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Judge accepts Joe Neal Jr.'s plea change

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Superior Court Judge James Blanchard accepted a request Wednesday morning to change Joe Neal Jr.’s guilty plea to misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

Joe Neal Jr. changed his plea in order to keep his driver's license.  ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/FILE
ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/FILE
Joe Neal Jr. changed his plea in order to keep his driver's license.

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.

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Little Lamb
46022
Points
Little Lamb 08/01/12 - 01:06 pm
4
1
Collateral Consequence

I thought collateral consequences were what the judicial system was all about.

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 08/01/12 - 01:14 pm
7
1
collateral consequences
Unpublished

No, Little Lamb. You might want to look that up.
But, you can bet your bottom dollar the average Joe Blow would not get the same consideration as Joe Neal...and Mr. Blow is certainly no better informed of the collateral consequences than was Attoney Neal.

Willow Bailey
20580
Points
Willow Bailey 08/01/12 - 01:51 pm
7
2
Losing his license for six

Losing his license for six months would have been a community service.
Sorry, Judge Blanchard, you messed this up. I'm disappointed in you; you being the "drug court" judge and so very tough on Scott Dean.

Austin Rhodes
2862
Points
Austin Rhodes 08/01/12 - 02:28 pm
5
2
Three attorneys stood in front of the Judge...

...and said they "screwed up" and essentially admitted to malpractice.

Blanchard did what the law required him to do.

gmt
79
Points
gmt 08/01/12 - 02:35 pm
3
0
Typo

What are driving "priviledges"?

Little Lamb
46022
Points
Little Lamb 08/01/12 - 02:37 pm
6
0
All the king's horses and all the king's men

Neither lawyer Joe Neal nor all his team of defense attorneys knew about the driver's licence suspension for a recreational drug plea? That right there tells you we've got too many laws on the books.

harley_52
23382
Points
harley_52 08/01/12 - 02:49 pm
6
2
"That Right There...

.... tells you we've got too many laws on the books."

Or too many lawyers willing to lie in court.

One or the other.

just an opinion
2638
Points
just an opinion 08/01/12 - 03:39 pm
7
1
All lawyers need ethics classes

Unfortunatly this is a hard thing to teach. We have a very unethical group in Augusta from oldest to youngest. It's all about the money and they will do and say anything for it. These are the same guys that are sitting next to you in Church.

SpiderLily
78
Points
SpiderLily 08/01/12 - 04:00 pm
3
7
Lawyers

Just an Opinion, I find your comment offensive and cliche. I am a lawyer and the vast majority of the lawyers i know work hard within the rules to represent their clients. I also see them leading virtually every civic organization dedicated to improving the community or helping the less fortunate. What do you do for a living and what is your level of community involvement?

I am also amused by the assumption that Judge Blanchard or any other person has any interest in helping Mr Neal. If that is your belief, you are not overly familiar with Mr Neal's history with the bench and the local bar.

harley_52
23382
Points
harley_52 08/01/12 - 04:17 pm
4
1
SpiderLily....

....I'm not one who believes all lawyers are bad, nor all judges. Like most professions or career fields, I think some are better than others, some worse. I'm sure you're a good one.

Out of curiosity....what are the chances that neither Mr. Neal, nor his team of lawyers, knew the "collateral consequences" of a guilty plea in this case? Second, what are the chances a "joe six pack" would get this kind of treatment in this same court?

Riverman1
84035
Points
Riverman1 08/01/12 - 04:31 pm
6
1
I bet it didn't take Joe Neal

I bet it didn't take Joe Neal 30 seconds to get it.

SpiderLily
78
Points
SpiderLily 08/01/12 - 04:37 pm
3
6
guilty plea

It bears remembering that Mr Neal's guilty plea was taken virtually in the middle of a trial with witnesses waiting to testify and Judge Blanchard tapping his foot. My understanding is that most of the time and energy expended involved making certain he could keep his law license. I suspect little thought was given, in the heat of battle, to the ramifications to his driver's license. I can tell you with certainty that any citizen would get the same treatment given that the punishment was disconnected from the crime. It would have been different had it been a driving under the influence of marijuana charge. Possession of pot in a home was deemed by the judge to have nothing to do with driving a car in this particular case. therefore, he allowed the no contest plea which eliminated the license element but kept him working at the sewage plant. He has now additionally made him go around and give ethics lectures about the perils of young women, alcohol and drugs. I would reiterate that if you believe Judge Jim Blanchard went out of his way to help Joe Neal you do not understand the history of all involved.

dichotomy
32988
Points
dichotomy 08/01/12 - 04:38 pm
7
2
Well, if they reduce his

Well, if they reduce his punishments much more we might as well write him a letter of apology, reimburse his piddly fine, and pay him for lost time. If I had been initially charged with rape, using drugs and giving alcohol to an underage girl I suspect I would be making little rocks out of big ones by now.

I certainly hate to offend lawyers, prosecutors, and judges but, on the surface, it seems to me like they are thicker than thieves. I don't think any Joe Blow would have gotten those charges reduced to nothing, the mulligans on his plea, no jail time, and walk out with his driver's license in his pocket. Must be nice to be an insider.

SpiderLily
78
Points
SpiderLily 08/01/12 - 04:44 pm
3
5
incorrect perception

Dichotomy, You make it seem as if Judge Blanchard decided what charges were to be brought. He did not. Judge Blanchard would have been happy to have the jury render a verdict on the charges brought which were rape etc. The DA elected to drop those charges because their case fell apart when the complaining witness would not come out of the bathroom to testify meaning the only verdict would have been not guilty. You have your assessment totally backwards. Joe Blow would never have even been brought to trial on those charges. Again, if you think Joe Neal is an insider you are sadly mistaken and don't understand what constitutes an insider.

harley_52
23382
Points
harley_52 08/01/12 - 04:49 pm
4
0
SpiderLily....

I asked two simple questions.

I'm no lawyer, for sure, but I think the answer to my first question was 'they were all too busy to think about what the plea meant' and 'anybody else would get exactly the same treatment.'

I apologize if I've mischaracterized your answer, but it really could have been a little more succinct.

And, for the record, I find both of the answers (if I understand you correctly) to be hard to believe, though I don't doubt your sincerity in believing what you've said.

Riverman1
84035
Points
Riverman1 08/01/12 - 04:54 pm
9
2
Spider Lily

The six month suspension of license was imposed by the legislature as an increased penalty for drug offenses. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether the offense occurred while driving or not. It is rarely not imposed. This is unusual.

SpiderLily
78
Points
SpiderLily 08/01/12 - 05:08 pm
3
5
last word from me

Harley, appreciate your sentiment. I can only tell you that i have resolved many cases in the middle of trials and this type thing is not unusual.

Riverman, Yes, that is the penalty the legislature has on the books. You don't honestly think misdemeanor pot charges result in people losing their driver's licenses do you? If you believe that, then i can see how you think this case is out of the ordinary. Virtually all pot charges less than an ounce result in no contest pleas. Most are actually dismissed without any prosecution if there is another charge involved. It is just not a charge the courts or the police take very seriously. Sorry.

harley_52
23382
Points
harley_52 08/01/12 - 05:27 pm
4
2
SpiderLily....

After having been advised by his attorney to plead "guilty," wouldn't the attorney be derelict if he failed to mention the drivers' license suspension? Having been so derelict, what are the chances he'd go to his client and offer to re-plead the case for the aggrieved client?

I suggest it would NEVER happen.

wsm141
115
Points
wsm141 08/01/12 - 06:47 pm
7
0
Exactly like they say Too many LAW'S

" It is just not a charge the courts or the police take very seriously. Sorry".......................Why have it if it's not imposed. Get rid of it. Probably 90% of the laws we have today were created by the Legislature(Mostly Lawyers) Then when you don't know about the law? What do they tell you "Ignorance of the law is no excuse" Apparently that statement doesn't apply in this particular case.

Riverman1
84035
Points
Riverman1 08/01/12 - 08:07 pm
8
2
Spider Lily said, "Riverman,

Spider Lily said, "Riverman, Yes, that is the penalty the legislature has on the books. You don't honestly think misdemeanor pot charges result in people losing their driver's licenses do you?"

I most certainly do think most people caught with pot lose their license for six months. It is state law. Show me stats otherwise.

tl-bro
155
Points
tl-bro 08/01/12 - 09:28 pm
4
0
Austin...

If the judge had been Overstreet, I suspect your analysis would be completely different.

just an opinion
2638
Points
just an opinion 08/01/12 - 10:59 pm
5
1
Lawyers need ethics classes

SpiderLily- I think you are going to make us all throw up. Your statement that lawyers lead virtually every civic organization and are dedicated to helping the less fortunate - might be a stretch. The truth is most are primarily interested in lining their pockets. You may not be one but you are obviously not in tune with the public's perception of your profession brought on by the actions of your colleagues. "One Call, That's All" my friend.

jmo
16016
Points
jmo 08/02/12 - 05:17 am
4
1
They knew

If they didn't know the law, they shouldn't be practicing law. How many of their other clients are paying or have paid the price because they didn't know the law?

americafirst
966
Points
americafirst 08/02/12 - 07:32 am
2
0
One further point concerning

One further point concerning SpiderLily's comments. Remember that possession of pot was not charged in the indictment, It was added as part of the plea deal. In fact they had him enter pleas to a separate accusation as opposed to the indictment. My point is that the lawyers did not have a chance to research prior to the trial all the ramifications of a plea to the drug charge. Maybe they should have known anyway. I am still a little surprised that Judge Blanchard agreed to this.

Clemintime
195
Points
Clemintime 08/02/12 - 07:59 am
1
0
Additional Court/Administrative Costs?

Just curious, when a judge considers a request for a change in plea due to the ignorance of the defense, aren't there administrative/court costs incurred that should be assessed on the requesting party. This slug is getting off easy and is trying to make it easier.

twolane
191
Points
twolane 08/02/12 - 09:25 am
0
0
didnt do that for me
Unpublished

i was taken in for driving WITHOUT A LICENSE....attorney told me to just plead guilty and sign here.....well they suspended my license because that wasnt the charge thay have listed....called my attorney and he and the judge said....sorry ignorance of the law is no excuse

I would just say
175
Points
I would just say 08/02/12 - 12:52 pm
4
0
It is my opinion the douchbag

It is my opinion the douchbag and his wife got off very easy on these charges and it is all in who you know and how much $$$ you have. Any other person charged with something similar to this would have received jail time, you can't convince me otherwise. I certainly hope no one ever considers him for their counsel ever. I never would, anyone who entertains such as he and his wife doesn't need to be of legal counsel for anyone.

oldredneckman96
5095
Points
oldredneckman96 08/02/12 - 07:43 pm
1
0
Lawyers=Scum
Unpublished

So this (I can't type that) goes from raping a underage girl while giving her dope and boze and his laywer buddies let him go??? And we wonder why the world is going to...... (can't say that either) Will the Augusta People let this go or will they run this these bums out of town on a rail?

Riverman1
84035
Points
Riverman1 08/02/12 - 10:56 pm
2
0
Let's Not Slam Lawyers Too Much

I have one in the family and he's the one who told me about the law that says those caught with marijuana are giving a six months drivers license suspension and that penalty is usually, indeed, imposed. So many lawyers don't like this ruling either.

beboisme
425
Points
beboisme 08/03/12 - 09:45 am
1
0
Your a very lucky man as it

Your a very lucky man as it is Neal. Perhaps you should take what you were given and let it be. Being persistant doesn't always pay off and personally I'm sick of your face and name in the news.

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