (quite large) fines, and the cost of going to DUI school, you may have to hire a lawyer — unless you’re one of the lucky ones who ends up with a public defender. In addition, in some circumstances, driving under the influence can lead to a charge of vehicular manslaughter, or even murder.
What most people don’t know is that “DUIs are different.” For one thing, good luck getting a judge who remembers that in the United States, you are innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. For another, DUIs don’t just involve criminal charges: there’s also the completely separate track with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Your rights with the DMV are significantly fewer than in a criminal court. In some cases, the consequences can be just as bad, or worse.
And if you kill someone while DUI? You might face vehicular manslaughter, or even murder, charges.
But you don’t have to be impaired by some substance while driving. Trying to get to that holiday party, but running late? Think twice about texting to let people know. While not as serious, when it comes to criminal charges, distracted driving can also result in death. You could kill yourself, someone you love, or another stranger just trying to get home for Christmas.
Let This Be Your Christmas Warning
I’m sorry to have written such a downer post. I had no choice. To paraphrase Marley’s Ghost,
Being a criminal defense lawyer is no light part of my penance. I am here today to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping a criminal fate. A chance and hope I am trying to procure for you Ebenezers.— William P. Coleman, “The warning that Jacob Marley’s ghost gave to Scrooge” (December 23, 2007)
On the bright side, most of us will enjoy nothing but friends, family, and fabulous gifts. Nobody will run into any trees. And, if you’re careful, the only spirits you encounter will not be coming to haunt you.
If, however, such should be the case, I’m available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even on Christmas and New Years.