Former Los Angeles Laker power forward Matt Barnes got hooked up yesterday by the Manhattan Beach Police Department. Barnes has posted $51,000 in bail (that’s likely about $5k to a bail bond company for those of you keeping score at home) and he is now a free man again. Barnes is also currently a free agent in the NBA and this arrest certainly won’t help his chances at landing a big contract. His name is getting dragged through the mud on TV, sports radio, and social media. Barnes is being portrayed as a selfish badboy with headlines such as “Anger Problem lands Matt Barnes in jail for a felony”. What likely started as a simple traffic ticket, may end up costing him millions.
The saddest part of this whole deal is that Barnes could have easily avoided the whole mess. From the information available online so far, I am going to guess that Barnes fell into the same trap that many California Drivers face. He missed a court date on a simple traffic ticket and the problem snowballed. After the failure to appear, his license was suspended and ultimately he ended up with a warrant for his arrest for $26,000. It sounds crazy but this happens to thousands and thousands of California drivers every day. You get a ticket but you are busy with work, family, travel, grabbing rebounds, etc and you miss the court date. Next thing you know, you have a suspended license and a warrant. You try to call the court or fix it online, but it seems like everything is a dead end. This is the point where most people get frustrated and give up. Some people even try to go into to court to fix it, but that usually just ends up being a wasted trip and 4 hours of your life you are never getting back. Our traffic court system in Los Angeles is a grade A mess, so clearing up these issues can be a huge hassle. Barnes could have fixed it quick and easy in the beginning by calling a traffic lawyer, but he didn’t.
Once you have a warrant issued for your arrest, yes even a traffic warrant Matt Barnes, you are subject to arrest any time any place. And I’m guessing it’s pretty easy for an officer to find Matt Barnes walking down the street in Manhattan Beach. He’s a pretty unique looking guy so if the officer knew he had a warrant and he saw Matt, the rest is history. Some Los Angeles area police officers will be friendly on traffic warrants and other minor misdemeanor warrants and simply advise you that you have the warrant and that you need to appear in court to clear it up ASAP, but the police don’t have to extend this courtesy. It’s perfectly lawful for the officer to make the arrest and haul you to jail if the warrant is valid. The same situation often leads to a new case for driving on a suspended license and a trip to the impound yard for your car, but lucky for Matt Barnes, he was on foot.
So how did things get even worse for Matt Barnes? I’m going to have to guess again since I wasn’t there, but he likely failed something known as the “attitude test” at the time of his arrest. In over 12 years of practicing criminal defense and traffic law, I talk to uniformed police officers in court almost every day. Without fail, the most common explanation I hear from officers when they need to make a judgment call is “he failed the attitude test”. Let’s assume the officer from Manhattan Beach PD told Matt Barnes he had a warrant and he was going in. Matt could have remained calm and cooperative, and he likely would have been released on his own recognizance in a few hours. LA jails are so crowded that minor offenders are often released with a date to appear in court even after they have been picked up on a valid active warrant. Instead, I’m going to guess that Matt either tried to use his celebrity or status to get a favor from the officer and officer didn’t like this, or worse yet, Barnes may have let his anger at the situation come out as anger at the cop. Oops, that will be an extra $25,000 in bail money and a felony arrest on your RAP sheet.
So what happens next? Will Barnes actually be prosecuted for the felony? Will the DA reject the case? Will it be charged as a misdemeanor? Only time will tell. I’m guessing the end result will ultimately be based on two things.
Number 1-What actually happened last night? Was Barnes just failing the attitude test? Or did he actually use violence or make threats against the officer?
Number 2-Does he pass the attitude test going forward? If Barnes is smart he will lawyer up immediately and have his legal team start working this thing out. If he ignores it, it’s just gonna get worse
If you have a traffic ticket with a missed court date, don’t pull a Matt Barnes. Get into court and fix it, or send a lawyer to clear it up for you. In Barnes situation this likely started off as a problem that could have been fixed with a phone call. Call me anytime Matt. 800-797-8406 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Oh and one last thing Matt, would you mind giving my number to Andrew Bynum?