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.
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.
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 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.
Last week, a 13 year old Girl Scout made national news when she set up shop in front of a San Francisco medical marijuana dispensary and sold 117 boxes in two hours. This past weekend, another Girl Scout in Phoenix found success using the same marketing technique. It's all about location, but all munchies jokes aside, the fact that Girl Scouts are selling cookies to legal marijuana users in some states, while pot smokers in other states are being criminally prosecuted, epitomizes the growing schism in marijuana policy among the 50 states.
Understandably, subjects of a criminal investigation are reluctant to hire a criminal defense attorney before they are charged. They think to themselves that they might be wasting money, if they are ultimately not going to be charged anyway. This flawed logic is akin to believing that you should not quit smoking until you have lung cancer. Just as a smoker can greatly improve his health by quitting smoking before he contracts a serious illness, so too can a suspect greatly ameliorate or even eliminate his damages by hiring an attorney before he has been charged.
Recently, Centre County, Pennsylvania defense attorneys received notice that the filing fees for expungements will increase from $15 to $75 effective January 2, 2014. The filing fee had remained at $15 for many years, even though it was costing the Clerk of Courts Office a lot more than $15 to handle the voluminous, bureaucratic paperwork and procedures associated with each expungement filing. With the increased fee, I suspect that the Centre County Clerk of Courts will go from losing money on expungements to making a small profit, which will offset losses in other areas.
Michael Afuwape of Philadelphia was found guilty of terroristic threats and firearms not to be carried without a license following a non-jury trial before Judge Pamela Ruest in the Centre County Court of Common Pleas on September 24, 2013. Police alleged that when a Penn State student inadvertently bumped into Mr. Afuwape during the 2012 Blue and White Game weekend, Mr. Afuwape lifted his shirt to reveal a hand gun, and threatened to shoot the student. The Penn State student and his three friends ran into McDonald's at College and Sowers and called 911. Afuwape was arrested shortly thereafter.
I have been a criminal defense lawyer in State College, Pennsylvania long enough to have noticed certain patterns in the Centre County criminal justice system. One such pattern is that a Penn State student is far more likely to be charged with DUI during his or her senior year than at any other time. The downside is that this is the worst possible time in a student's academic career to be charged with a crime, because it coincides with job searches and grad school applications.
After the Nittany Lions' opening game victory over old Eastern Independent rival Syracuse, we Penn Staters are optimistic about the season as we head into our first home game, Mark Emmert and his evil junta be damned. Unfortunately, not every Penn Stater is going to go home happy, even if we convincingly cover the 22.5 point spread against Eastern Michigan. It does not take a psychic to predict that a certain number of young people at the game Saturday are going to be charged with underage drinking pursuant to Section 6308 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code.