It might be hard for current Penn State students to believe this, but there was once a time when you could smoke marijuana in the dorms and around campus and no one really cared. Those days are over. Of course, the irony is that marijuana is far more mainstream and socially acceptable now than ever before, at Penn State and everywhere else. It used to be that most fraternities and sororities frowned upon marijuana use as much as they despised tattoos and piercings, yet today's students would not even look twice if they saw a sorority girl with a pierced eye brow and lower back tattoo pull a tube at a frat party. College tokers were once comprised largely of counterculture groups like hippies, punks, later day beatniks, hipsters, avante garde intellectuals and that loveable group found on every big college campus: the stoner geeks into sci fi, comic books, video games and fantasy role playing games. Those traditional stoner groups still smoke weed, but today's tokers also include those clothed by Abercrombie and Fitch and The Gap.
Anyone who has been a criminal defense lawyer long enough has had his share of prostitution cases, especially if any part of his career was spent as a public defender. One common thread I have observed with prostitution defendants is that they tend to be magnets for scammers, schemers and abusers. That pattern proved to be the case for 24 year old woman, an alleged prostitute who was recently charged in South Central Pennsylvania with forgery, after she allegedly passed counterfeit 20 dollar bills to pay for a room at Motel 6.
I usually appear before the three magisterial district judges here in State College, Pennsylvania several times a week, so I often see summary offense trials while waiting for my own clients' cases to be called. One of the most painful things for me to watch is a pro se defendant in a summary trial. It is like being a life guard trapped behind a glass screen, while watching a person who can't swim drown before my eyes. In case you are unfamiliar with the term "pro se," it means a defendant representing himself. A recent pro se defendant I saw before Judge Carmine Prestia provided a text book case of what can go wrong when a person is foolish enough to try to represent himself. The defendant was charged with retail theft at McLanahan's on College Avenue. His defense was not that he did not commit the retail theft, but rather that it was unfair that he had been charged. Yes, you read that right. In an animated tone, he expressed the inherit unfairness of being handcuffed in the middle of a busy day in front of hundreds of fellow Penn State students and driven to the Centre County Correctional Facility for fingerprinting. He asserted that his treatment was unfair, because he had heard of other people caught shoplifting being able to pay for the merchandise, and being released without the police being called. To bolster this argument he tried to testify that he heard of another student who was caught stealing at the Allen Street McLanahan's that same day, but was not charged. Judge Prestia correctly noted that this was both triple hearsay and not relevant to the case before him.
Summary offenses are the least serious criminal offenses under Pennsylvania law. Common summary offenses include underage drinking, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, criminal mischief and a first offense retail theft. Although these offenses are not nearly as serious as misdemeanors or felonies, they are criminal offenses nonetheless, and accordingly, they carry the possibility of jail time, in addition to fines and court costs. The maximum penalty for a summary offense under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code is 90 days in county jail.
A few years ago, Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN angered quite a few people when he openly criticized medical marijuana, agreeing with the United States' government thoroughly discredited position that cannabis has no medicinal value. As a highly respected physician, many people thought that Dr. Gupta should have known better. Now, Dr. Gupta is drowning in praise after apologizing for his previous remarks, and reversing his stance, after thoroughly studying medical marijuana. At the time Dr. Gupta made his controversial remarks denouncing medical marijuana, he did not know much about the subject, but trusted the FDA's decision to include cannabis as a schedule I drug, a classification reserved for drugs with no medicinal value.
It was not long into my career as a criminal defense attorney when I realized that the majority of crimes are either rooted in the pursuit of or effects of drugs and alcohol, or in mental illness, or a combination of the two. My educated guess is that the 38 year old woman who accused workers at a South Central Pennsylvania SPCA animal shelter of "kidnapping her niece," was likely suffering from some DSM-V mental health diagnosis, in light of the fact that her "niece," Molly, is actually a dog. The bizarre delusion led to a rather unusual, alleged burglary over last weekend.
So you think you have a crazy Ex? Chances are you have nothing on a 45 year old New Castle, Pennsylvania man who was subjected to approximately 1,200 phone calls since breaking up with a woman who can be described as something that rhymes with "cat sit lazy." Lisa Jones did not only call her ex-boyfriend, but also called his place of employment and his landlord, when she could not get through to him. She allegedly called him 400 times on just one day.
On August 8, 2013, a woman asked to use the restroom at a Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania gym, but it turns out this was all a ruse. Her real intention was to steal gym bags. She then used car keys she found in the gym bags to break into cars, allowing her to steal credit cards. She tried to use the stolen credit cards almost immediately at a nearby shopping mall.
In what could prove to be a case of first impression in Pennsylvania, Mifflin County Regional Police have charged a pregnant heroin addict with "aggravated assault of unborn child." On August 2, 2013, police and Fame EMS discovered 29 year old Shavon Fisher unresponsive following a heroin overdose. In addition to empty heroin bags and syringes, the police also found a used pregnancy test, displaying a positive result. Later, tests at Lewistown hospital confirmed that Fisher was six or seven weeks pregnant and that she had opiates in her system. The crime of aggravated assault of unborn child , located at Section 2606 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, was enacted in 1997, with heavy support from groups and politicians, who would ultimately like to ban abortion, should Roe v. Wade ever be overturned. This offense is defined as either 1) attempting to cause serious bodily injury to an unborn child, or 2) causing serious bodily injury to an unborn child, through conduct, which is knowing, voluntary or reckless under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life. It is graded as a first degree felony punishable by a sentence of up to 10 to 20 years incarceration and a fine not to exceed $25,000.
As a criminal defense attorney in a bustling college town, I am often asked how State College's head shops and mom and pop convenience stores can get away with selling bongs, bowls, vaporizers, empty plastic dime bags and the like. This is a common question among people who find themselves charged with the ungraded misdemeanor known as "possession of drug paraphernalia," along with a charge of possession of a small amount of marijuana. These clients usually say something like, "I knew it was illegal to have weed, but I didn't think it was a separate crime to have a bowl, when you can buy one at Jamaica Junction."
Six people have been charged in York County, Pennsylvania with charges related to a cocaine distribution ring, which allegedly distributed the stimulant throughout South Central Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey. Following the conclusion of "Operation Special Delivery," the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office alleged that the organization was moving three to four kilos of cocaine a month, or the equivalent of 857 to 1,143 eight-balls, a standard unit in which the drug is often sold to users.
Once upon a time, if you committed a crime in Philadelphia, you could just move to Pittsburgh, and no one would know about your criminal past. There was no electricity, let alone a computer data base. There was really no way for one county to communicate with another county about a suspect's prior record, and even if there were an efficient means of communication, how could the authorities in the arresting county enquire about a criminal record in every other county in the United States?