By Diana Dawson
Special to The Times
June 24, 2007
Tourists like your buddy keep criminal defense attorneys here in business.
What you need is a good-time-gone-bad survival kit.
First, piece together what happened last night. If your buddy was obnoxious but not violent, chances are he got away with a little help from hotel security. Folks here want to make even your darkest moments as bright as possible so you — and your money — will come back.
"If they become violent, we'll call the police, and if they ask for help, we'll try to get it for them," says Jan Jones, senior vice president for communication at Harrah's Entertainment and former mayor of Las Vegas. "For most, if we can keep them out of harm's way and safely get them back to their room, we will."
If your pal was a bit more belligerent than that, criminal defense attorneys in Las Vegas say he may have wound up in the hotel's own holding cell, a place equipped with cameras and recording devices that looks much like the interrogation rooms in TV police shows. If security determines there's an actual offense, the hotel calls the police.
"Security is not always right about what they do. It's crowded and often hard to see exactly what happens," says David Chesnoff, a Las Vegas criminal defense attorney who handled the recent arrest of a TV executive for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend. "I've seen girls accused of prostitution and they were just, well, girls gone wild. Sometimes I get a call from a friend's cellphone as they're taken into custody at the hotel."
How do you find a good lawyer in a strange town? Chesnoff says most folks call someone back home who then calls a hometown lawyer who then gives a referral to a Vegas lawyer.
"The people who get into trouble are children of parents who live out of town," says Bucky Buchanan, who says he handles 5,000 criminal defense cases every year. "They're at bachelor parties, bachelorette parties and get involved in drugs, DUIs, things like that. People think Las Vegas is loose about the law, but really it's pretty tight."
If out-of-towners play by the rules and don't ask for special favors by claiming to be someone important, they'll have a better experience in the criminal justice system, says Bucky Buchanan, who adds he handles 5,000 criminal defense cases every year.
As a tourist, you'll most likely wind up in Clark County Detention Center if you're arrested on the Strip, but you could land in the Las Vegas City Jail for some offenses downtown. In either site, your phone will be locked up with your personal property.
"It's a good idea to memorize a couple of numbers you can call," says Greg Smith, owner of A Way Out Bail Bonds in Las Vegas. You can make as many calls as you want, for free, from the the holding tank, he said.
This is the place to hunt down a bail bondsman, if needed, and an attorney, if you haven't already done so. "Once they send you upstairs to your cot or your temporary residence, all calls are collect and no bail bondsman will accept that," Smith says.
Just start calling bail bond companies posted on the wall of the holding tank, Smith says. By Nevada law, all charge 15%. You don't have much time to comparison shop, but Smith says you should find someone who sounds sincere about wanting to help. Watch out, he says, for anyone charging extra fees or undercutting the standard percentage.
Although most people who are arrested want to find that get-out-of-jail-quick card from a bail bondsman, criminal defense attorneys suggest you contact them first to figure out the terms of your release.
You may not even need to post bail. Pretrial services in Las Vegas often release people on their own recognizance after drunken driving arrests and cases involving less than an ounce of marijuana or a couple of grams of methamphetamine, Buchanan said.
Most people who do require bail are better off posting it in cash themselves, Chesnoff says, because they'll get it all back when the case is fully resolved. If they use a bondsman, they will get the bond back when the case is resolved, but they'll never see the 15% fee to the company.
Smith argues, however, that many defendants cannot afford to have the $3,000 to $10,000 bond building interest on their credit card for the months that it may take for the case to come to an end.
Memories of your indiscreet night on the town may cost you more than the bail, however. And there's not much you can do other than live with it, says George McCabe, public relations director of Brown & Partners Advertising and Public Relations. Stars may come with their own publicists, and lawyers may do their best to keep things low-profile. You can try to work through the human resources department of your employer back home. But in the end, McCabe says, you're the star of that YouTube video.
"There's no magic person who can come in and clean it up," McCabe says. "We tongue-in-cheek encourage people to come here and be anyone they want to be, to live out their fantasies. But you have to live with these embarrassing moments."
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