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Episode 88 - What Kind of Legal Trouble Can Your Kids Get Into Without Even Knowing It?

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With the rapid advancements in technology and the nature of today's zero tolerance policies, our teenagers face legal challenges that we never knew could exist 20 years ago. What our kids may consider as funny or just horsing around could land them in jail facing felony charges for any number of innocent "jokes." Knowing that the stress on children gets even worst during a divorce, we brought on attorney Paul Ghanouni from the Ghanouni Teen & Young Adult Defense Firm to discuss the current legal environment and give parents advice on how to make sure their children do not make a mistake that could impact the rest of their life.

Leh Meriwether:             Todd are you ready?

Todd Orston:                   No.

Leh Meriwether:             I knew it. I knew it.

Todd Orston:                   Give me a moment. Okay, I'm ready.

Leh Meriwether:             Okay great. Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners of the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp radio on The New Talk 106.7. Here you'll learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis, and from time to time even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call or visit us online in Atlanta Georgia.

Todd Orston:                   Your mouth chocked up.

Leh Meriwether:             I am getting all chocked up.

Todd Orston:                   You're getting emotional today Leh.

Leh Meriwether:             I don't know what it is ... getting online at Gosh, I down know what happened there.

Todd Orston:                   So, what are we ready for?

Leh Meriwether:             We are ready to make-

Todd Orston:                   It's not a trick question. You're looking at me like it's a trick question. This isn't the SAT, all right? It's-

Leh Meriwether:             It's not. My notes [inaudible 00:01:07].

Todd Orston:                   So what are we ready for?

Leh Meriwether:             We're ready to make sure we're going to protect our kids.

Todd Orston:                   I guess that's a good thing to be ready for.

Leh Meriwether:             Yes.

Todd Orston:                   How are we going to do that?

Leh Meriwether:             Well, I want to start by saying that when you're dealing with teenagers, or when kids are getting into that point where the hormones are going crazy. They're growing, they go from 12 to 36, normally you're dealing with a lot by having to make sure your kids stay on the straight and narrow ... and they do well in school, and they stay out of trouble. But you throw a divorce into that mix, and so it gets really really crazy for kids. It's hard enough when you have a good husband and wife, a good mum and dad working together, but you add that divorce in there to the mix, it can get really bad. Right now, we just take a lot of things for granted because things have changed since we were kids. So I thought it was great to have someone come on the show to talk about what kids are running into today, legal troubles that they never had before that now we need to be aware of just to make sure we guide them to make life's decisions and not getting in trouble, and basically potentially ruin the rest of their life.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, you're right times have changed. Kids haven't changed that much, and kids are always looking for trouble. Some kids more than others, and really I guess we're going to talk about today is to build on what you were saying. Sometimes they can get in trouble, and if you don't handle it the right way, if you don't get them the help that they need, that trouble ... like you said, it doesn't just carry with them for a day, or a week, or a month, it carries with them for years. Despite everything you might do as a parent, kids sometimes they just will makes a mistake. Hopefully the mistake is something that won't haunt them for years.

Leh Meriwether:             Like we normally do, we focus on family law so rather than us talking about an area that ... I know you used to be a prosecutor but an area that we don't focus on we brought on Paul Ghanouni. He is the owner of the Ghanouni Teen & Young Adult Defense Firm, he has been a practicing lawyer since 2006 focusing on criminal defense, a juvenile defense. He was a former associate magistrate court judge, he won the Rising Star of 2016 for Georgia Super Lawyers. He's a 10/10 on avo. He is Cherokee County's top 10 in 10 in 2015, and he's made the Georgia Trend magazines legal elite in 2016 and 2017. I could go on and on about Paul, but that would take up precious airtime. Paul thank you so much for coming on the show.

Paul Ghanouni:               Thanks for having me here Leh.

Leh Meriwether:             Well let's get started because you've definitely taken a very narrow niche of criminal defense focusing on ... and I know you take other types of criminal cases, but you're focusing on teen and young adult defense. What got you into wanting to focus on that area? I'm sure there is a story there.

Paul Ghanouni:               Sure there is Leh. I made a lot of poor decisions when I was younger, that's what ultimately led me here. By the time I finished high school, I had been frisked by the police, I had been laid on the hood of a police car and searched, I had ridden involuntarily in the back of a police car. I did a lot of dumb stuff. In hindsight looking back, I now realize how my life could have been totally derailed at a lot of different points with a lot of different decisions that I made and so I've really tried to build a firm that helps good young people who either made a bad decision, ended up in a bad situation. Trying to make sure that we can either minimize those types of impacts that can come from those types of decisions, and give them every opportunity to be the best version of themselves that they can be.

Leh Meriwether:             I know I've talked to you before, and when you say that you mean it because ... I mean you're just a perfect example because people could have given up on you if you were a bit misbehaving in high school, and, "Oh, he's just good for nothing. He's just going to wind up in jail one day." And here you are an attorney, and you've got a great story that you can share with these teenagers and say, "Hey look, I get it. I've been there before, but I can tell you if you don't let this ruin your life you still have a chance."

Paul Ghanouni:               Definitely, that's part of it as well from my perspective is not only just trying to help people in a criminal defense manner that they may be dealing with, but also you can look at it from a wholistic perspective and see, is there anything that we can do to try to help get them back on track in their life overall? What can we do to help make sure that they're going in the right direction? A lot of that does come from there 'cause there's a lot of the clients who come into our office that I sit there and I will tell them, or other team members will tell them, "We could have been sitting right where you're sitting now if things had just gone a little bit differently for us, and so we want to make sure that you have every opportunity that you can moving forward." I mean ... like you said, I went from being that kid, I went to law school, passed the bar, had the opportunity to serve as a judge, have a beautiful wife, two amazing little girls now.

Paul Ghanouni:               One of them is two and a half and is bringing out the defiant side that's probably coming from me, from what I used to do as well. I'm a little worried about how she's going to be when she gets a little older. But I wouldn't have had all the opportunities to be that person that I'm able to be for myself, for my family, and have the impacts that I've been able to have in the community and in the lives of the people that we've helped through the firm if some of these things had gone wrong for me. That's what I want to make sure that everybody else has the opportunity to do.

Leh Meriwether:             We had talked a few weeks ago and you were telling me some of the things that kids can get in trouble for and it was scary, I mean I was just thinking, "Oh my gosh, my 16 year old could make a ... do something completely innocent, but it could ruin his life and he didn't have any criminal intent but it'd have a massive negative impact on him." So I said, "Well, you've got to come on the show so we all can be aware of it as parents, but particularly as parents that may be going through a divorce, or have been divorced because you don't want the teenagers to play the parents against each other. Let's get started, you've given me a lot of things for us to talk about, so let's just get into it.

Todd Orston:                   So stop talking, he'll do it.

Leh Meriwether:             Thanks for getting back on track Todd. Well, let's talk about social media because we didn't have social media when we were kids. So what can get kids in trouble today through social media?

Paul Ghanouni:               I think there's a lot of stuff that young people don't really think about and realize, I mean; one, from a standpoint you mentioned when we were kids it wasn't out there, it wasn't something that you could do. If I heard that another kid had said something bad about me, I'd have to wait that evening and write it out, and think on it, and dwell on it. Then I had to get to school the next day, and then I'd have to go find that kid and try to see if it was something that I still wanted to address, or something more important had come up versus now you have a lot of knee jerk reactions, a lot of quick things to post online. People don't realize this means that what they've put online often can't get taken back. I mean there's lot of times that even employers these days are going back and looking at that. Then there are things that get said quickly, in the heat of the moment that could potentially even be criminal.

Paul Ghanouni:               I mean even situations where somebody, they escalate an argument to include a threat whether it's on Snapchat, on Instagram, on Facebook, on anything else that's out there. Those are types of situations that you'll see, is somebody thinking it's a joke, or like that. We even saw a case once where a young man had sent an image on a message to a friend ... I've seen more than one case like this. And then the parent got a hold of the phone, and saw it, and thought it was something threatening and notified the police and ended up having charged come out of that. The other areas that we see come up are issues with child pornography related issues from the ability of taking pictures and sending messages on your phone, and people having a false sense of anonymity that comes along with social media, and with other online areas.

Paul Ghanouni:               Another area that I'd really like to delve into is online chats, and realizing the opposite of that a lot of us learned which is to be on the lookout for predators, or other things like that, is to realize that not everyone who's online is who they appear to be and it can even be somebody who is looking to get you in trouble, or trying to find troublemakers out there. With that, the child pornography side of it we see all the time is these images getting sent back and forth between teens. They're thinking, "I'm taking a partially nude photo, and I'm sending it to somebody." And then it gets dispatched from there, and one person gets it, the intended recipient. Then that person sends it to a couple more people, and then those people send it to a few more people, and it just spreads from there.

Paul Ghanouni:               There's a lot of myths about that being the, "Well, you know we're the same age so it's not child pornography." Or you get situations that come up where somebody thinks, "Well, I'm not going to get in trouble because if the person who sent it to me reports me for sending it to other people, or for having it, they're going to get in trouble." And that's just not the case. That's one of the biggest myths that we hear out there, is that not being the case.

Leh Meriwether:             So what is the age for child pornography?

Paul Ghanouni:               When we're talking about images, we're really talking about anything for anybody under 18. The partially nude images.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, it has nothing to do with the recipient, it has to do with if it's a picture of an underage person even if it's taken by the person of themselves if they are under 18 and then they distribute that, they can get into trouble. Anybody who gets it and then passes it on can get into trouble. I absolutely agree, there are kids who probably don't even think about it, they think they're just dealing with friends. They send the picture, and they don't realize that they are probably committing a felony.

Leh Meriwether:             Well, we don't want to commit a felony and run out of time. Hey, up next we're going to continue to dive into things that you might not think about, but the kids can be doing that could be putting them in serious trouble, perhaps even jail. You don't want to miss it.

Leh Meriwether:             Welcome back everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on The New Talk 106.7. If you want to learn more about us you can always call or visit us online in but today we're talking with Paul Ghanouni, and we are going into all of things that we probably don't think about as adults now because well social media didn't exist back then, and cell phones didn't exist back then, and the ability to text photographs didn't exist back when we were growing up. We're talking about things that kids can get in trouble for, they think they're playing around but there are very serious consequences. In the last segment we talked with Paul, and he broke down some of the ... we took a 40,000 foot view on some of the stuff surrounding social media and cell phones, so Let's go a little bit deeper. I want to just get some practical examples, you had mentioned a young man had texted something, and that mum called and the police got involved.

Leh Meriwether:             What was it that he had texted? Or give us an example of something a child could put in social media that could get them in hot water?

Paul Ghanouni:               We've seen a lot of situations where maybe a young man who's either holding a fake or a real firearm, airsoft guns, or something like that in a picture and there's a caption that says something threatening. That type of situation. Little Johnny has got the photograph with himself holding airsoft gun, he puts underneath it, "So angry with so and so today ... so angry with Billy." And he sends it to somebody else, and somebody else sees that and knows that it's a joke, knows that he doesn't plan on taking any action based upon that but then a parent sees it, or that person screenshots it and sends it to somebody else, and then it ends up getting cycled and ends up being perceived as a threat. The young man ends up getting charged with terroristic threat, something to that nature. We've also seen situations where somebody is in a classroom and they're upset with a teacher, and so they post something about, "Wish I could kill this teacher." Or something like that, or, "I'd like to kill this teacher." Is something that is not actually intended as they plan to carry out something, not the smartest thing to do regardless and post it on social media.

Paul Ghanouni:               They think that ... especially with Snapshot, that it's just not going to be out there 'cause there's this perception that Snapchat messages get deleted. I'll tell you just so that parents out there can tell their kids, we have multiple files in our office right now where law enforcement has sent search warrants to Snapchat. Snapchat has complied and sent back images, videos, information, pictures, posts, private messages between individuals and response to those types of things. So this false sense that this stuff is going to go away, or not going to be found is just not real.

Leh Meriwether:             Snapchat, that's where the perception is it's up there for a few minutes and then it's supposed to be deleted, or that's what kids think?

Paul Ghanouni:               Correct.

Leh Meriwether:             And it's not true.

Paul Ghanouni:               Not with all of it. I don't know, I'm not 100% clear on the distinctions of what ends up getting deleted, and what doesn't end up getting deleted, but that's now always the case with all of it 'cause like I said we've gotten Snapchat messages from Snapchat and some of those instances. Even with those instances, when it is something that maybe deleted, people can still take screenshots of it on their phone. What people say to that is, "Well, I get notified of that." What you don't get notified of is when they hold it up on their phone, and they take another phone and they just take a picture of it. We've seen plenty of times when that happens as well, and parents then see it and they don't know these other kids, they don't know if it's a joke, if it's a threat. Then school ends up getting shut down because of something getting said, and it ends up creating a whole bigger situation than anybody might realize out of it.

Todd Orston:                   Well, and this goes back to what you were saying before Leh, time's have changed. I can say with full confidence that we are living in a different time where there's a hypersensitivity to this type of behavior because for every 100, or maybe even 1,000 kids who post something like that and it means nothing. It was them trying to just get attention, whenever we see the atrocities, whenever we see the school shootings, and the other things, inevitable they dig into their computers, they look at their phones, and their pictures with those types of images. So absolutely schools are going to take it more seriously, absolutely police and law enforcement are going to take it more seriously and rightfully so because their job is to hopefully prevent those atrocities from happening.

Paul Ghanouni:               And if they don't, they get egg on their face because-

Todd Orston:                   Right.

Paul Ghanouni:               ... like I told, aways the media is responses, and everybody's responses, "Well you knew of these things, why didn't you do anything about it?" So it's not trying to it's wrong or right what they're doing, but it just is and there's reasons behind it and that's what we need to be conscientious of it. That's what young people really need to be informed about, is these things that you may think are jokes are not always jokes. I was actually at a seminar recently, and somebody ... their adage was if you don't think you'll be ready to explain the joke to a jury, it if won't be funny in front of a jury then you probably shouldn't tell the joke. That's something to think about, is if it was outside ... if the image or message was seen in isolation, would it be a problem? We even I saw one situation where a young man just had the picture of the airsoft gun, and somebody else posted it with a caption. So he ended up getting in trouble because they didn't know that it wasn't him who had initially posted the picture.

Leh Meriwether:             Wow.

Paul Ghanouni:               So you even want to try to withdraw anything that could even can even have a threatening look to it or anything like that, not potentially set that up out there.

Leh Meriwether:             I think we as parents need to be really careful because I've overheard out in restaurant and stuff, someone looking at the phone and getting text messages and I've heard of parents go, "om going to kill them." Or, "I'm going to kill her." Now, they don't really mean they're going to kill them, but the kids that are sitting there hearing that comment, nobody is getting in trouble so they think it's okay. Then they post the same comment on social media, and next thing you know they're getting in trouble.

Todd Orston:                   Leh, I'll take it a step further also focusing on technology, I know ... because we have used it in our family, I know that there are tools out there, that there are applications that a parent can put it on a child's phone ... our children knew, when they first got phones they knew it was there." The application basically looks for questionable images, and questionable words. Words that's might be violent in nature, sexual in nature, drug related, whatever, and then we'll give warnings to the parents. In other words, there are tools out there that can pick up on these things, notify a parent, and ... one time we were using it again. My son knew it was on the phone, someone said something to him that was questionable.

Todd Orston:                   It was meant as a joke, but we saw ... and we didn't realize or no, and we ended up calling my son in and say, "Hey, we know somebody said this to you, and he explained this situation. And explained, 'it was a joke. We were all joking'" it was like, "Okay, great." But the point is in today's day and age, you cannot assume that things that you say, things that you post will stay secret.

Leh Meriwether:             Right. When you post and there's no context to the post-

Paul Ghanouni:               That's right.

Leh Meriwether:             ... that's I think the biggest problem, social media you lack the context around the post and that's what gets you in trouble. All right, let's talk about real quick about ... 'cause I've heard of a lot of situations of kids getting in trouble with their sexting ... for lack of a better term, and they think they're just, "It's just me and my boyfriend, to my girlfriend." The next thing you know, they're getting charged with child pornography when they're both the same age. They thought, "Well I'm not an adult so it shouldn't count." Walk me through a scenario ... so that we can think about this where a bunch of people might get in trouble.

Paul Ghanouni:               You end up with a situation, let's say Johnny sends a partially nude image of himself exposing his genitalia and Johnny is 15 to Suzy who is his 15 year old girlfriend. Suzy decides that she's going to send that to two or three other people, and so what's happened there is even though Johnny and Suzy are the same age, they are both in possession of child pornography. They have now both distributed that child pornography, and then everybody else who's received it, and then has the potential to redistribute it, is also in possession and distributing child pornography and can equally be charged in those situations. I think it's really important to make sure that parents have talked to their kids about what to do 'cause even the kids who we see who don't want to be involved in this, when that picture comes through they don't know what to do. They don't know how to handle it, they don't know how to address it, they don't know what they should do next from there.

Paul Ghanouni:               So what we generally advise parents to tell their young person to do in their life is as soon as they get that image, to simply delete it and respond back to it, and say, "I didn't ask for this, please don't send anything else like this to me ever again." Again, just deleting doesn't necessarily mean it won't even be found either 'cause there's ways that they can get into technology, they can look at things that have been deleted. But what we're trying to do with that situation is make it clear that it wasn't something that you wanted, and it was something that you didn't want to continue to possess. It's really important to make sure that deletion happens as immediately as possible 'cause if they can find timestamps to see when it was received versus when it was deleted, having that closer proximity to that really helps that as well.

Todd Orston:                   You want to prove that you didn't solicit that, you didn't ask for it to be sent to you, and you immediately got rid of it and notified the person to stop. Because we're not talking about misdemeanors here, we're talking about felonies.

Paul Ghanouni:               Felony charges, and there's another safety thing is that most people don't realize in Georgia, you're an adult at 17. So at 17 years old you get this image of your 16 year old girlfriend, and then you're getting charged with possession of child pornography ... I mean that is a felony that can be on your record for the rest of your life, potentially sex offender registration, and it just has such long lasting consequences.

Leh Meriwether:             All because kids not thinking. Wow, all right. Well that's a great advice. Hey, I know that we've got more things to talk about, I know you've got some really interesting information that parents need to be aware of when it comes to drinking, and drug charges, things that ... drivers under the age of 21 that they should really know about. We're going into those too, we're running out of time but hey, you want to listen in because this is really good information that's going to help you keep the kids out of trouble. I know Paul, you also are going to bring some really good advice that parents should know when the children do make the mistake and they get in trouble with the police, what advice do you usually give parents? We'll be right back.

Leh Meriwether:             Welcome back everyone, I am Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp radio on The New Talk 106.7. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call or visit online well today we're talking to Paul Ghanouni, and we're learning all kids of things that our kids can get in trouble for doing things that ... gosh we may have done as kids, but we didn't have social media back then, and cell phones, and everything. I'm definitely ... it's eyeopening for me for sure.

Todd Orston:                   There's more ways to get into trouble, and there's more ways to get caught. There's a lot more out there, and so we have to be more vigilant. The reason I love this topis, and I love having you on the show is because as family lawyers we deal with this all the time because we see clients who come in and either their children have gotten into trouble, or they're in the process meaning they're dealing with the after effects.

Todd Orston:                   We see the incredibly bad impact that it can have, and that's why people like you it's important to get the help that you need to minimize that harm to the child.

Paul Ghanouni:               Definitely. Definitely.

Leh Meriwether:             I know we are going to hear the drinking and drug charges in a minute, but there was a few things that when we talked more during the commercial break that I want to make sure we hit just at least really quick, so people are aware of it. There were three things I wanted to touch on was based in our conversation, tracing things back to their IP address, sexual predators, and law enforcement online. So let's hit those real quick.

Paul Ghanouni:               Yeah real quick on the tracing things back online, again as I mentioned earlier people get a false sense of anonymity with the internet. I will tell you both from my experience when I was a judge and law enforcement would bring me search warrants if they wanted to execute. They can go back through, and they will trace where something was posted online, where information came from, what account it came from. Then look at the next search warrant from that account to the internet service provider, then from the internet service provider to the specific IP address from the house down to the particular piece of technology from the house that something was either originated from or downloaded from. Even to the extent that I once saw a case where it was an allegation of child pornography where law enforcement didn't know who in the home was downloading these images, it turned out in that particular situation that it was a teenager downloading images of same age individuals for himself.

Paul Ghanouni:               But law enforcement ended up coming in when nobody was home, when parents were at work, kids were at school, and with a search warrant taking all the computers, all the iPads, all the cell phones, everything that was in the house because they don't know what's going on, if this is just an isolated incident, this is some bigger issue. I just want to make sure that young people realize this false sense of anonymity online doesn't exist, they're always ... that law enforcement can trace everything back to you. Along that same vein you talk about the predators, you talk about things like that, everybody knows to talk to their kids about who they're chatting with online because it could be a predator, it could be dangerous for them, that kind of thing. But I think most young people think that they're going to outsmart that if they're going to figure that out. The thing that nobody talks to them about is that law enforcement is also online, and they're out there looking for legitimate predators as well.

Paul Ghanouni:               So they may engage in a conversation with somebody trying to seek out a predator, and if it's your 17, 18 year old son or daughter and they think they're talking to somebody who's similarly age to them, maybe a couple of years difference, a couple of years younger than them, and it turns out that it's law enforcement and they're having sexually explicit conversations, that can lead to charges as well. They don't need to just be worried about the predators and that danger, they also need to be worried about the danger of getting themselves in trouble, or getting arrested because of these types of conversations. Really the safest thing to do there is don't have conversation with people online that you don't know.

Todd Orston:                   Let me ask you this, let's day 18 year old boy goes online and starts talking to somebody who says that they are 18, it turns out that it's a 13 year old, 14 year old, 15 year old, that's not a defense, is it?

Paul Ghanouni:               No, in most sex crimes it's not. I mean legally speaking in most sex crimes the misconception of the age is not a defense, and can still lead to prosecution.

Leh Meriwether:             That is scary.

Todd Orston:                   So it's dangerous?

Leh Meriwether:             Yeah.

Todd Orston:                   And agan, that's the reason why we're doing this show because-

Leh Meriwether:             They have the internet.

Todd Orston:                   That's right. Exactly. [inaudible 00:26:59] cabin, in the woods, no electricity ... no, all right. That's now what we're saying. Leh, you couldn't do that, you have so much electronics the police would need about three truckloads to get all the electronics out of your house. Not that they're going.

Leh Meriwether:             Yeah, no. All right, so let's talk about drinking and drugs because we know our kids are ... that it's in high schools, we hear about it all the time. Let's talk about what's the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony when it comes to the drinking and drugs, and that sort of thing. 'Cause-

Paul Ghanouni:               Sure.

Leh Meriwether:             ... could imagine kids go out to a party, high school kids go out to a party, and they hop on a car with somebody they don't really know, and they're driving along. Next thing you know they get pulled over, but turns out there's drugs in the car they didn't know about.

Paul Ghanouni:               Let's first talk about what the difference between a misdemeanor and felony is generally, 'cause I think that's where people may not have a lot of clarity as well if they're now in the legal field. Misdemeanor is anything that's going to carry a punishment of 12 months in jail, or less. Then a felony is anything that's going to carry a potential punishment of a year in prison or more, and also causes you to lose your right to possess firearms, potentially hold elective office, lose your right to vote, can affect a lot of other areas of your life. What a lot of people don't realize when it comes to drugs is that pretty much everything other than less than an ounce of marijuana is a felony, whether it's somebody else's prescription pills, whether it's what people traditionally think of as a legal controlled substances such as cocaine, heroin, things like that. Even marijuana, even if it's less than an ounce, if it's with the intent to distribute can be a felony as well in that situation.

Todd Orston:                   Let me give you an example, let's say a child takes prescription medication from a parent, would it be fair to say that not only could the child get in trouble for possessing the drugs, but the parent potentially could even be ... get in trouble, especially if the child is taking enough that it's not just for personal use, but is giving it to friends, or even selling them?

Paul Ghanouni:               Yeah certainly. Certainly. Especially so in some situation that you see out there unfortunately where it is by design with the parent, that that type of situation is happening. You want to make sure you're not putting yourself at risk, you're not putting your kids at risk. They have this understanding 'cause I think there's part of that misconception is with the prescription drugs, that they're not the same as in your other illegal controlled substances. I think Leh to go back to the point that you were bringing up earlier which is you're riding around, that's one of the big things that we see as well. This concept under the law of joint constructive possession which really it means if they're not sure whose it is, or even if somebody says ... 'cause we've seen a situation where somebody says, "No, the drugs are mine." Everybody in the car ends up getting charged. You may think somebody is your friend, your buddy, until those blue lights come on behind you, and all of a sudden whatever is in their pocket ends up on the floorboard.

Paul Ghanouni:               The other areas that we see that type of situation come up is what's called the party to a crime theory, where somebody is involved in a situation, example, let's say I am driving somebody who is selling drugs and I'm not actually handing off the drugs, I'm not getting any of the money, but I am involved basically by virtue of the fact that transaction wouldn't take place if it wasn't for me, I could potentially be charged in that situation with the same selling of drugs as the person who is actually participating in the sales themselves.

Todd Orston:                   Basically an accomplice?

Paul Ghanouni:               Correct.

Leh Meriwether:             Oh man. So key takeaway there is talk to your kids about don't get in the car with someone you don't know, don't get in the car with someone who has a reputation, or it's rumored that they do drugs. Or may deal drugs because you could be pulled into something you had nothing to do with. The next thing you know you're on the criminal system.

Paul Ghanouni:               And I even tell them, most of the young people that we talk to, they know who their friends are who use drugs, they know who their friends are who drink, right? It's not worth the risk, just don't be in that situation. Don't get in the car with them, don't ride in the car with them, don't have them in your car 'cause you don't know what's going to happen and what somebody is willing to do or say to protect themselves.

Leh Meriwether:             That's a good point, I didn't think about some kid to say, "Can I get a ride home?" And then they get pulled over for just a routine traffic stop, but he happens to have cocaine in his pocket-

Todd Orston:                   Oh and by the way, you can lose the car. In addition to prosecution, they can actually confiscate the car, and basically get it. They basically take it, then they auction and sell it.

Leh Meriwether:             Then you're stuck with a car payment.

Todd Orston:                   I don't think the sheriff is going to take on that responsibility.

Leh Meriwether:             No.

Paul Ghanouni:               And with the drinking real quick, I think there's a common misconception sometimes that you see with under 21 drinking that it's okay to drink with parents, with things like that, 'cause there is an exception Georgia law to that, but it's very specific. I've seen a lot of parents mess that up and not really understand what they're doing, which the exceptions for drinking alcohol for somebody under 21 are either for religious ceremonies, prescribed by doctors for medical purposes, or with a parent, given by the parent, in the parent's home, and under the parent's supervision. That means if you're at grandma and grandpa's house for Thanksgiving, if you give your under 21 child a glass of wine, that's a violation of the law in that situation.

Leh Meriwether:             Your grandchild?

Paul Ghanouni:               Correct ... or the parent gives it to their child.

Leh Meriwether:             'Cause they're not in their house?

Paul Ghanouni:               'Cause they're not in their home.

Todd Orston:                   Now go slugger shots with your nine year old. Or probably going to open up a different can of worms.

Paul Ghanouni:               Definitely, and even with that none of that protects you from DUI or anything else. I know we need to wrap up this segment so-

Leh Meriwether:             We'll be running out of time real quick can you tell us real quick what the medical amnesty law is, 'cause I don't know about this till you told me the other day?

Paul Ghanouni:               It's a law that ends up protecting people seeking health in good faith for an overdose, the short version of it is basically ... it doesn't protect against every possible crime that's out there. But if somebody is overdosing, and call for help, and because most possession drug related cases, you can be immune from prosection as long as you try to contact for immediate medical help, you assist the person, you stay with the person till helps arrives.

Leh Meriwether:             That's really good to know. All right, up next, Paul's going to tell us what every under 21 driver should know. Welcome back everyone, I am Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp radio on The New Talk 106.7. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call or visit us online at well today we've got Paul Ghanouni in the studio with us. We've been diving into all the things that unfortunately our kids can get in trouble for, that we never had to deal with as parents where for the most part ... where we left off is we were going to get into what every under should know. All right Paul, what should every under 21 driver know?

Paul Ghanouni:               I think it's really important that a lot of people don't realize the age categories in some of the things that can cause suspension for under 21 drivers. Basically when you're talking about driver's license requirements, you fall into one of three categories; either you're 21 and older, you're 18-20, or you're 17 and under. When you're in that 17 and under category, a single 4 point offense, or 4 or more points in 12 months can cause a suspension for you. People are thinking, "What's a 4 point offense?" Well, that can be a speeding ticket. It can be a speeding ticket, you're going over 23 miles over the speed limit, or more than that. Can cause that suspension for you, and most other tickets, most other non-traffic tickets will actually be 3 point ... not most non-traffic tickets, excuse me. Most other non-speeding tickets will be three points. Basically any two tickets for most 17 year olds can cause them 17 or 16 year olds can cause them to get hit with a suspension. People just pay the fines, they don't realize that they get a notice in the mail the license is suspended.

Paul Ghanouni:               When you hit that 18-20 age category, any hour point offense will suspend you but then you have the total 15 points that everybody else gets for a suspension outside of the four, a more point offenses. When you're over 21, you don't have that same restriction of the four point offenses suspending you. There's still a bunch of offenses that can suspend you, those are the big things that I like to make sure that people realize. Another thing a lot of people don't realize is that you can be arrested for a traffic ticket? It doesn't happen very often, but legally to can happen. So you want to make sure that you realize what's going on, you realize the seriousness of the situation especially when you're under 21, that you may want to consult with an attorney in that situation to see if it's something that could result in a suspension especially if you've had prior tickets. I think the couple of misconceptions that we always see out there is that if you plead nolo, it keeps it off your driving.

Paul Ghanouni:               It doesn't do that, it affects the points, and it doesn't do that for the people who are under 21. The other thing to be aware with tickets just real quick is we've seen happening more and more it's because of jail overcrowding in various counties. As officers will write people tickets for offenses that they used to arrest people for, so whether it's underage alcohol, whether it's shoplifting, whether it's possession marijuana and you're not taking them to jail on those offenses. Especially these kids think it's just a ticket, like a traffic ticket. They tell their parents about it, they're going to go court and just pay it and it doesn't actually play out that way. So also educating the kids on the fact that they can come to you, if they get a ticket for anything that should be talking to you about it so that you can till them make sure it's not a serious situation it's not a serious situation, or if it is a serious situation you guys handle it properly.

Todd Orston:                   so that-

Leh Meriwether:             Go ahead Todd.

Todd Orston:                   I was just going to ask, let's say someone is 17 or under got a suspension, how long do those suspension last?

Paul Ghanouni:               It's typically a six month suspension for the first suspension.

Leh Meriwether:             So nolo, if you're under 21 you still get the points?

Paul Ghanouni:               It can still cause a suspension for you. There's still some ways you can save it, certain circumstances, but that's not one of them.

Leh Meriwether:             I would imagine with the amount of car insurance, that when you add a teenage driver to your interest policy that any points could really increase the price of that. It sounds like it might be worth hiring and attorney just to deal with the ticket.

Paul Ghanouni:               Yeah, potentially so. I think the other thing that people don't realize and don't think about is that first ticket, that's the easiest one to try to get a positive revolution to not having it on your record. But people think, "It's just my first ticket, it's not a big deal." And then they get that second ticket, and at that point you're trying to go talk to a prosecutor with somebody who's already had a ticket, and it becomes much harder to work with them on it.

Leh Meriwether:             Because [inaudible 00:37:54] you're a repeat offender?

Paul Ghanouni:               Right.

Leh Meriwether:             Got you, that's good to know. All right, we were talking the other day about how things have changed. You give me an example of a situation where ... in the past parents could basically enlist the police to scare their kids straight, but those days are gone aren't they?

Paul Ghanouni:               I think to some degree they are, I think we're in a different era of policing, and not to again say it's right or wrong, it just is what it is. I give this with a caveat, the cases where somebody doesn't get charged I don't ever end up seeing. So not to say that they're not out there, and having those types of situations. I've seen a case where a parent called the police on their 12 year old to try to get them to talking to, and the 12 year old ends up getting charged and having to go to juvenile court. We're not talking ... I think, not to minimize the situation, but throwing something at the mother, I mean that's what we're talking about in that type of situation. We've seen situations where law enforcement and school didn't even know that something had happened, and a parent called the school to tell them about it, to make sure they could be more vigilant in the future, make sure they would be aware of it, and the parent who called, their child was charged with a felony, prosecuted, and they were permanently expelled from school, and from public schools.

Paul Ghanouni:               It's not to say that you shouldn't be reaching out to law enforcement, you shouldn't be reaching out to the schools for help, you just have to realize what can come out of it, and what maybe you should be saying and what you shouldn't be saying in those situations.

Leh Meriwether:             We can have a whole show talking about this because ... and actually, that might be a good show.

Todd Orston:                   I think that actually is a mandatory show based on what I'm hearing.

Leh Meriwether:             Because I have a good friend of mine, he told me a story about he was in Boys Scouts, and Cub Scouts. He was in Boys Scouts and had gone camping over the weekend, he happened to use his same book bag for camping as he did to school. He forgot to take his pocket knife out, and he was at school, and he said, "He's younger than me." So he went to the being a good scout, a scout is honest. He went and turned in his knife, "I just realized I had this on my bag, I'm not supposed to have it." Boom, he was suspended, and it just impacted him, his school history as a result, and immediately suspended. I can't remember how many days he was out, and just for being honest. It's a difficult situation. Now, with that in mind, you've got some advice that you like to give parents, or maybe some of the worst advise parents can give children about the law. There's so much good stuff, you're going to have to come back on and go into detail on it, but-

Todd Orston:                   You're going to have to, you have no choice. I'm sorry.

Paul Ghanouni:               I'm getting that [crosstalk 00:40:50] I understand.

Leh Meriwether:             But let's tease the next show, let's go and-

Todd Orston:                   Absolutely.

Leh Meriwether:             ...let's go and hear, what is the worst advice a parent could give their child about the law?

Paul Ghanouni:               In the four things that I see that I think are the worst advise a parent can give their child about the law ... and like I said, I will be happy to go more in depth on another show about it, but it's just the shoplifting, drinking, marijuana. Insert whatever charge you want here, it's not a big deal. That's one of them, it's the misconception that a charge is not a big deal. Two is, that you should tell the police everything and you can go more in depth on it. But there is a time and a place for accepting responsibility and it's not usually when you're talking to the police who may be investigating you, or have the potential to charge you for a situation.

Paul Ghanouni:               The next one is do whatever the police say ... I want to caveat this one, especially since we're not going into a lot more depth on it. You definitely always want to follow any lawful instructions that you get from the police, but it's a matter of understanding what you have to do and what you don't have to do and not necessarily doing things that you don't have to do if you're being investigated in a situation. The other one is you made the mistake, you figure out how to deal with it. But the underlying thing that people don't really think about there is you're basically telling the young person who made the foolish decision that cause them to get in trouble in the first place, probably indicating that they don't have the best decision making skills at this point in their life, that they need to figure out how to address this situation.

Todd Orston:                   That's not the time to abandon the child and say, "Best of luck."

Paul Ghanouni:               Right. Then the other big thing ... I mentioned it earlier on the show. It's not specifically in the worst advice section, but really making sure that young people understand that for criminal law purposes in Georgia, you're an adult at 17. 17 is the same as 20, it's the same as 30, it's the same as 40, and if you're prosecuted the same, it goes on your criminal record the same. Everything is the same at that point, and a lot of people think, "I'm just 17, it's not big deal. It's not going to be on my record. Whatever."

Leh Meriwether:             I do want to say, we have friends in law enforcement, we all love our ... I mean they protect us when we're at the court house and everything. So we're not saying anything bad about them, but we're in a new era where a lot of police officers have body cams on them. They have to have them recorded all the time, and they can't necessarily .... if there has been a crime, and they don't have them arrested or issue a ticket, they can suddenly get in trouble now. It is a different era, and unfortunately we have run out of time Paul. Hey, before we go though, definitely tell people how they can find out more about you.

Paul Ghanouni:               Sure, if you want to learn more about me, or the rest of our team you can go to at our website, or you alternatively give our office a call at 7-7-0-7-2-0-6-3-3-6 be happy to help you if you're ever facing a situation, or if you're concerned that you may be facing a situation that could result in criminal prosecution or investigation.

Leh Meriwether:             I know from talking to you too, it's worth just having a call 'cause you're going to be honest with them, and be upfront with them, maybe they don't need your services, but there's a high likelihood that they may need your services.

Paul Ghanouni:               Definitely. We even have times where parents ... just as a community activity, reach out to us and say, "Hey, my kid is not in any trouble, but I just need them to get talking to to hear from somebody else what could happen if they continued down this path." If we can help get a young person straight in their life, we're happy to do that as well. Definitely as you mentioned earlier Leh, definitely none of this advice, nothing I'm trying to suggest here is any type of an anti-policing situation, or anything like that. Definitely respect our law enforcement officers, have a lot of good friends who are law enforcement officers. It's just a matter of making sure that we protect our young people as well and their futures.

Leh Meriwether:             Wow, thanks so much for coming on the show. Hey, you can always read more about us online and if there is a topic you'd like for us to explore please email us at [email protected] thanks so much for listening.

Speaker 4:                        This audio program does not establish an attorney client relation with Meriwether & Tharp.