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October 2013 Archives

Should Pennsylvania Reduce Marijuana Possession to a Summary Offense?

There are some peculiar glitches in Pennsylvania's marijuana laws. One such inconsistency is that possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use, defined as less than 30 grams of cannabis, is an ungraded misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine, yet the usual maximum penalty for an ungraded misdemeanor is up to one year incarceration and a $2,500 fine. By contrast, the maximum penalty for summary offenses under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code is 90 days in jail, with maximum fines ranging from $300 to $1,000. Thus, the maximum penalties for possessing a small amount of marijuana in Pennsylvania are already less than the maximum penalty for summary offenses like underage drinking, disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and criminal mischief. Despite this, possessing a small amount of marijuana is charged as a misdemeanor instead of a summary offense. marijuana handcuffs.jpgYou may wonder why reducing possession of a small amount of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a summary offense is of any consequence, if the penalty is already less than the possible penalties for summary offenses. The simple reason is that misdemeanor convictions carry more collateral consequences than summary offense convictions. For example, all misdemeanors are fingerprintable offenses, while most summary offenses are not fingerprintable offenses. If you are charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana, you will be fingerprinted and photographed. You will then be in criminal data bases maintained by the Pennsylvania State Police and FBI. Your marijuana possession charge will appear in every type of criminal background check. If you are merely convicted of a summary offense, your case will only come up in some, but not all criminal background checks. With the exception of retail theft, summary offense convictions will not appear in background checks, which cover only fingerprintable offenses, but they will come up in background checks performed by private companies, as these background check companies will find every docket sheet, uploaded by court systems onto the Internet.

Obscure Crimes: Fortune Telling is Illegal in Pennsylvania


Did you ever notice that many psychics and astrologers in Pennsylvania use a "for entertainment purposes only" disclaimer, much the same way that escorts use the "money is exchanged only for time and companionship" disclaimer? Those claiming paranormal powers use disclaimers because fortunetelling is an obscure crime in Pennsylvania, but still just as illegal as prostitution. fortune-teller-scarlett-royal.jpg

Feline Marijuana Courier Nabbed in Moldova

The notion of a marijuana-delivering cat sounds like the premise of a show on Cartoon Network's stoner-friendly "Adult Swim," but such a magical feline really exists in Moldova. Although cats are not exactly known for following instructions, someone in Moldova managed to train a cat to smuggle cannabis into a prison. Considering the level of decay of Moldova's infrastructure, it is not surprising that the prison in the village of Pruncul had a hole in its fence, big enough for a cat to pass through. When guards became suspicious of a cat regularly making trips in and out of the prison, they noticed that the felis domesticus was wearing a collar with a compartment containing small bags of marijuana. My_cat_likes_marijuana_by_plantlover.jpg

Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure: What is a Nolo Contendre Plea?


If a defendant, opts not to go to trial, he can either plead guilty or nolo contendre. A nolo contendre plea is also called a plea of "no contest." With a guilty plea, a defendant admits that he committed the offenses to which he is pleading guilty. With a nolo contendre plea, the defendant does not admit to the conduct forming the basis of the offenses to which he is pleading no contest. Rather, he acknowledges that if he went to trial, the Commonwealth would have sufficient evidence to prove that he committed the offenses, assuming that the finder of fact (a judge or jury) believed this evidence. When it comes to sentencing and post-sentencing rights, pleas of guilty and nolo contendre have the exact same effect.

Marijuana is Legal in North Korea


As shocking as it may seem, marijuana is legal in North Korea, widely considered to be the most oppressive society on Earth. Given the fact that North Koreans are sentenced by Orwellian courts to death or lengthy terms in Stalin-style gulags for the most trivial "crimes," it is hard to believe that North Korea actually has a more progressive cannabis policy than the United States and most of its democratic allies. Both North Korean defectors and foreign tourists report that cannabis is openly sold at markets, grown in home gardens and smoked in public. Foreign visitors to North Korea are assigned "minders" who follow their every step, but the minders fire up the ganja along with the foreign tourists. Kim.jong.un.joint.jpg

What are Narcotic Drugs?

Perhaps the most misused term in the world of criminal law is "narcotics." Many people who should know better, such as police officers, prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys and crime beat reporters, use the term "narcotic" as a synonym for any illegal drug. Thus, in their use of English, marijuana and cocaine a narcotics, while Oxycodone is a "prescription drug." When I hear such misuse of the term "narcotic" I want to pull out my hair and scream. As a criminal defense attorney interested in linguistics, it is one of my major pet peeves. heroin.tattoos.jpg

Stripper Assaults Patron in Breach of Strip Club Etiquette

A 25 year old South Carolina stripper has been charged with misdemeanor assault after striking a 31 year old strip club patron in the face five or six times. It appears that both Nicole Passmore (stripper name not available) and Earnest Kadlick both violated well established strip club rules of etiquette. First of all, Kadlick had left money sitting on his table, which Passmore picked up as she started to dance for Kadlick. When Kadlick protested that he did not want her to dance for him, she straddled him and began to give him a lap dance. The correct strip club etiquette requires the stripper to ask, rather than assume, that a customer wants a dance. Secondly, the dancer should wait for the patron to give her the money for a lap dance. It is not like a bar where money left on the counter is assumed to be a tip; there are any number of strippers on the floor at once, and that money could be meant for someone else. Unlike bartenders or coffee shop baristas, strippers do not share their tips at the end of the night. If, however, the tip is left on the stage while the stripper is dancing, then it is clearly meant to be a tip for the stage show. nicolepassmore.jpg

Pennsylvania Coach and Teacher Charged with Drug Paraphernalia Keeps Positions

In a moment of sanity among elected officials, the South Middleton School Board unanimously voted to retain Boiling Springs wrestling coach and driver's ed teacher Rodney Wright, who has a pending charge of possession of drug paraphernalia. This is a welcome decision at a time when so many school districts take a zero tolerance approach to drugs and alcohol, without looking at the individual facts of a case. The fact that Mr. Wright received overwhelming support form the Boiling Springs community is also quite refreshing. Mr. Wright has had a stellar record as a wrestling coach, and his $2,663 annual wrestling coach salary is a mere pittance when one considers the number of hours he spends coaching. Boiling.Springs.High.School.jpg

Pennsylvania Coach and Teacher Charged with Drug Paraphernalia Keeps Positions

In a moment of sanity among elected officials, the South Middleton School Board unanimously voted to retain Boiling Springs wrestling coach and driver's ed teacher Rodney Wright, who has a pending charge of possession of drug paraphernalia. This is a welcome decision at a time when so many school districts take a zero tolerance approach to drugs and alcohol, without looking at the individual facts of a case. The fact that Mr. Wright received overwhelming support form the Boiling Springs community is also quite refreshing. Mr. Wright has had a stellar record as a wrestling coach, and his $2,663 annual wrestling coach salary is a mere pittance when one considers the number of hours he spends coaching. Boiling.Springs.High.School.jpg

Public Drunkenness and Indecent Exposure Charges Arise From Alcohol Overdose

As a criminal defense lawyer in the same community as Penn State, I have represented my share of students who manage to tack on additional charges after being sent to Mount Nittany Medical Center following an arrest for public drunkenness and/ or underage drinking. Typically, the drunk student becomes enraged over the arrest and involuntary hospitalization, which leads to additional charges of criminal mischief for destroying hospital property, disorderly conduct for loud and disruptive behavior, or even aggravated assault for attacking a police officer or EMT. The aforementioned scenarios are not uncommon here in Centre County, but I have yet to represent a client like 21 year-old Ty Alsop, who managed to "catch a charge" of indecent exposure following his hospitalization for an alcohol overdose in Evansville, Indiana. TyAlsop.jpg

Penn State Grad Founded Cyber Drug Market Known as "Silk Road"


It turns out that the founder and operator of the "Silk Road" website, which had frustrated law enforcement for the past several years, has a masters degree from Penn State. Ross Ulbricht, who earned a masters in material science and engineering from Penn State in 2010, was arrested yesterday in San Francisco on a variety of federal charges related to his operation of Silk Road, as well as charges related to a murder for hire plot, in which Ulbricht allegedly sought the murder of someone who was trying to extort money form him, and an employee to had defrauded Silk Road users out of a substantial amount of money. Ross.Ulbricht.jpg

Retail Theft in Pennsylvania is Not "Just Like a Traffic Ticket!"

As a criminal defense lawyer with an office two blocks away from Penn State University, I get calls every day from otherwise intelligent students who suffered a momentary lapse of judgment. Although most lapses of judgment occur when drunk, retail theft is a crime which is usually committed by sober people. Among college students, it tends to be a crime of opportunity with no pre-planning, while professional shoplifters, known as "boosters," have elaborate systems to avoid detection. Not surprisingly, it is the non-professionals who are most likely to be caught by store security. shoplifting.pocket.jpg