Superior Court Judge James Blanchard accepted a request Wednesday morning to change Joe Neal Jr.’s guilty plea to misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
Neal, a lawyer, requested a no-contest plea after he learned that the guilty plea would result in a six-month suspension of his driver’s license. He contended in court papers that his attorneys did not inform him of the “collateral consequence.”
Blanchard accepted the change in plea, but imposed a new condition of Neal’s probation. The judge ordered Neal to visit the ethics classes at Georgia’s law universities for the next three years and give an hourlong lecture on his conduct. The judge had previously ordered that Neal perform 100 hours of community service at a sewage treatment plant, “in keeping with the conduct in this case.”
Neal pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors last month in exchange for prosecutors dropping a charge of rape. The allegations of sexual assault were brought against him in December by a teenage baby sitter for Neal and his ex-wife, Caroline Neal. Caroline Neal pleaded guilty July 2 to furnishing alcohol to a person under the age of 21 and received a year’s probation.
Neal accepted a plea bargain for three years’ probation after the first morning of testimony at his trial that reduced rape to disorderly conduct and possession of marijuana. He also pleaded guilty to furnishing alcohol to a person under the age of 21. Neal’s attorney, Tom Withers, said Wednesday that Neal had successfully completed his community service and paid his $3,000 fine.
Withers and Neal’s two other attorneys, Sarah Blake and Maureen Floyd, acknowledged in court that they failed to instruct their client on the consequence. Neal said he would not have pleaded to the charge if he was told that he would lose driving privileges.
“I had no idea,” Neal said. “It was not a good day when I found out.”
Assistant District Attorney Geoffrey Fogus questioned how a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney did not know the consequences of his plea.
“Judge, I find it hard to believe that Neal did not know this or that his lawyers did not advise him of that,” Fogus said.
Nevertheless, he did not oppose the change in plea on one condition. Fogus requested that Blanchard not make comments that would set a case law precedent in Georgia.
The “collateral consequence” argument applies to guilty pleas that result in deportation or registering as a sex offender, but there is no “manifest injustice” presented by pleading guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession, Fogus said.