The Clinton County Department of Probation and Parole in Central Pennsylvania has implemented a standard probation condition requiring all defendants under supervision to "friend" the department's Facebook page and allow full access to all the defendant's content. Police, probation officers and parole agents have been using social media to detect evidence of crime and technical violations of probation and parole since the technology first emerged. What is unique about the Clinton County approach is that it is open and honest. Law enforcement normally checks the social media content of suspects, defendants and probationers secretly, but Clinton County Probation is basically saying, "we are going to be watching you, so don't post anything incriminating"
Marijuana is more socially acceptable now than ever before, especially among young people. In the modern world, those who don't toke really don't care if other people do, yet not that long ago, many people uninitiated into cannabis culture looked down on reefer and those who smoke it. Of course, the irony is that many of the Archie Bunker types, who berated hippies and stoners, drank alcohol and smoked tobacco, but now we have gotten to the point where smoking cigarettes in public carries a far greater social stigma than smoking cannabis in one's own home. In fact, Archie Bunker would be spinning in his TV Land grave if he knew that being gay and smoking weed are far less violative of 21st Century societal norms than his habit of smoking cigars and throwing around racial slurs.
Yesterday, marijuana prohibitionists went 1-3 in ballot measures to re-legalize cannabis for recreational purposes. I use the term "re-legalize," instead of "legalize," because marijuana was legal throughout most of American history, with marijuana prohibition not sweeping the country until the 1920s and 1930s. Alaska, Oregon and Washington DC voters approved recreational marijuana, while a similar measure failed in Florida. Despite 57% of Florida votes in favor of re-legalization, at least 60% of votes were needed, as the measure was presented as an amendment to the state constitution.
With Philadelphia poised to become the largest city in the US to decriminalize marijuana, many people are asking how a city has the legal authority to enact its own drug laws. After all, Pennsylvania law already provides penalties for possession, cultivation and sale of marijuana in the Drug Device and Cosmetic Act. Likewise, the federal government also bans the possession, use and distribution of marijuana, however, the feds generally charge people with possession of marijuana only if the offense happened on federal land, like a national park, leaving all other misdemeanor-level drug enforcement to the states. So is Philadelphia a free-city state, able to enact its own laws in contravention of state and federal law?
Pennsylvania law carries harsh penalties for underage drinking, despite the fact that the vast majority of people in every American generation have had at least one drink before reaching the age of 21. Although all states now have a drinking age of 21, the penalties and degree of law enforcement priority vary widely. Many young people and their parents are oblivious to just how harsh Pennsylvania's underage drinking laws are until they themselves are faced with an underage drinking citation.
Few people are aware that underage drinking in Pennsylvania carries a possible jail sentence of up to 90 days. Yes, you read that correctly. A judge could send you to jail for up to 90 days for drinking a beer if you are under 21. Rarely do judges impose such a sentence, unless there are severe aggravating circumstances and/ or the defendant has been in trouble many times before. Also, most people who receive jail time in an underage drinking case are usually also charged with felonies or misdemeanors or with additional summary offenses, such as disorderly conduct, criminal mischief or public drunkenness.
Most young people charged with underage drinking are not looking at jail time, but they are all looking at a possible driver's license suspension, even if the incident had absolutely nothing to do with driving. A first conviction carries a 90 day driver's license suspension, a second conviction carries a one year suspension, and a third or subsequent conviction carries a two year suspension. These suspensions are always served consecutively.
If you are caught driving under suspension following an underage drinking conviction, PennDoT additional one year suspension, and if you becomes a "habitual offender" by repeatedly driving under suspension, then a magisterial district judge could impose a jail sentence. People have to drive to get to work, so they often drive with suspended licenses. Thus, there are people in their thirties who still do not have a driver's license because they were caught drinking underage, and then continued to drive. Likewise, there are people who end up serving jail time well into adulthood, due to underage drinking convictions several decades ago, which set the stage for subsequent driving under suspension convictions. This is the inevitable outcome in a state with large rural expanses with no public transportation, coupled with the fact that cops in rural areas are far more likely to aggressively pursue underage drinkers than are cops in cities with real crimes to deal with.
Most young people are more worried about a driver's license suspension than fines, but the fines are not exactly trivial. Recently, the maximum fine for a first offense underage drinking conviction was raised to $500, while the maximum fine for a second or subsequent conviction is $1,000. To add insult to injury, additional court costs must be added to the fines.
If you are charged with underage drinking in Pennsylvania, it is not all doom and gloom. You may have defenses you could raise at trial, which you might not even be aware of until you talk to a criminal defense lawyer. Also, you may be eligible for a first time offender's program, which will allow you to have the charge dismissed. The magisterial district courts in each county handle underage drinking charges differently, so it is important to speak to a criminal defense lawyer from the county in which you were charged.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense lawyer in State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Underage-Drinking.shtml
Residential Burglary charges were filed last week against a Minnesota man. This would hardly be worthy of international attention, but for the way in which the burglar was caught. Twenty-Six year old Nicholas Wig broke into a home and used the victim's computer to log into his own FaceBook account! Not only was Wig kind enough to not steal the computer, he was also foolish enough to leave behind his digital fingerprints. He even failed to log out of his FaceBook account before leaving the scene. New technologies are making it easier to solve crimes, but sometimes the criminals themselves play a greater role in their downfall than any technology.
The recent explosion in heroin addiction in Central Pennsylvania has grabbed headlines and has everybody talking. Here in Centre County, there had been a small, interconnected group of heroin addicts since at least the late 1990s, with membership fluctuating, as older addicts either died, went to prison, or managed to get clean, only to be replaced by neophyte junkies. A large percentage of these addicts had underlying mental health issues and/or came from dysfunctional family situations. Many of them got into heroin because they felt they had no future, or because their mental illnesses clouded their judgment. In 2014, this is no longer the profile of the typical Centre County heroin addict, and sadly, the addicts no longer form a small, insular community. They are everywhere, and they now come from all walks of life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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