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March 2014 Archives

Pennsylvania Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Still Needs Some Work

The marijuana decriminalization bill recently introduced by Pennsylvania State Senator Mike Stack is a nice first step, but does not address all the current problems caused by Prohibition. The bill would reduce possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use (less than 30 grams) to a summary offense for the first two offenses. Anyone unlucky enough to receive a third small amount of marijuana charge could be charged with an ungraded misdemeanor, at the discretion of the district attorney. Most Pennsylvania summary offenses are punishable by up to 90 days in jail, but Senator Stack's bill would eliminate the possibility of jail time for the first two convictions. Rather than jail time or probation, defendants would be subject to court costs and a fine not to exceed $500.

Pennsylvania Teen Escapes with Criminal Mischief Charge and His Life

A Pennsylvania teen who broke into a woman's home by kicking in her front door will be charged only with criminal mischief, and more importantly, he is still alive. Earlier this week, 19 year old Cory R. Gootee of York County left a friend's house to smoke a cigarette. He was so intoxicated that he ended up trying to enter the wrong house. When he discovered the door was locked, he decided to kick it in, which would have been inappropriate even if it were his friend's house, but much worse when it is the home of an unsuspecting neighbor. A 31 year old woman was waiting at the door with her hand gun drawn when Gootee burst through her doorway. She commanded him to not come any closer, and called 911 to report a burglary in progress. Gootee retreated to his friend's front porch, where police found him. Gootee explained to the police that he was simply confused due to his intoxication, and the police found his story to be credible. Although he could have been charged with a second degree felony charge of criminal trespass, the victim asked police to charge Gootee only with the summary offense of criminal mischief, which entails destroying or damaging another person's property without permission.

DUI Charges Filed Against Pennsylvania School Bus Driver

A Pennsylvania school bus driver has been charged with DUI, recklessly endangering another person, careless driving and reckless driving, after police allege she operated her school bus while under the influence of alcohol. Jennifer Watson of Columbia County is accused of being so disoriented on March 20, 2014, that she picked up students after school, and then eventually turned around and started driving her morning bus route to school. Students on the bus reported that Ms. Watson was both swearing and swerving. When met by police back at the school, Ms. Watson denied drinking, but admitted to eating rum soaked raisins to deal with headachesschool.bus-thumb-400x253-34296.jpg.

Pennsylvania Woman's Aggravated Assault Charge Withdrawn in Alleged Attempted Penis Severing Attack

A Pennsylvania woman charged with aggravated assault for allegedly trying to cut off her husband's penis with a box cutter created tabloid headlines around the world earlier this month. Lisa Jones-Orock of Lawrence County was arrested on March 15, 2014, on both an outstanding bench warrant in a DUI case, as well as aggravated assault, simple assault, harassment and small amount of marijuana based upon a domestic dispute, which apparently got way out of hand.

Search Warrants Often Lead to "Collateral Damage"

Search warrants often lead to charges against not just the target of the search warrant, but also frequently lead to charges against other people with whom the target lives. Those of us in the criminal justice system such as police, prosecutors and defense attorneys refer to such defendants as "collateral damage," borrowing from the military term referring to civilians who are killed or wounded, when the actual intended target was something of military value to the enemy.
The classic collateral damage search warrant scenario takes place when one housemate or roommate sells an illegal drug to a confidential informant, who has done a controlled drug buy for the police. The confidential informant then tells the drug detective that he saw a massive amount of drugs or weapons in the targeted dealer's residence. The police will then seek a search warrant, hoping that the little eight ball of blow purchased by the CI may lead to the discovery of kilos of cocaine and a large stack of cash. Often times, the police will obtain a search warrant for the entire premises, and not just the dealer's bedroom, especially if contraband was seen in a common area. Invariably, the police will discover drugs and paraphernalia in other bedrooms, because the type of people who are going to sell drugs, usually are not going to be living with straight edge people.
More often than not, collateral damage defendants are only charged with misdemeanors such as drug paraphernalia for possession of drugs for personal use, usually a small amount of marijuana. Sometimes the police also find alcohol and fake IDs, leading to additional charges for underage possession of alcohol and possession of a false identification card by a minor. If enough drugs or other indicia of dealing are found to warrant felony charges against a person who was not the target of the search warrant, then it is debatable as to whether such a defendant can be classified as collateral damage. Defense lawyers would likely call such a defendant collateral damage, while police and prosecutors would tend to reserve the term for mere users with misdemeanor charges.
Sometimes, a defense attorney can successfully challenge the validity of a search warrant for an entire residence. Whether or not the police have probable cause to search an entire residence, and not just a targeted dealer's bedroom, will depend upon the specific facts of each individual case, so it is important for any collateral damage victim/ defendant to talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer. If the police lacked probable cause to search every room, then a Common Pleas Court judge could grant a motion to quash the search warrant, meaning that any evidence obtained pursuant to an unlawfully issued search warrant cannot be used against the collateral damage defendant. This essentially ends the District Attorney's ability to prosecute the case.
Quite frankly, a lot of drug users enjoy the convenience of living with a dealer. Not only do they have a constant source, but they usually get a combination of price discounts and free drugs. But the downside is that one could easily become a collateral damage victim if the dealer roommate sells to the wrong person. Thus, if you don't want the police ransacking your room, you are better off not living with a drug dealer.

Pennsylvania Teacher Charged with Sexual Assault for Consensual Sex with Adult Student

Emily Nesbit, a 31 year old former English teacher in Cumberland County, found out the hard way that it is now illegal in Pennsylvania for a teacher to have consensual sex with a student, even if the student is over 18. In 2012, Pennsylvania modified the Institutional Sexual Assault statute to include situations where a teacher, coach, school employee or school volunteer has consensual sex with any student, including those over the age of 18. Previously, a school district employee who had consensual sex with an 18 or 19 year old student could not be charged with any crime, which apparently irked enough moral scolds to lead to a change in the law. emily.nesbit-thumb-420x467-33811.jpg
Institutional sexual assault with a consenting adult "victim," is a third degree felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. The sentencing guidelines, however, would allow for probation, if the defendant has no prior record, which would include almost anyone facing this charge, as a person with a prior record never would have been working for a school in the first place. But even if a defendant receives probation, he or she will not only have a felony record, but also have to register as a sex offender for 25 years pursuant to SORNA, The Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act.
I do not agree with the new expansion to the Institutional Sexual Assault Sexual statute. Teachers or coaches who have sex with consenting adult students never went unpunished, even if they could not be criminally prosecuted. They were always fired, and often publicly humiliated once the news spread. Also, I don't think that the young male in this case is truly a victim, in any traditional sense of the word. He is an adult who is old enough to vote, serve in the military, drive a car, enter contracts, appear in a porn film and legally consent to sex. Ironically, he will probably be far more psychologically traumatized by the fact that his older girlfriend is having her life ruined because of something he did. He consented to sex with her, and now she has lost her job, will likely lose her teaching certificate, and is facing a felony charge and the possibility of being required to register as a sex offender. This young man may rightly or wrongly blame himself for being a willing participant; he was not a prepubescent child who was manipulated into doing something he did not understand.
There are a lot of reasons why teachers should not have sex with adult students, and that is why a teacher who has sex with a student should be fired.  But there is no reason to bring criminal charges. It is unnecessary pile on. Loss of one's job and teaching certificate and damage to one's reputation are punishment enough. Also, it is absurd to place a woman who had consensual sex with another adult in the same category as pedophiles who either molested children or possessed child porn. Fortunately, Ms. Nesbit has one of the most highly respected criminal defense attorneys in South Central Pennsylvania. I hope he can work with the District Attorney to achieve a fair and just result in this case.

State College Hypocrisy on Display for St. Patrick's Day

Amid great controversy, State College bars were paid by the borough and Penn State to close on State Patty's Day for the second year in a row, harming the local economy in order to take the moral high ground. Of course, State Patty's Day always falls on a Saturday, which is the most socially appropriate day of the week to drink, and that is why it the biggest bar day of the week, even outside of college football season. By contrast, St. Patrick's Day can fall on any day of the week, and this year it falls on Monday, which is probably the least socially appropriate day to drink, being the start of a work week and all.

State Patty's Day Spirit Spreads to IUP

While State Patty's Day mayhem is but a mere shell of its former self, it appears the tradition of IU Patty's Day is just gaining traction. Although the IUP student-created holiday has been around since 2012, it did not attract much notoriety until this past weekend, when things got out of hand. Videos show drunken young people blocking traffic, walking around with open containers of alcohol, jumping on cars, fighting, throwing objects and screaming and yelling.

Penn State Official Acknowledges Aggressive Marijuana Enforcement

Penn State's head of law enforcement, Steve Shelow, acknowledged at this week's Board of Trustees meeting in Hershey that Penn State Police are aggressively enforcing marijuana laws, which is why there has been an increase in the number of students charged with drug offenses on campus. Shelow, Penn State's assistant vice-president for police and public safety, explained that increased enforcement efforts are the reason for a spike in drugs charges, while briefing the Board of Trustees on public health and safety at Penn State. Shelow stated "we are pretty aggressive, and that is the right approach, quite frankly." The fact that Penn State Police aggressively enforce marijuana laws against mere users of the plant is not exactly news to those who work in the Centre County judicial system, not to mention the scores of victims of this policy, the vast majority of whom are otherwise law-abiding, Penn State students. What is refreshing is that Shelow was so candid. The approach taken by Penn State Police is at odds with public opinion, and with the national trend among police departments to assign a low priority to possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, while still actively pursuing dealers.

Collateral Consequences: Mug Shot Meme Beauty Sues over Use of Her Likeness

Collateral consequences for criminal charges have taken on more long-lasting and devastating forms in the digital age. One such collateral consequence is that mug shots once available only to law enforcement are now posted on the Internet for the whole world to see.

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