Every experienced criminal defense lawyer has had his share of clients who managed to turn a mere summary offense into a serious felony like aggravated assault, based upon their interactions with law enforcement at the time of arrest. A common scenario involves a drunk Penn State student exhibiting the fight or flight instinct when confronted by the police for minor offenses like underage drinking, public drunkenness or urinating in public. While fighting a cop is obviously creates a no-win situation, running away is not a good choice either. When confronted by police, it is in the suspect’s own best interests to be cooperative.
Recently, a 19 year old male found out the hard way that running from the police is a very bad decision. As Happy Valley celebrated Penn State’s emotional, four overtime triumph over Michigan earlier this season, a female State College Police detective noticed Brandon Bednash urinating in public, while she was directing traffic. In case you are wondering why a detective would be directing traffic, Penn State home games call for “all-hands-on-deck.” Almost everyone with a badge is doing standard patrol work. Rather than cooperate when confronted by the detective, Bedbash knocked her to the ground. As he tried to run away, the detective grabbed his backpack. Bednash then dragged her, causing the detective to fall and possibly fracture her elbow.
Bedhash now faces a litany of charges, with the most serious charges being two forms of aggravated assault. He is charged with a first degree felony aggravated assault for allegedly inflicting serious bodily injury upon the detective. This offense is punishable by up to 10 to 20 years in state prison and a $25,000 fine. Even if a defendant has no prior record, a defendant convicted of first degree felony aggravated assault is looking at significant state prison time, pursuant to the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines. Bednash is also charged with a second degree felony “status based” aggravated assault. A status based aggravated assault arises where the allegations would normally support a second degree misdemeanor simple assault charge, but the status of the victims elevate the offense to a felony. This offense is not nearly as bad as the first degree felony, and someone convicted of this offense with no prior record could receive a county jail sentence rather than a state prison sentence.
Had Mr. Bednash cooperated, he would have been charged only with underage drinking and public urination at the most. In fact, if he were apologetic, it is possible that he may have only been charged with the underage drinking, with the officer cutting him a break by not adding the public urination charge. Even if he were charged with both offenses, there is a very strong chance that a criminal defense attorney would have been able to work out a plea agreement, which would ultimately allow him to escape any citation record. But alas, as things stand now, Mr. Bednash could be convicted of a felony, and his sentencing guidelines on the most serious aggravated assault charge call for a state prison sentence of at least three years.
I cannot emphasize enough the need to cooperate when confronted by the police. I have been able to achieve some extremely favorable plea agreements for clients over the years, in cases where clients were cooperative with police. The police and prosecutors are human. They often feel sympathy for a defendant who is normally a good person, but simply made a mistake due to a combination of intoxication and immaturity. On the flip side, that same basic human nature makes the police and prosecutors very reluctant to show any mercy to someone who physically harms members of law enforcement.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense attorney in State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University. he has extensive experience representing defendants charges with violent crimes such as aggravated and simple assault.