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April 2014 Archives

Public Drunkenness Charges in Pennsylvania are Not Just for Drunk People

Few people are aware that it is possible to be charged and convicted of public drunkenness in Pennsylvania even without consuming a single drop of alcohol. On its face, this makes no sense, as the very name of the crime suggests that the statute criminalizes being drunk in public. Yet names can be deceiving. The full name of the statute is "Public Drunkenness and Similar Conduct," with the "similar conduct" being intoxication from a controlled substance. drunk.girls.in.street.jpg

Does a Marijuana-Related Criminal Charge Mean My Child Needs Drug Treatment?

As a criminal defense lawyer a mere five minute walk from the Penn State campus, I have represented countless Penn State students charged with marijuana-related offenses. More often than not, the initial phone calls or emails come from the students' parents, rather than the students themselves, because the parents are the ones who will be hiring a criminal defense attorney. A commonly raised concern among parents is whether they should be worried about deeper problems than the small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia charge, and whether they should get their child into drug treatment.
The favorite answer of lawyers to most questions is "it depends," and it is the most appropriate answer in this scenario. Sometimes, marijuana use is a symptom of bigger problems, like depression, while other times it is harmless, occasional recreational use. We really need to know more before we can ascertain whether criminal charges arising from marijuana use are just the tip of the iceberg. weed-college.png

Pennsylvania Psychics Brazenly Flaunt the Law


If a marijuana dispensary or brothel opened up anywhere in Pennsylvania, complete with a tacky neon sign, the place would be shut down within hours, and the owners and employees would all face criminal charges. Yet for some reason, law enforcement looks the other way when it comes to the criminal bullshit-artists known as psychics, astrologers and fortunetellers. Fortunetelling, which is defined under Pennsylvania law as engaging in the likes of astrology, soothsaying or predicting the future for compensation, is a third degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year incarceration and a $2,500 fine. Psychics and astrologers who con people out of substantial amounts of money could face more serious theft by deception charges, which could even be graded as a felony, if the gullible victim is bilked out of more than $2,000.  psychic.neon.sign.jpg

Preppy Drug Dealers Quickly Busted on the Mainline

Two "amateur" drug dealers with ambitious aspirations of controlling all the marijuana sales on the Mainline were quickly busted, along with young associates who were selling high-quality California-grown cannabis, cocaine, hash oil and Molly at wealthy high schools and colleges in the affluent region west of Philadelphia known as the Mainline. Neil Scott was the 25 year old senior partner in the venture, while 18 year old Timothy Brooks allegedly served as his right-hand man and protégée. The pair had both attended the elite $35,000 a year Haverford School before washing out of college. They dubbed their plan to dominate marijuana sales in the "The Mainline Takeover Project." main-line-drug-ring-9-suspects-600.jpg

Criminal Mischief and Harassment Charges for Pennsylvania Teacher who Lashed Out at Farting Student

A teacher and football coach in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania has been charged with the summary offenses of criminal mischief and harassment, arising from a March 25, 2014, incident in which Pennsylvania State Police allege that 45 year old Michael C. Smith shoved a student into the wall of his classroom, breaking a thermostat. Police allege that Mr. Smith became angry when a 16 year old male juvenile farted in his classroom. Mr. Smith has since been suspended by the school district. What is unclear from media reports is whether the juvenile did it on purpose or under what circumstances, but one of Smith's supporters, who is a softball coach at another high school posted online "I guess the elephant in the room is, what do you do if a kid farted in your face?" mike.smith.jpg

Victim of Marijuana Rip-Off Calls Police to Complain

People call the police and 911 all the time for inappropriate reasons, but a Texas woman took things to a new level of daftness when she called the police to complain that the $40 bag of marijuana she bought was unsmokable. Evelyn Hamilton was distraught that the dime bag was nothing more than stems and seeds, which certainly gives her just reason to complain, but why she chose to bring this matter to the police is beyond me. stems.and.seeds.jpg

Penn State Blue and White Game is More Party than Football

I am a hardcore Penn State football fan, and it appears that only we ultras seem to care enough about position battles, player evaluations and the new coaching staff's schemes to venture into Beaver Stadium to actually watch the game. For the casual fans and those not even into football, the Blue and White Game has become a major springtime holiday in Central Pennsylvania. It celebrates the return of warm weather by "tailgating," which can mean anything from elaborate outdoor feasts to standing in the parking lot drinking cheap beer. penn-state-chick-funneling.jpg.jpg
Even though there is no chance that Penn State can lose, not everyone will leave the Beaver Stadium parking lots happy. The nicer the weather, the greater the number of alcohol-related summary offense citations like underage drinking, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief, not to mention far more serious misdemeanor charges like DUI, simple assault and resisting arrest. Wherever there is a large concentration of people drinking, there will be a certain percentage of people who fail to drink responsibly.
But not everyone charged with an alcohol-related offense was necessarily out of control or obnoxious. For Penn State, State College and Pennsylvania State Police, handing out underage drinking citations around Beaver Stadium is like shooting fish in a barrel, and a lot of these young people do not even get a chance to finish their first drink before being hassled by the Man. If you look young, and are holding a beer or even a red plastic cup, the police are going to check your ID. Obviously, there are so many underage drinkers at a Penn State game that only a tiny fraction of young people will be cited, but small percentage of a very large number is still a lot of people. pennstate_tailgate.png
I understand that the lure of partying is far stronger for most people than an inter-squad scrimmage game with interest only to football nerds like me, but if you are not going into the game, you really should not drink around Beaver Stadium if you are under 21. Normally, when people commit a crime, they at least try not to get caught. Drinking in a public place in broad daylight in an area patrolled by hundreds of cops simply invites trouble.
If you are charged with underage drinking or any other alcohol-related offense, it is important to talk to a local criminal defense lawyer, who knows the cops, judges and the local rules of criminal procedure. Even if you are factually guilty, an attorney can often find ways to mitigate your damages, such as assuring that you escape without a criminal conviction on your record.
Matt McClenahen is a Penn State alumnus and State College criminal defense lawyer, whose office is a five minute walk from campus. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Alcohol-Offenses-DUI.shtml