Should I lawyer up before my arraignment?
July 20, 2012 12:16 AM   Subscribe

I’ve been charged with misdemeanor drug possession (11377) in California after accidentally going through airport security with .7 grams of meth on my person. My arraignment is next week; what can I expect and/or how should I prepare?

YANML. This is my first offense, no criminal record. (I'm a 20-something graduate student at a reputable school, strong academic record, no children, live-in partner.) I bonded out of jail, and at my initial arraignment I was told the charges had been reduced from felony to misdemeanor and I should come back on July 25, which is next Wednesday. (The upcoming appearance is classified as another arraignment on the court website where you can look up your case information.) I believe I’m eligible for Proposition 36 (drug diversion), so I assume I'll be offered some kind of a plea deal, and that I should accept it. (Would there be any conceivable grounds to fight the charges? I think not, although it WAS one of those sketchy new AIT machines--it detected an "anomaly" in my pocket, I was asked to remove the contents of said pocket, and I did. Could my rights have been violated?) Is there any chance the case will be dropped altogether, or would that have happened at the first arraignment if it were going to happen at all? Is there anything I can say or do to encourage them to drop it? Also, are they likely to give me a drug test on Wednesday, and if so, would it be for everything, or just meth? I have stupidly smoked pot in the last week—wasn’t thinking.

I tried calling a couple of lawyers for a “free consultation,” but they were not helpful, were not good listeners, and didn’t really answer my questions—basically, they just wanted me to hire them. I asked the lady at the bail bonds place if I should get a lawyer, and she said to try the public defender first. I haven’t gotten a public defender yet—if I choose to do a Prop. 36 deal, will I even get a public defender, or would that only happen if the case went to trial?

Again, I know YANML and I am not seeking legal advice; I’m just interested in hearing from anyone who has had a similar experience or is familiar with how these cases are handled in California. Email: Thanks MeFites!
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You are a 20-something graduate student at a reputable school with a strong academic record. How does your school feel about your potential conviction? Because if you have something to lose there, from scholarships to financial aid to getting booted out of school, you should have a lawyer of some kind.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:14 AM on July 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

I know nothing about drugs or the US legal system but given what's at stake, even I can see that your question should have been "Help me find a shit hot lawyer in California".
posted by humph at 3:16 AM on July 20, 2012 [13 favorites]

Yes - hire a lawyer immediately.

If you choose to take drugs through an airport you're taking a big gamble, and yours didn't pay off. You need to address this sensibly, with a lawyer, as soon as possible. The only reason I can see you hesitating to lawyer up is cost - this is the risk you take with the aforementioned gamble. Pay it now, as much as you need to, and remember it for next time!
posted by greenish at 3:20 AM on July 20, 2012

I don't care if you have to sell a kidney on the black market to do it: you need an excellent lawyer and you need one NOW. A family member went through something (slightly) similar, and the hot-shit lawyer meant the difference between significant jail time and other, way more-acceptable options.
posted by julthumbscrew at 4:14 AM on July 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Call your local public defender's office to see if you qualify. Many times these attorneys know the ins and outs of your local courts better than anyone else.
posted by murfed13 at 5:04 AM on July 20, 2012

Yeah, get a lawyer. It matters.
posted by OmieWise at 5:11 AM on July 20, 2012

Also- to add, any attorney (including public defender) should be able to advise you BEFORE you get a disposition -- don't assume you'll get a plea or drug diversion. Attorneys often work every hard to reach these results - they aren't just for trial.
posted by murfed13 at 5:18 AM on July 20, 2012

You need to have this question deleted and, from now on, speak about the details of your case on with your lawyer. If you qualify financially for a public defender, you are entitled by law to have one appointed for you before taking any sort of plea, so your first step should be to determine whether or not you meet the financial qualifications for appointed counsel in your jurisdiction (the court or the PD's office should be able to help) and if not, your next step should be to call your local bar association and get recommendations for the toughest criminal defense attorney you can find.
posted by decathecting at 5:22 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your previous decisions include walking through airport security with meth on your person, smoking pot in the run up to your court dates, and admitting all of this online while you are trying to seek a plea deal. You should not trust your own decisions at this point. Hire a lawyer and try to clean yourself up.
posted by helloimjohnnycash at 5:31 AM on July 20, 2012 [40 favorites]

The lawyers you called won't answer the questions you asked, because answering the questions you asked is their job, it's what they get paid for.

You seem to sort of understand that there is some potential complexity to your case (or, at least, that there are multiple courses of action and outcomes). This is what lawyers are for. And by that, i mean, that lawyers are for people who think that a judge will care that the meth was brought to the airport 'accidentally'.
posted by Kololo at 5:40 AM on July 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

You need to hire a criminal defense lawyer with substantial experience defending drug cases. This is not something you can half-ass and the idea that you are entitled to a plea deal when the prosecutor basically has you dead to rights is absurd (that doesn't mean it won't happen, only that you can't take it as a given).

I am not a mental health professional, but I'm concerned that your perspective on things here is substantially detached from reality and/or you aren't being honest in your description of the situation. As others have said, the time to stop bullshitting yourself and others - especially your lawyer - on this is now. You are an adult who got caught with meth, not a teenager trying to sneak some weed through in a shampoo bottle, and you were too strung out to realize you brought it to the most privacy-invading place for 100 miles in any direction.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:57 AM on July 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

Get a lawyer and get into therapy/rehab. You went through airport security not just with meth, but with meth sitting visibly in your pocket. Then, in the week running up to your arraignment, you used yet another illegal drug. This sounds a lot like "hoping to get caught and stopped".

Get a lawyer. Get a loan, do whatever: you need an experienced lawyer. You also need some kind of drug help; your lawyer should advise you if there will be implications (positive or negative) of you starting therapy now.
posted by jeather at 6:07 AM on July 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

A drug conviction could affect your ability to get student loan money from the federal gov't--definitely get a lawyer.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 7:07 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you really want something like this on your record, looming over every background check? Would you like to rent an apartment, travel freely to other countries, or work in a profession of your choice? If so, get a shit hot lawyer, pronto.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:09 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get a lawyer right now. You might need to sell everything that you own just so you can afford this lawyer and if that's the case then that's one of the prices that you have to pay. I hate saying this, but there's a potential that you might lose everything that you have worked hard for in your 20s to achieve. You might also lose the opportunity to even have certain things in your future because of this situation that you brought yourself into. You need a very successful lawyer that can help you out.

Most lawyers won't help you out until you've hired them and given them your case to work with. That is fine. Look for a lawyer that does their job well or handles your type of situation and get them to help you out with this mess that you've created. You desperately need to consult with a lawyer on nearly everything that you say or do because one slip up can make the situation much worse for you.

Oh, and if you ask me, as someone that is NOT a lawyer "if there are conceivable grounds to fight the charges?" then I'd say "hell no!" When it comes down to it, you went into an airport with meth and you got caught. It could have happened with or without those "sketchy new AIT machines."
posted by livinglearning at 7:23 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone who faced similar charges in the late 90s and went with a public defender, I'd recommend hiring a private attorney ASAP. The PD who defended me was very competent but was so overwhelmed by her workload she just didn't have the time to give me the defense a private attorney would have provided.

As I sat in the courtroom, the cases with private attorneys were called first while the cases represented by the Public Defenders Office were the last to be called. There was a HUGE gap in both results and sentences between the 2 types of representation.
posted by buggzzee23 at 7:34 AM on July 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, if you can not answer this question without berating the poster, do not answer.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:51 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a California lawyer. I am not your California lawyer. Delete this question. Go talk to the public defenders' office to see if you qualify for their help.
posted by ewiar at 9:14 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have practiced criminal defense for minor drug charges in California.

"Could my rights have been violated?" No. They weren't, not in any sort of way that is going to make anything easier for you. And yes, I have filed my share of motions to suppress evidence in cases where there actually WAS a rights violation. The perp-gets-off-on-technicality-of-search scenario is an entertaining figment for TV shows; it doesn't actually happen. Least of all in an airport, possibly the most rights-free place in the entire country.

You need a lawyer right away. I wouldn't mess around with PDs unless you really cannot afford the $3-5k or so that it should cost to get an experienced local specialist.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:49 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh and obviously I'm not your lawyer either. Nobody here is your lawyer. Go get a lawyer.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:51 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

In case twenty people above me saying "get a lawyer" aren't enough: get a lawyer.

Your post reveals a dangerous naivete about the legal process. Has it occurred to you that you might be able to be convicted regardless of whether the substance was there "accidentally" or not? Or that your upstanding boy/girl scout cred might not even be admissible until the sentencing - that is, *after* you are convicted? Or that *you* could get caught on a technicality?

This is a situation where getting a solid referral, sucking it up and dipping into the savings account/borrowing some money is warranted. Pay for a consultation with someone who specializes in this area. There could be serious consequences and it sounds like you have a lot to lose.

posted by AV at 8:13 PM on July 20, 2012

Agreed--strongly--with all those who said to lawyer up, based on experiences in California.

My college roommate had some substance abuse issues and in between undergrad and grad school, roomie got caught hotboxing a car. When she called me to ask for advice, I pretty definitely told her to lawyer up because drug convictions have a huge impact on your future ability to get money through the FAFSA process; roomie also needed to qualify for particular professional (medical) licensing and a conviction would have screwed that up, too.

Roomie got a lawyer and got off with some diversion (possibly Prop 36 related). It has not affected roomie's professional or personal futures but it was looking pretty grim until roomie called that lawyer. I would oh so strongly suggest you do the same--this is one of the few times in which borrowing student loan debt for non-tuition purposes actually makes sense--because you have so much to lose.

Meth is not pot--while people in California tend to be pretty tolerant of folks who got popped for marijuana possession, the same is not true of meth. A conviction will affect your professional future in ways you don't seem to grasp at all.

Note: please get help for your substance abuse issues (maybe you need a semester off? Actual time in rehab? Meth's no joke), whatever else you end up doing.
posted by librarylis at 8:21 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few words to provide you a less harsh perspective of things:

1. You're not the first person this has happened to.

2. Others have turned it around after getting a drug conviction. Many others. You can meet them at aa or na.

3. Smoking weed after your incident doesnt sound like THAT big of a deal. Many people who use meth use other stuff. It may not be the BEST thing to have done, but don't let anyone shame you for having done so.

4. Having documented proof of being treated for poly substance abuse may help your case. Even if it doesn't it still may be a good idea.

5. Don't feel too bad about posting this online. I'm sure the da has better things to do than search metafilter for someone who had less than a gram. It may be a harmful to post personal info about yourself online but that's anther conversation altogether.

6. Get a lawyer by all means! I'm not a lawyer, but if I were you I'd find someone who's seen a ton of drug cases and not someone who's going to talk down to you like folks here have. If you take te right steps you can make it out of this situation. It's unlikely that you'll beat the case on a technicality like you discussed but ther is definitely a professional way of handling things.

Take care and good luck!
posted by shushufindi at 8:05 AM on July 21, 2012

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