During the course of some years doing our job defending people, we have seen quite a few instances where the law has gaps or failures in the process that can unexpectedly catch people in messy legal situations. In some cases that we have seen, the individual might not even know that they have been put in a bad situation until a routine traffic stop. Warrants can be issued for your arrest without your knowledge. Jurisdiction for a proceeding might switch to a state with different laws unintentionally. Unethical but not unlawful debt collections can be brought against you. How can you protect yourself from these situations so you don’t get hit for thousands of dollars in court and law fees or worse, fines?
Honestly, you need someone who can research and find you the best corrective action. U.S. law is a huge body of documentation that by its very size needs a specialist who can tell you the right thing to do. And we are going to tell you that that specialist is a lawyer. If you find that you are going to have a change, are going through difficulties with your marriage, are getting in over your head in debt…anything.. find a lawyer or someone qualified in that area of law or it can end up costing much more in money and emotional toll. Lawyers that specialize in your area of need can help you when you can’t help yourself. It’s not realistic to expect that you will be able to navigate the legal system by yourself.
But sometimes, there simply aren’t any warnings that you will have because of shoddy police work, incompetent counsel or vague laws. In one instance, we represented a woman who had gotten in a fight with her husband. When he doubled up his fist in a threatening way, she scratched his forearm. The husband filed an assault charge at the local police station and the investigating officer simply passed it on to have a warrant issued for the woman’s arrest. While it isn’t required by law for the investigating officer to do anything else but what he did, a simple phone call would have told the other side of the story and the complaint probably wouldn’t have gone any further. But it did.
The warrant was issued and, as is the case in warrants, nobody informed the person the warrant was issued for. This makes sense from the standpoint of giving someone a chance to flee the state but in this case, it set the woman up for a very rude surprise when she showed up in court to file a restraining order. When she showed up, it was found that a warrant had been issued for her and she was arrested and spent time in the local jail while things were sorted out. It cost a lot of money to get things back to right. All could have been avoided if either the officer asking for a warrant was required by law to get a bit more information about an assault or the officer had take a bit more time to look into why a scratch on a man’s arm was being escalated to an arrest warrant for assault.
Jurisdiction is also an area where laws don’t always make sense for all parties involved in a domestic dispute. Imagine that you have lived your whole life in one state with your kids, then move to live in another state for a period of 6 months (say, to try to work things out with the father of your kids), that state acquires jurisdiction over your children in a custody case, even if you move back to your home state. So, if you move home, you better file a custody case immediately or else you will be flying across country for hearings.
You can be arrested and jailed for unpaid traffic tickets. For example, one of our clients had to fly from South Carolina to Texas in order to get a dismissal of an assault case that the alleged victim had already told the state she wasn’t pressing charges on – but they wouldn’t dismiss unless he was physically present. This was a class C misdemeanor that was punishable by a max of a $500 fine and zero jail time. He spent more than that on the plane ticket; walked in the door, got the dismissal.
Got any “fall through the gaps” stories? Share them below in the comments.