I wanted to review case scenarios in Los Angeles County involving out of state visitors, tourists, vacationers, and students. These cases are initiated many ways, and generally involve law-abiding people with no previously trouble with the law. While Los Angeles area police agencies usually process “vacation arrests” the same way as typical criminal cases, tourist cases can often be differentiated to prosecutors and judges, and/or steered away from the criminal justice system.

I think it is important to clarify a common misperception right off the bat. Arrests which occur in California do not simply “remain” in California. Many of these criminal records are easily accessible to government agencies and background check companies throughout the United States. Thus, out-of-state arrests for people living outside of the California can have far-reaching consequences.

If you are facing a criminal case in Los Angeles and live outside of California, it is important that you have a thorough understanding of your options, rights, and potential consequences, by speaking to a Los Angeles Tourist Arrest Defense Attorney.

Felony or Misdemeanor Case?

Tourist arrests create challenges for many reasons. An important issue relates to coordinating your day-to-day life in your home state, while at the same time addressing your case in Los Angeles. The level of difficulty will often depend on the seriousness of your accusation.

The starting point for your defense is determining whether you are facing a felony or misdemeanor charge. Felonies in Los Angeles are more serious than misdemeanors, and are treated differently in the justice system. Felonies include charges, including most Drug Possession, certain Weapon Possession, Assault/Battery with Serious Injury, Hit and Run with Injury, Burglary, and Grand Theft over $950, to name a few. Misdemeanor violations include, DUI/Drunk Driving, Shoplifting, Disturbing the Peace, and Prohibited Item at the Airport.

If you have been arrested for a felony violation, you will be required to appear at court in person, unless, prior to the court date: 1. Your case is reduced by the District Attorney (DA) to misdemeanor level; 2. The case is steered to an Informal Diversion Program; or 3. The case is rejected by DA and City Attorney for criminal filing.

Early intervention by your tourist arrest attorney may encourage the DA to consider less serious “wobbler” charges (certain felony cases which may be reduced to misdemeanor level). If your case is reduced to a misdemeanor prior to the court date, it is likely your local attorney will be able to appear in court on your behalf, subject to your agreement with your Surety Bond Company.

Common Tourist and Vacation Arrests

Vacation arrests occur in Los Angeles, California for a variety of reasons. Commonly, tourist arrest cases occur from conduct which is not representative of the person’s usual behavior, and may be alcohol-related, such as DUI cases (California has some of the most stringent laws involving consumption of alcohol). Tourist cases also originate from conduct which may be lawful in the person’s home state, but is illegal in Los Angeles County, such as possession of certain weapons or firearms, public consumption of alcohol, to name a few.

Many tourists visiting Los Angeles are unfamiliar with local laws, and learn about technical violations when confronted by police. For example, certain alcohol offenses, such as possession of open containers of alcohol can be charged at a misdemeanor criminal level. Someone who has a bit too much to drink can be arrested for public intoxication, also a criminal violation.

Airport Arrests

State,local, and federal agencies enforce violations of law at airports. Many cases involve possession of items which might not ordinarily be against the law to possess, but for the location of the incident. Other airport cases involve misunderstandings which are escalated because of heightened tensions and tight security measures. Airport cases are a common type of Vacation Arrest, and may be considered for Court Alternatives. You can learn more about Airport cases and some Court Diversion Programs on our videos at: Airport Arrest and Los Angeles Court Alternatives, as well as in this article about Arrests at Los Angeles Area Airports.

College Student Arrests

College students from out of state who attend local universities in Los Angeles County may run afoul of the law for a number of reasons. Many young people living without parental oversight for the first time in their lives feel pressure to fit in, and act outside of their normal behavior. Common college student violations which result in criminal cases, include, possession of fake identification cards/fake parking stickers, alcohol violations such as public intoxication, underage drinking, and DUI (Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol), as well as shoplifting (petty theft), trespass, and vandalism. While some violations may be handled less formally in the student’s home state, these Los Angeles cases are generally processed as criminal violations.

Surprisingly, college students who drive motor vehicles while temporarily living in California are generally required to have a California Driver’s License. Technical violations of driving with an out-of-state driver’s license are charged as misdemeanors by Los Angeles area law enforcement, and can create a criminal record for a college student. These student license cases are extremely important to distinguish from the hundreds of similar violations in the courthouses, in order for a suitable resolution to be obtained. This oftentimes requires early intervention from an attorney, to meet with prosecutors prior to the courtroom hearing.

Additional Misperceptions about Criminal Cases in Los Angeles

A Los Angeles “arrest” does not always result in a formal booking at the police station. This sometimes creates a misperception that misdemeanor citations ordering a person to appear in court are not serious violations. Just the opposite is true. Misdemeanor citations require an actual court appearance by the person cited, or his or her attorney, and cannot generally be resolved by mailing in a fine payment.

Importantly, Los Angeles Criminal Courts “expeditiously” handle hundreds of cases each day, and it is not unusual for someone in court to plead guilty, and later find out that they have been convicted of a serious crime, preventing future employment or other life opportunity. This fact highlights the importance of legal representation at court.

Failure to Appear in Tourist Arrest Cases

For those who choose to ignore a misdemeanor citation, or miss their court date, Los Angeles Courts escalate the severity of these cases. Failure to appear on a misdemeanor citation will result in a bench or arrest warrant, a new criminal violation, and can also have collateral consequences of triggering a Driver’s License Suspension in California and throughout the United States.

Once a warrant is issued by a Los Angeles judge, it remains in police and court computer systems, indefinitely. And many judges set high bail for bench warrants of out-of-state defendants who fail to appear in court.


Over the course of my career, I have found that many prosecutors and judges will distinguish vacationer and tourist cases from everyday criminal cases, once I provide details about the client and incident. Since every case result depends on the unique circumstances and applicable laws, I try to highlight certain details of each case scenario which may provide insight as to the incident, to present each client in the best light possible.

tourist & vacation arrests

Law Offices of George Kita

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