When celebrities, a public figure or anyone, really, makes the news for bad behavior – drunk driving, speeding, disorderly conduct – it seems safe to say that most of us are probably embarrassed for them, or disappointed. There may also be a whiff of schadenfreude or relief that we aren't the ones having to deal with a mug shot.
But there is much more than embarrassment and shame involved when you're arrested for a misdemeanor. While it might not sound too complicated – it isn't a felony for which you could wind up in prison for years – having a misdemeanor can be very complex and costly to deal with.
So if you're simply curious or you want some ammunition to lecture a reckless teenager, here are some of the costs you can expect to pay for a misdemeanor.
A fine. At the very least, plan on paying a fine for most misdemeanors. The fines, of course, are all over the map, depending on the state and what you've done. Driving under the influence, a DUI, is not surprisingly one of the worst misdemeanors you can commit since it's so dangerous and closely related to a felony (and if someone is injured in a DUI, it probably will be charged as a felony).
A first-time DUI in California costs about $2,000, according to Tomas Flores, an attorney in San Jose, Calif., and the county will probably allow you to make payments rather than fork over two grand in one lump sum. "Not making timely payments may be a violation of the defendant's probation," warns Flores.
In other parts of the country, the fines are less punitive. In Ohio and Georgia, for instance, expect to pay around $250 or $300 to $1,000 for a first-time DUI, and the fees get higher if you're a repeat offender.
As some states legalize it, it will be interesting to see if fines go down for being caught with recreational marijuana. A few years ago, Ben Nettleton, a Houston-based Web editor for Global Healing Center, a natural health and organic living online store, was driving with a friend to Burning Man, an annual art festival in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada. He was pulled over for a minor traffic infraction – taking a turn too quickly, he thinks – and the officer found weed in the car. "I can't confirm or deny who it belonged to, but we both got citations for it," Nettleton recalls.
Hiring a lawyer. Not every misdemeanor will require one, but if you do go to trial, it won't be cheap.
"The average pretrial attorney fee for a misdemeanor crime is around $4,000. This covers investigation costs, court hearings and negotiations with the judge and prosecutor," Flores says, speaking, again, for California; Nettleton spoke to a Nevada lawyer who wanted $2,000. Since he had an otherwise clean record, he decided he'd be better off just paying the fine, which was $1,200.
A slew of unpredictable extra costs. Not always, of course, but sometimes, a judge will make a defendant take an anger management class, a DUI class or a parenting skills class, "depending on the conviction," Flores says. "These classes can cost from $2,000 to $10,000. Missing even one class can result in a violation of probation and an issuance of an arrest warrant."
One business consultant and speaker in New York, who asked to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, told a story of how he was pulled over for driving under the influence a few years ago. "I spent a night in jail while my wife was pregnant, not knowing where I was until around 3:30 a.m. Not fun at all," says our anonymous consultant.
The consultant sometimes travels to Canada for business and says he was turned away at the border when officials realized he had the DUI misdemeanor on his record.
Unable to enter the country, he lost his $5,000 speaking fee, and an estimated $600 in time and travel money. Knowing he couldn't get his travel problems resolved in time for a second Canadian speaking event, he had to turn down that gig, setting him back another $5,000. He eventually applied for "criminal rehabilitation," which required a filing fee of $300, whether the Canadians approved the application or not (and they didn't). For the next eight years, he paid a $125 fee to get a temporary visa each time a Canadian client wanted him to cross the border.
"Finally, after 10 years, they considered me rehabilitated after I provided fingerprints to the FBI, who then had to certify that I was not a dangerous criminal, and filled out massive paperwork, including getting written references from three personal friends and three professional acquaintances," he says. He also spent $2,500 for a lawyer to represent him during his case and had to take a $75 eight-evening course that stretched out over two months.
Incredibly, his insurance company never discovered the DUI, so his rates didn't go up (they often will, sometimes three to four times higher than what you were originally paying, according to industry experts).
Career costs. "I was a confused teenager who made a lot of mistakes," says Heather K. van Werkhooven, 33, a Princeton, N.J., social media and content manager for CareerFuel.net. She was a heavy user of drugs, including heroin, when she was arrested 13 years ago.
"I still have to check the box when applying to some jobs and academic programs," van Werkhooven says, admitting that in the past, when she wasn't hired or accepted into an academic program, she would always wonder if it was because of that misdemeanor.
As Roy Cohen, a career counselor and executive coach, says, "The opportunity costs for breaking rules and laws are enormous. I have also worked with clients who were falsely accused of actions that were never proven. Nevertheless, the damage to a reputation when a Google search uncovers the incident is infinite. So are the challenges in finding a new job."
Not that a misdemeanor, even a serious one, has to be fatal to a career. Van Werkhooven, for instance, eventually got her act together, attended a community college and earned a bachelor's degree from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. She earned her master's at the London School of Economics.
"See, I didn't turn out too bad," van Werkhooven says.
Still, the next time you think about driving after having a few too many, begin to litter, plan to loiter, find yourself getting into a fist fight, consider joining the Mile High Club or attempt anything that could get you into legal trouble, consider the financial costs that may be involved. And then do – well, anything else.