Monday, December 12, 2011

Newsleader Nominates its "BEST"

Once again Harris Law, LLC did not make the list of the elite to be named in Newsleader's "Best" of the 417. However, we are not discouraged because there is always the elusive write in vote. 

The process is simple: (1) click on the link HERE. (2) Log in and fill out the survey. (3) click submit. Simple enough. It will take between 5-10 minutes and you will be required to choose among the best of the best... or will you? While voting this year it was clear that some were destined to win. Check it out yourself. Some names are bold, some have astriks, and some are the only option. I urge you to defy the system and do a "write in". After all, you will need to in order to vote "Joel Harris" as 417's BEST attorney. However you decide to vote for, make it count. Afterall, these are bragging rights... something to place on the wall to impress new clients.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Did you get a traffic ticket? What now?

From time to time I hear comments or see posts on facebook or twitter from “innocent people” (the truth is Missouri Drivers are the second worst in the nation) about the ticket they recently received and their newly damaged “record”. And the question comes up, can I beat this? There are a variety of different options for a person that receives a ticket, but few of them are actually “beating” the ticket. Here are some potential choices:

Option 1: pay the ticket. While this option is a tough pill to swallow, it is certainly the quickest and easiest way to handle the matter. However, this option will have the greatest effect on your “record” and in the long run could end up costing you more money. While you do not have the cost of an attorney, the cost of your insurance rate increase over the years will exceed attorney fees many times over.

Option 2: Negotiate the ticket yourself. This option will require you to take off work and appear on your own behalf to negotiate the ticket yourself. In many cases you will be able to speak to the prosecutor and come to a plea agreement on the ticket. However, don’t be surprised if they offer the same deal as listed on the back of the ticket. The reason for this deals purely with your ability to recognize an appropriate disposition to the cause and your lack of negotiating power. However, under the right circumstances this option could potentially be the best route, but it could also be the worse.

Option 3: Fight the ticket. Whether you are fighting the ticket yourself or with the aid of an attorney, this option is rarely fruitful. At any level, your chances of winning are greatly increased with the aid of an attorney. However, while your ego may receive a boost from beating the system, your pocket book will take an even bigger hit. And I will go ahead and answer the question that comes up in these cases, “No, you cannot sue the state to get your money back from having to fight an invalid ticket.”

Option 4: Hire an attorney to negotiate. While it may seem bias due to my profession, this is clearly the best option. In the process of doing such an attorney can usually have one of two different outcomes:
1.       SIS – A suspended imposition of sentence is a great outcome that places you on probation for a period of time to be determined by the court. This is a great option because it does not include a fine and if you complete the probation period without further violations, then it never becomes a formal conviction against you. However, there are risks that you receive an additional ticket.
2.       Amend – This is the most common result of an attorney negotiating for you. In this option the Prosecutor will either amend the charge to defective equipment or a lower speeding resulting in no-points. These options are great because they result in no loss of points on your record, but the downside is that a fine usually is imposed.

No matter the option you choose, it is always best to consult with an attorney. Most provide free consultations and they can answer quickly how they can help you. Remember, most attorneys will charge around $150.00 to handle a ticket, and in most cases that means you never have to go to Court and the matter is resolved in the best way possible. Increased insurance rates, days off work, and points on your license could have devastating effects, so don’t just accept what the officer says and “pay it”. The extra $150.00 now, could pay off big in the future.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Holiday Tips for Divorced and Separated Parents!

With the Holidays upon us it is time for cheer and goodwill, but for divorced and separated parents this time of the year is stressful. Immediately the phone starts ringing and words are exchanged. Your plans for a happy and relaxing holiday just got more difficult with the addition of a custody exchange to your itinerary. However, things don’t have to be so gloom. As a family law attorney in Springfield Missouri, I have witnessed some of the best and worst parents out there, and patterns start to develop that can help divorced parents make the holiday time a little better, not just for the children, but for everyone.

Let’s start with a simple idea. The best divorced parents out there have one thing in common: THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHERE THEIR PARENTING PLAN IS! How does that make you a good parent? Parenting plans are restrictions; guidelines for what parents should do if they can’t come to an agreement. The best parents are able to set aside their differences that caused the divorce or separation, and focus on a schedule that is best for the kids. It isn’t always what you want, but if you are a parent you have already learned that your needs are no longer important. What matters most are the children. If you are one of the parents that don’t know where your plan is or what is in it, then you can stop reading, because the rest of this blog is going to focus on the rest of you. Here are a few tips to make the holidays easier:

1.       Communication: Prior to the exchange make sure you communicate with the other parent so you are both on the same page as to upcoming exchanges. However, communication doesn’t stop there. The other parent will want to know where you will be staying and a basic itinerary, if traveling. Remember, they are not trying to be nosy; they just want to know where their kids will be. Provide such willingly and have a phone number they can be reached at. It is a good idea to have this typed up and prepared before the exchange.
2.       Agreement: When discussing the holiday schedule make sure that all parties are on the same page. There is nothing worse than having different ideas on what is to occur so make sure the two of you fully agree on what is to occur. If the parties are high conflict, this may require each to pull out their parenting plan and go over it in detail. Many attorneys would gladly review the document for little to no fee so do not hesitate to ask.
3.       Inform: Once the parties have reached an agreement and communicated such to each other, draw up a holiday schedule and send a friendly reminder to the other parent. This will serve as a confirmation and allow both parties to work off the same calendar. Additionally, you should post the Holiday schedule in your home so the kids can see it and know what to expect. Remember, when discussing schedules with your children it is important not to give them the power to decide. Transitions should be smooth and the only surprises that should take place, are those found under the tree on Christmas morning.
4.       Adapt: Being a parent means being able to adapt to the situation. Remember to be flexible during the holiday season as not everyone will plan as well as you. The same family members that just dropped in from out of town or who always showed up late while you were married is still up to their antics. As a result, don’t punish the kids by enforcing a rigid schedule. It may be the only time of the year the kids get to see that family so make it work.
5.       Consideration: Consider your family during this time. When the two of you decided to split, you didn’t ask your family’s permission. However, you should ask permission when making your holiday plans. Make sure that you don’t add too much pressure to your family to be when and where you want them. The season is stressful enough and you don’t want your own family upset because the world now revolves around your divorce.

These are just a few tips and they may not apply to your situation, but remember this, divorce and separation is never easy and you cannot continue to live your life the way it was before. Expenses need to be cut back, activities cut in half, and understanding and cooperation doubled. Whatever your situation may be, you should always consult an attorney before taking drastic action.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Recently I had the opportunity to be lead counsel on the largest white collar crimes case tried by the Attorney General’s office in three (3) years. It was an eight (8) day jury trial that cost tens of thousands of dollars and left 12 jurors deliberating for a day and half. Needless to say, it was a daunting task for any criminal defense attorney. When all was said and done, and the dust had cleared, the Defendant, Edna Kay Jackson, was found guilty on seven (7) counts, not guilty on four (4) counts, and received a complete dismissal on the 12th count. We considered it a victory under the circumstances, and the Defendant now stands a chance of little to no jail time in the wake of the conflicted jury.

However, not everyone will get that story. Initial news coverage reports Jackson to be guilty as charged, with little hope of alleged victims seeing restitution. While the story was better, the truth was lacking, and from the depths of this spin of the truth comes the wayward misconceptions of the public. One particular member of the public was a family member, choosing to give me the silent treatment, and speak poorly of my profession. Again I am disappointed at the perpetual chain of misconception brought forth by the misrepresentations of the media.

Let us be clear that the purpose of the law is to provide justice, not just for victims, but those accused. Just recently my wife found herself wrongly accused of a seemingly meaningless act; a traffic violation that would go uncharged, but would create a sense disappointment in our law enforcement by an otherwise trusting person. I too witnessed that same disappointment in the jury panel of this trial. Of the close to 100 people on the potential jury panel, nearly every hand was raised when asked the question, “Does the fact that the defendant is charged with a crime, make her more likely guilty in your mind?” A yes answer here leaves me deflated and concerned that our system of “innocent until proven guilty” not only lacks in reason, but in application. If not for family members that judge without knowing, if not for media who spins the truth, if not for citizens who assume the worst and have misplaced trust in our government, do we even need attorneys?

I set here today confident in our legal system, but weary of our masses. I only urge the public to do their research and believe what they know, not what they think.  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Teacher denies students friend request... Student falls into a bout of depression...

A new Missouri law that prohibits teacher-student conversations through social networking sites, such as Facebook, was set to take effect today, but instead came to a screaming hault when Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem issued a preliminary injunction on the law. Facebooking experts declare that this type of love relationship between Judges and Facebook posters should be "FBO" (Face Book Official). However, don't be too quick to change your relationship status. The freeze on the law is only temporary, and may meet a formidable opponent in the public policy of the state of Missouri.

The challenge to the law is constitutional, and works like this: (1) You rights as set for in the bill of rights, such as freedom of speech, only protect you from violations by the state (government); (2) In cases of clear violations (a law limiting freedom of speech) the state can justify their encroachment by showing the law is needed (meaning it is really important) and that there is no lesser intrusive manner of achieving the purpose.  And the fact is we do this all the time. Take for example laws preventing people from inciting riots in a public place. While the law clearly limits speech, it is clearly more important that public safety be maintained, and there is no lesser intrusive way to do that then stopping the source of the riot.

That being said, law makers are faced with a big problem. Social media has become the nightclubs of our generation. The only problem is that you don’t need an ID to get in and lying about your A/S/L (Age/Sex/Location) is not only easy, but common. And let’s not pretend it isn’t easier to say those things you would never say in public. And to go along with it, there exists a photo album of pictures limited only by the discretion of the poster and a rating system that is less than perfect.

On the flip side, social media outlets have provided the type of contact and at home interactive tools that teachers have been wishing for. Being able to communicate changes to assignments, monitor progress, and conduct out of class discussions on course material has never been so easy. Tools that were only available to military and major corporations 20 years ago, has now become so common place that we all contain it on our phones.

Therein lies the rub. When in conflict, does a person’s right to free speech override the states duty to protect children and teachers from inappropriate contact? Governor Nixon and Judge Beetem seem to think so. And they may find themselves confronted by dozens of parents whose children have become victims of these social media sites. At any level, this debate is far from over.

If you are a teacher or a student that has been affected by this law or has found yourself in the middle of a social media scandal, then I would suggest finding an attorney. Harris Law, LLC has experience in dealing with the criminal face of this topic and is ready to advise you on your rights. Keep this in mind, social media crimes often times result in a sex crime charge. These types of charges are generally felonies and may result in a person registering as a sex offender for life. What makes matters worse is that sex crimes are often times based on false allegations. Go to to learn more about your rights.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

DWI by Drugs

If you have been pulled over and given a ticket for DWI by drugs, then your chances of winning at trial just got a whole lot better. Springfield Missouri DWI Attorneys know the steps you should take in winning a DWI by drugs case. Contact an Attorney immediately if you have been pulled over or ticketed for DWI.

Step One: Remain silent. You have the right to remain silent so do not offer information that will ultimately lead to the prosecutor making their case against you. Many believe that if they tell the Officer what they want to hear, then they will let them go. That simply isn't the case, especially when you are dealing with a potential DWI charge. The process of questioning and testing is simply designed to help them build a case against you, so try not to help too much. (said sarcastically). And yes, that also means that you should not agree to perform simple field sobriety tests. The tests are never simple and almost always lead to an arrest and ultimate conviction of DWI.

Step Two: Contact an Attorney. You also have the right to an Attorney so make sure you take adavantage of that. An Attorney can provide you with the information needed to get you through the difficult process and at the same time can strategically lay out a case that will result in a finding of NOT GUILTY. You will also be given an opportunity to contact an Attorney before being asked to submit to a sample of breath, blood, or urine. While in many cases it will be difficult to reach an Attorney because of the time of day in which the alleged offense occurs, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try, an Attorney may just surprise you. That Attorney can further advise you on whether to submit to any further testing.

Step Three: Set back and wait. The fact of the matter is that these cases are hard to prove by prosecutors because they require the testimony of a DRE (Drug Recognition Expert). Most officers are not trained in such, in fact there may only be around one (1) - three (3) DRE's per police force in the area, and some police forces have none. Make sure you inquire of your attorney their knowledge of the role a DRE plays in a DWI by Drugs Case.

No matter, the situation, you are always better off consulting legal advice. Just make sure the advice you recieve is sound. Springfield Missouri Attorney Joel Harris, may be just the Attorney you need to make your life a little bit easier.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Texting and Driving in Missouri... Is it legal? Can I get in trouble? Will I get caught?

Currently texting and driving is only illegal for persons 21 years of age and under. However, new legislation recently was passed, by an overwhelming majority, through the Missouri House of Representatives that would make texting and driving illegal for everyone, exceptions noted. What does this mean? While the Senate still must pass the legislation, it may mean that our roads will soon be safer. Safety issues aside though, how do you enforce legislation like this, and what will be the actual impact on citizens?

We have all been driving down the road and pulled up next to that person barely paying attention to their driving as they text vigorously on their phones. I usually give them a little honk to say hello. And while an officer viewing the crime of texting and driving would certainly be enough, rarely will they get that opportunity. The fact of the matter is, that all of us, whether guilty of a crime or not, straighten up when the law is around. The simple sight of an officer in your rear view mirror is enough to make you extra vigilant in your driving. Likewise, people put their phones away and do their best to keep it between the mustard and the mayonnaise. But once that officer is gone, back to the phone they go, with little concern for the law.

Legislation such as this is almost impossible to enforce. The evidence at trial is almost always he said she said testimony and the officer generally will win that battle. That being said, how do I beat a texting and driving ticket at trial? The safest bet is to make sure that you always have someone with you who can testify t such. While an officer has no motivation to lie, two people's testimony is almost always more powerful and the two individuals in the vehicle would certainly have more knowledge on the matter. But even further proof would be in the phone records themselves. Make sure that the officer notes the time of not only the stop, but the alleged law violation. If your phone company has done their job then you could show easily that you were not texting at the time of the stop.

Whichever courses of action or strategy you decide to take remember to always contact an attorney to assist you.

The choice of an attorney is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Should I testify at trial?
Mark Twain once said, "If you tell the truth you won’t have to remember anything." Never is this so true than in the Court of law. I have had an unusually high number of trials lately; most cases simply never get that far. However, with trials comes the inevitable struggle over truth. The most amusing aspect being those people who have decided to lie, but could not commit to it. There is a special place in the Guinness book of idiots for those people, the cover.

Lying never really gets you what you want. At best it gives you a lifetime of worry and covering your tracks. So why is it that we decide to lie so often? Many believe it to be compulsive while some point the finger at shame. I think people are just scared. Scared of what might happen, of what people might think, of what Judges might rule. While these concerns are legitimate it doesn't justify the end.

No matter your situation I ask that you consider your words. Quick responses aren’t always necessary, and many times end up in disaster. Hold tight to the idea that a person is only as good as their word, and try to be the best you can. I give my client's three (3) rules to follow when testifying in Court. (1) Answer only what's asked. The more you talk, the more you lie, and you shouldn’t assume you know the direction the attorney is taking you. (2) Don't play games. The simple truth is that this is a game you can’t afford to lose, and knowing that the attorney has all the rules and you don't make that prospect just too risky. Finally, and most importantly, (3) always tell the truth. A person who tells the truth never has to remember the facts, and most often, that’s why you are there. Those little hesitations in your voice are what gives it away, so make sure to be confident in your answer. There is nothing worse than telling the truth, and no one believing you.

To that end, I feel like I can learn more about a person in a trial than I could in any other setting. Not because of what they tell me, but rather what they don’t tell me. The truth is sometimes ugly, but it is always better than a lie.

Joel Harris is an Attorney in Nixa, MO and serves the Springfield area. He engages in a variety of different legal activities including Divorce & Custody, Criminal Law, Traffic & DWI, and Auto accidents.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Separation of Church and State, what does it mean?

     A friend of mine posted on facebook this morning that our nations additions of "God" to our countries pledge, currency and motto, are in direct defiance of the words of George Washington and John Adams, who purportedly state that the USA is not a Christian Nation. While I disagree with the statement as a whole, I could agree with the premise that the USA is not a Christian Nation. As the son of a preacher, raised in the gospel, I can feel the online cringe of ye fellow Christians. However, as a man of the law, and one of reason, I must expand.
Our country is not a Christian nation, rather, it is a country built by Christians. The purpose of the separation of church and state were not to take God or moral decision making out of our government. Instead they are used to give credence to the idea that this is a free nation. Government and Church are to be governed separately, but like any fluid concept it is understood that the two must co-exist. How is it that we can develop laws or punishment without the guidance of morality? How is it that we can lead spiritually without the legal protection to do so? While the two are separate they are not void from each other’s workings. We find government in every aspect of the church. We find church in every aspect of the government. Not as a gold standard of decision making, but as guidance and a source of strength.
People and organizations such as the ACLU do not seek to remove religion from government. In fact, just recently they procured Muslim rights of prayer for workers, and even were present during the mosque discussions at ground zero. Instead, the ACLU and like minded supporters seek to take “God” out of government. A distinction that contradicts our very existence as a free country.
The truth is simple. We as a people have been drawn to a Christian faith that provides the type of moral guidance that helped build America. The important thing to remember is that God understood the importance of free will and with that gave us the decision to blaze our own path. We too as a country have adhered to the concept of free will. However, that free will should not be threatened by the mere existence of religion in government, rather, it should be threatened by our removal of religion from government. For a nation without religion is no nation at all. It will only be a group of people seeking guidance from those most powerful. And with that gives the fall of humanity.   

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

First time up!

Went to court this morning... argued... Came to the office... put out fires... taught my class... molded the youth of America... Yeah right. What seems entirely illogical about our day to day lives is the constant conflict we find ourselves in. In highschool we think, "it's just highschool, it will get better when I'm older". When we are older we think, it's just a bumb in the road things will get better when I get a new job, or make more money, or find the right person. The sad truth is that it never does, nor should it. Without conflict I would be without a job, and your life would be boring. Being an attorney has helped me focus on whats important. I took the good with the bad, and try to keep both in check. Now I wait... exhaustion being my companion. But I know, that if I persevere and hold close to those people most important, then I will arrive at my destination. Where is that? No one knows, which makes this journey more of a road trip than anything.

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