March 20, 2013 • Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
By now anyone who is (or was) a fan of the 1980s British music scene knows that Bauhaus frontman and goth godfather Peter Murphy was arrested for hit & run DUI in Los Angeles County on Saturday. Judging from the reaction in the social media universe, fans were more disturbed by the fact that ‘ol Mr. Moonlight was driving a Subaru Forester than they were by the fact that he was arrested. I get it.
But there are some interesting things to learn here based on the way the story developed.
Lesson #1: The charges you are arrested for are different from the charges filed against you. Here’s how it works: If you get arrested, the police agency who arrested you and set a bail. The initial amount of bail is determined by a “bail schedule” which varies from county to county. If the police think you’re a flight risk, the bail will be set higher. The police also write a report. They then give this report to a local prosecutor. The local prosecutor makes the ultimate decision as to which charges to file.
In Peter Murphy’s case, he was arrested on suspicion felony DUI, hit and run, and possession of methamphetamine. Because he is not a US citizen and lives in Turkey, the police thought he was a flight risk. So they set bail at $500K.
Once the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office took a look at the report, they didn’t think the facts warranted a felony. All the charges Murphy was arrested on are what’s known as “wobblers”, which are offenses that can be filed as felonies or misdemeanors. The DA decided that the evidence presented did not rise to the level of a felony, so they filed misdemeanor charges instead and his lawyers were able to convince the judge to let him out without posting any bail at all.
Lesson #2: In California, if the defendant has hired an attorney, he or she is not required to appear in court for misdemeanors: This is why Peter Murphy can go on tour while the case against him is pending. As long as he is in contact with his lawyer and following whatever instructions the court gave to him, he will be
Lesson #3: Less Is More With Press. Peter Murphy’s lawyer did an excellent job of handling the publicity on the case. According to the LA Times article, his lawyer declined to comment on the case, but reassured everyone that Peter will be able to go on tour and the case will be handled. He summed it all up with one simple line: “We are going to take care of business.” Good stuff. It’s about the client, not the lawyer and Peter’s lawyer understands this. Peter Murphy is obviously not a Lindsay Lohan sized celebrity, but ain’t it refreshing to see a hard working lawyer doing the right thing for his client and not preening for the press? Bonus pro move: Attorney kept Peter in the lockup in the back of the courthouse and appeared in court on his behalf so his client wouldn’t have to deal with his fans sitting in the courtroom gallery.
Wishing all the best for Peter Murphy.