Although the holidays are supposed to be a festive and cheerful time to spend with family and friends, it is also a time when the crime rate spikes. Theft, driving under the influence (DUI), and domestic violence increase during the holiday season for a variety of reasons. This year is likely to be no exception. With the current health pandemic and financial hardships impacting so many in the United States, some individuals will turn to crime to cope. Those who are accused of committing a crime are encouraged to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer for help.
During the holidays, people can make desperate decisions and try to steal what they cannot afford. Crimes of passion happen in the heat of the moment, but the impact of physical violence can last for a lifetime. This discussion presents some of the most common crimes that occur during the holidays and a brief overview of some of the penalties these offenses can bring in New Jersey.
Christmas, Hanukkah, and other winter holidays are a time for gift giving. Potential burglars know many families have expensive gifts on hand that can easily be resold for quick money. According to CNN Money, burglaries in the state of California rose 18 percent in December compared with the rest of the year.
Statistics show most burglaries are committed by young males in the spur of the moment. They can even live in the neighborhood and decide to break in to an empty home, or just steal packages off the porch, hoping to turn those presents over for immediate cash. There are a few steps residents in the Garden State can do to protect those hard-earned gifts and deter burglary:
- One suggestion is to invest in a home security system and/or a video doorbell.
- Schedule package deliveries for a time when someone is home. Boxes should not sit outside for long.
- The property should be kept well lit. Timed lights that activate at night are a good option.
- While on vacation, residents can have a neighbor collect mail and move trash cans so it looks as if someone is home.
Burglaries do not just happen at home. Car break-ins are also quite common. Drivers should never keep change or valuables in plain sight, always lock vehicles, and activate car alarms every night.
Many people make charitable giving a part of their holiday to-do list. However, scammers looking to take advantage of the generosity of others create bogus charities and use donations for themselves. It can be hard to discern legitimate organizations from scams. Before donating to charity, the giver should do the following:
- Verify the organization’s address, phone number, and website.
- Make a quick online search to see if the charity has been associated with any scams.
- Pay by credit card or check instead of cash or gift cards.
The holidays are fun and festive, but they can be stressful as well. That stress has a way of bringing out the worst in people. Alcohol, financial pressure, family tensions, and of course COVID-19 all contribute to arguments and fights. Unfortunately, some people take out their anger and frustration in dangerous ways, physically and mentally abusing their loved ones.
Because many victims are hesitant to report abuse, especially during the holidays, data on domestic violence is hard to find. Numbers that are available may not truly reflect the prevalence of the problem. Anyone victimized by domestic violence should know that help is available around the clock.
Many holiday parties and celebrations involve cocktails and other drinks containing alcohol. Anyone who drinks alcohol and chooses to drive endangers the lives of themselves and others. Drunk driving is currently the leading cause of roadway deaths in the United States. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, every two minutes someone is injured in a DUI accident, and every 51 minutes someone is killed. Alcohol affects a person’s ability to drive in several ways:
- It reduces hand/eye/foot coordination.
- It distorts rational thought and decision-making.
- It slows reflexes, impacting the driver’s ability to react to changing situations.
- It alters vision and perception, impairing night vision and color perception.
- It changes how the driver perceives their position on the road and distance from other objects and vehicles.
Beyond the obvious immediate danger to drunk drivers and anyone traveling with and around them, anyone charged with a DUI offense in New Jersey must contend with steep legal and financial penalties. A first offense for driving with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) or 0.08 higher but less than 0.10 carries the following penalties:
- Fines between $250 and $400
- Up to 30 days in jail
- Interlock device installed on vehicle for three months
- At least 12 hours in an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center
- An insurance surcharge of $1,000 per year for three years
Drivers with a higher BAC or second or third offense can expect greater penalties including a potential license suspension. There is some debate about whether it is a good idea to refuse a breathalyzer test after being pulled over for suspected DUI. When a driver has not been drinking, a breathalyzer test should not be a problem. Yet, what about someone who had alcohol before getting behind the wheel? In New Jersey, penalties for refusing a breathalyzer are severe:
- First offense. $300 to $500 fine and seven-month license suspension and ignition interlock device (IID)
- Second offense. $500 to $1,000 fine and one- to two-year license suspension and IID
- Third offense. $1,000 fine and license suspension up to eight years and IID
Most criminal defense lawyers would recommend consenting to a breathalyzer test. There is a presumption that a driver who refuses to cooperate is intoxicated. With that said, an experienced lawyer will also remind their client there are several reasonable defenses for refusing a chemical breath test. For some drivers, there is a language barrier and they do not understand their rights or the officer’s instructions. In other cases, the officer makes a mistake and requests a test without any probable cause. Because the consequences of a DUI are significant, anyone charged with this offense should seek legal representation.
Identity theft is a problem throughout the year, but even more of an issue as people use their credit cards to shop in-person and online for holiday gifts. Hackers and thieves are just waiting to steal an unwitting person’s identity using their bank account details, Social Security numbers, logins, passwords, and other personal data. It can be traumatic to find fraudulent purchases on a credit card bill or, even worse, money stolen directly from a bank account.
Tips for Preventing Identity Fraud
Although there are no foolproof ways to prevent identify theft, there are some simple steps everyone can take to keep sensitive personal information out of the wrong hands:
- Freeze credit to prevent strangers from opening new accounts.
- Be wary of phishing calls, texts, and emails asking for personal information.
- Leave the Social Security card at home and divulge the number only when absolutely necessary.
- Use strong passwords and change them on a regular basis.
- Shred any documents that contain revealing information.
- Check credit reports from all major reporting bureaus often for changes or inaccuracies.
Shoplifting and Theft
Stealing items from another person or a business is one of the more common crimes that occur during the holidays. That is why retailers are especially vigilant during this time of year, often hiring additional security staff to keep an eye on shoppers. Charges for theft vary depending on the value of the items stolen. Charges are more serious when a weapon is used to commit the crime or if someone gets hurt in the process.
Why Does Defense Matter if Someone is Charged with a Crime?
A single mistake or bad decision should not necessarily define the rest of a person’s life. Many people commit a crime and go on to lead a responsible, law-abiding life. Of course, not every person charged with a crime is guilty. Some are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the United States, every person has the right to due process. Legal guidance is always recommended for anyone charged with a crime to ensure their rights are protected and to minimize consequences as much as possible.
Freehold Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Help Those Charged with Holiday Crimes
Since 1988, the Freehold criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law have made it their mission to ensure every client receives fair and just treatment under the law. We know that good people make bad decisions. That is why we use every legal tool available to improve your chances of reduced or dismissed charges. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.