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April 2013 Archives

Collateral Consequences for Convictions are Very Harmful for Education Majors

As a criminal defense attorney representing students from Penn State and other schools, I must always consider collateral consequences for convictions when determining the best course of action in a given case. It is never good to be charged with a crime as a college student, but when it comes to collateral consequences for conviction, not all majors are created equally. In some professions, a criminal conviction will merely hurt your chances of getting a job, while a conviction will serve as an absolute bar to employment in certain other professions.

Fire Chief Killed in DUI Homicide

Matthew Diehl has been charged with homicide while DUI, Homicide by Vehicle, Accidents Involving Death or Personal Injury and DUI, after police say he ploughed into Loganville Fire Chief Rodney Miller, who had been directing traffic following an accident on Route 83 in Southern York County just after midnight last Saturday. According to witnesses, Diehl drove away after striking the police chief, and did not stop until halted by the stalled traffic, related to the first accident. 

Physical Appearance Matters in the Courtroom

Appearance isn't everything, but it does play a big role in how people perceive you. This is true at work, the gym, the grocery store and at a bar, so it should come as no surprise that a judge or jury will not only judge you based on the facts of the case, but also on how you look in the courtroom.

Bail Basics in Pennsylvania

Bail is the tool, which the courts use to assure a defendant's appearance at future court dates. In Pennsylvania, criminal charges are filed in the magisterial district courts, and, therefore, it is the task of magisterial district judges to set bail. Bail is set in all misdemeanor and felony cases, while a defendant is not entitled to bail if he is charged with an offense punishable by death or life in prison. In rare non-homicide cases, a magisterial district court could refuse to set bail if it appears that pre-trial detention is the only means of securing a defendant's appearance.

DUI Arrests Are Most Common Near Home


"I was already in my driveway when I saw the read and blue lights, and then I got charged with DUI!" I have heard variations of this story from DUI clients so many times that I long ago lost count. Perhaps not surprisingly, most DUI arrests occur within a few miles of a driver's home.

Fraternity Pranks Can Lead to Criminal Charges

Before the typical student arrives at college, he has seen scores of movies glorifying the drunken debauchery and mayhem of fraternity life. In movies like "Revenge of the Nerds" or "Animal House," the impressionable, teen viewer is shown that laws do not apply to fraternities and sororities. Such films have a long cinematic tradition, and many are quite funny, but in the real world, fraternity pranks often lead to the filing of criminal charges. As a criminal defense attorney in State College, PA, I deal with such cases first hand.

Underage Drinking Convictions Can be Avoided

In a previous blog, I explained how to avoid being noticed by the police and getting charged with underage drinking or public drunkenness in the first place. In this blog, I am going to explain what steps you can take if you have contact with the police related to an underage drinking or public drunkenness investigation. I am not encouraging you to drink underage, but I am going to enlighten you as to your rights under the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions.

Minors Can be Charged with Furnishing Alcohol to Other Minors!

In what can only be described as a strange glitch under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, minors can be charged with furnishing alcohol to other minors! Not only is such a scenario possible, it happens all the time to Penn State students. To add insult to injury, the minor in question will also be charged with "purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of malt or brewed beverages," pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S.A. 6308(a), better known simply as "underage drinking." A furnishing alcohol to minors conviction carries a mandatory $1,000 fine for each minor served, and a permanent criminal record, while an underage drinking conviction carries a mandatory driver's license suspension, even if the situation had nothing to do with driving.

What is Drug Paraphernalia under Pennsylvania Law?

In Pennsylvania, charges of drug paraphernalia and small amount of marijuana go together like peanut butter and jelly. It is easy to understand that a "small amount of marijuana" is less than 30 grams of any parts of the cannabis plant, but what exactly drug paraphernalia means is not readily apparent.

Why is There a National Drinking Age of 21 in the US?

I am a criminal defense attorney in State College, PA, a town with a disproportionately high number of 18 to 20 year olds, thanks to Penn State University. Given how many students I represent in underage drinking cases, I am often asked why there is a national drinking age of 21 throughout the whole United States. It's the question that seemingly all young people irate over an underage drinking citation have on their minds, when they are quite aware that their age peers in other countries can legally drink. After all, the "Dancing Queen" in the ABBA song was allowed in a disco at the age of 17!

It's Bar Tour Season at Penn State

With springtime comes bar tour season to Penn State, and over the years, I have represented more than a few bar tour casualties. Bar tours can be a lot of fun if you pace yourself and drink responsibly, but if you drink too much and get out of control, you could find yourself charged with the likes of DUI, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct or criminal mischief, and even assault. And don't even think about using a fake ID on a bar tour. Fake IDs won't get you into a State College bar, but they get you into the back of a police car, while hundreds of people walk by looking at you in handcuffs.

Remembering Penn State's Marijuana Golden Age

Once upon a time, well, actually in ancient history for Penn State's current students, you could smoke marijuana on the Penn State campus with little fear of repercussions. I will never forget my History 21 professor during my sophomore year telling our class that back in the 1970s, you could not walk from one end of the Penn State campus to another without getting stoned. She should have played Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women" for added effect, as she went on to describe "Gentle Thursday," a Penn State stoner holiday long pre-dating April 20.

Marijuana Cake Accidentally Eaten by a Police Chief

The cake wasn't the only thing baked, when Laurelville, Ohio Police Chief Mike Berkemeier accidentally ate a space cake on Easter morning. Actually, he did not stop at a mere slice, but ate the whole thing. Soon thereafter, he started to feel sick. While in the hospital, the chief's daughter called to say that the her father had accidentally eaten a cake laced with cannabis oil, a marijuana plant extract. Of course, the daughter's "friend" had dropped off the cake.

Drug Posession: When to Grant or Deny Consent to a Search

The plight of championship-winning Boiling Springs wrestling coach Rod Wright serves as a perfect example of why it is often not in your best interests to consent to a search by police. On January 14, 2013, police received an anonymous tip that Wright had drug paraphernalia in his home. The police went to Wright's home and asked for permission to enter the home and look around. Wright was not present, but someone else consented to a search, and, lo and behold, the police found drug paraphernalia.

Why do Penn State Bars have a Bounty on Fake IDs?

Fake IDs are quite common throughout the United States, as a natural outgrowth of having a nationwide drinking age of 21. Fake IDs work in some places, while in other places, the bouncers and bartenders take every precaution to make sure an ID is legitimate before allowing someone to drink. Unfortunately for Penn State students, State College is one of those places where the bars not only refuse entry to a person with a fake ID, but the bouncers will actually detain the would-be underage bar crasher until the police show up. When the police arrive, they will either charge you with a first degree misdemeanor for "violations concenring licenses" or a summary offense, depending upon the facts of the case. At some bars, the owner actually pays the bouncers a bounty for each fake ID they confiscate. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Underage-Drinking.shtml

At Sentencing, No Mercy for a Robber who Showed No Mercy

Harsh sentences for victimless crimes are usually unjust, while it is hard to feel any sympathy at all for someone like Richard Martinez, better known in Central Pennsylvania as the "Centre Hall Mountain Robber." From a legal standpoint, his case took some unusual turns, which are worthy of explanation. On May 5, 2012, the then 19 year old Martinez confronted four 14 year old hikers. He threatened them with a box cutter, ordered them to the ground, and stole three iPods. Just for good measure, he kicked one of the boys in the head, breaking the boy's eye socket. Martinez entered an open plea to very serious charges, including robbery and aggravated assault. Judge Pamela Ruest imposed an aggregate sentence of eight to 16 years.

Penn State Altoona Party Leads to Riot Charges


Penn State students have a long tradition of daytime parties on the first warm Saturday of spring, but such a party last Saturday at Penn State Altoona has led to felony riot charges being filed against 12 students, after Logan Township Police claim the party got out of hand. Police estimate that between 800 to 1,000 people were partying in the parking lot of Nittany Pointe when they arrived to break it up. Angry partiers threw bottles at the police, but no charges against the bottle throwers have been filed yet. Should these people be identified, they can expect to be charged with propulsion of missile, simple assault and aggravated assault. Because a thrown bottle can be a deadly weapon, their sentences would be more severe than usual, should they be convicted.

In Drug Cases, The First to Squeal Gets the Deal


A lot of people assume that in drug cases, the big fish get the stiffest sentences, while the least culpable receive the most lenient sentences. In a perfectly fair and just world, that would be the case, but that is not the reality of the American justice system. In actuality, the first to squeal usually gets the best deal.

Marijuana Legalization is the Answer, Not Decriminalization

It appears inevitable that marijuana policy will radically change at both the state and federal levels in the near future. A recent Pew Research Center poll reveals that for the first time since marijuana attitudes have been measured, a majority of Americans now favor legal marijuana for recreational purposes. Much like the gay marriage issue, public opinion is changing quickly. The biggest factor correlated to one's attitude towards cannabis is age, and as crass as it is to say, each day more marijuana prohibitionists die, only to be replaced by 18 year old voters who are overwhelmingly in favor of legalization.

Prescription Drug Fraud: The "White Collar Crime" of the Drug World

A recent bust of a South Central Pennsylvania prescription drug ring by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office is a perfect illustration of why prescription drug fraud is the "white collar crime" of the drug world. Prescription drug fraud often involves active participation by someone in the medical field, such as a physician, nurse or pharmacist, as they are the ones with legal access to prescription drugs. Street drugs like heroin, meth and cocaine, on the other hand, are primarily distributed by either traditional criminals in it for fast money, or pathetic addicts trying to finance their own addictions.

DUI Arrests Will Increase as Apartments Move Further from Penn State Campus

At one time, almost all Penn State students either lived on campus or a stone's throw away. Those days have been gone since the 1980s. As enrollment increased, so too did the need for student housing. Developers met this demands by creating student apartments at places like Briarwood and Toftrees, and then later at State College Park, The Pointe and Nittany Crossing. Soon, the Retreat will offer yet another housing option for students far from campus.

Sequester is Slowing Down the Wheels of Justice

Amid all the talk of the effects of the sequester, the mainstream media has provided surprisingly little coverage of the sequester's effect on the federal justice system. Both the Department of Justice, which prosecutes federal criminal cases, and the Federal Defenders offices, which represent indigent defendant in federal criminal cases, have faced crippling cuts to their budgets. Both the DOJ and Federal Defenders have been forced to place valued attorneys and support staff on lengthy furloughs, until the budget crisis is solved.

Drug War is a Game of Whac-A-Mole

A recent drug bust in Huntingdon County illustrates the Whack-A-Mole nature of the War on Drugs. On March 28, 2013, the Pennsylvania State Police arrested three people at Huntingdon Motor Inn, recovering 751 stamp bags of heroin, four ounces of cocaine and more than $6,700 in cash from the suspects' rooms, following the execution of a search warrant.

Hunting Deer at Wal-Mart Could Send Man to Jail

In a case, which will outrage card-carrying NRA members and anti-gun, suburban soccer-moms alike, a Westmoreland County man found out the hard way that it is not merely a Game Law violation to hunt deer without a license in a Wal-Mart parking lot. In addition to being charged with five summary offenses under the Pennsylvania Game and Wildlife Code, Arcangelo Biaco, Jr. is also charged with the second degree misdemeanor of Recklessly Endangering Another Person, commonly abbreviated as REAP.