Carnival Without Consequences

A few legal considerations for the season

Right now, Mardi Gras Indians are putting the final touches on their hand-crafted, elaborately-beaded costumes, krewes are organizing their floats and riders, and thousands of people are pondering or finishing their costumes as they map out their plans for the parades next month.

Despite all the careful planning, Mardi Gras is also a time when people can make — let’s face it — stupid decisions. While some no-nos — like eating king cake before Twelfth Night — aren’t technically illegal, more serious, law breaking activities could earn you a hefty fine, — or worse — land you in jail.

So, to help you celebrate responsibly, we spoke to a few local legal experts to get some of their best tips and suggestions so you can laissez les bons temps rouler without worry.

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Some of them are pretty obvious.

“Don’t urinate in public,” said Stephen D. Hébert of Hébert Law Firm. “And always be polite to law enforcement. If an officer acts like a jackass, then be even more polite.”

But others may not be so clear.

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“Don’t walk around carrying glass,” Hébert said. That’s right, glass bottles and containers are technically banned for safety reasons — they can potentially be dangerous when they’re discarded on the ground. Luckily, this one is an easy fix: just pour your drink into a plastic cup. You can grab one from one of the many bars along the parade route — or better yet, catch one from a float!

Another obvious one: Don’t drink and drive. There have been too many tragic accidents directly caused by alcohol consumption. In today’s world, this one also has easy — and safe — solutions.

“There are plenty of taxis and ride-share services so you can enjoy the parades and parties without taking any chances,” said Meghan Matt, an attorney at Murrell Law Firm.  “If you’re arrested, call a local lawyer who knows the local quirks to get your case moving and you out of jail as fast as possible.”

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Speaking of local lawyers, you may recognize Morris Bart’s name and face from his billboards around town. Bart echoed the advice to call a taxi or use a ride-sharing app like Uber or Lyft if you’ve been drinking. He also cautioned against carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.

If you have ANYTHING to drink (or ingest any other controlled dangerous substance), DO NOT DRIVE.  It’s much easier to get to a .08 blood alcohol level than you think. Plus, there are plenty of cabs and Ubers all over the city. Either option is much cheaper than a DWI case in any parish in the state of Louisiana.
– Stephen D. Hebert, owner, Hebert Law Firm

“And this is especially important because our neighboring states — Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Florida — all allow concealed carry without a permit,” he said.

Bart explained that what typically happens is someone from Georgia or Texas, for instance, drives to New Orleans, bringing a gun with them. After checking into a hotel, they may walk out on the street while wearing the firearm, as they do at home. In Texas, Georgia, Alabama or Mississippi — everywhere else in the South — they’d be fine. But not in Louisiana.

“And these people are flabbergasted when the police pull them over, frisk them and then arrest them for carrying a concealed weapon,” Bart said.

As for some “insider tips,” our experts were happy to oblige.

“One of the most important tips for me and anybody else is: ‘Where is the nearest bathroom?” said Bart. “You gotta have that on Mardi Gras day. Whether it’s bars, restaurants, hotels, port-o-lets, whatever. Before you start drinking, be sure you know where the nearest bathroom is.”

Having a plan in place was one of Matt’s key insights, as well.

“Margaritas from Superior Grill for the parades on St. Charles are a must,” Matt said. “Stay ‘off the beaten path’ to avoid the crowds and increase your chance of good throws. Put your kids (or friends) on your shoulders so you can reach those second levels of the floats. And remember, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Pace yourself — with parades, walking, drinks, all of it. There is a lot of fun to be had!”

drew hawkins is a writer and journalist in New Orleans. He’s the health equity reporter in the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration among public radio stations in Louisiana (WWNO and WRKF), Alabama (WBHM) and Mississippi (MPB-Mississippi Public Broadcasting) and NPR. He’s also the producer and host of Micro, a LitHub podcast for short but powerful writing.


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