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"
It is no secret that Penn State is a world class party school. Like a powerful gravitational force, this reputation attracts ever more students who like to party, perpetuating Happy Valley's status as the number one party destination in Pennsylvania for the under 25 set. But even Penn State has three sober weekends during the school year, with very few DUIs or other alcohol-related charges like underage drinking, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct or criminal mischief. These quiet weekends include the weekends before Fall and Spring finals as well as THON weekend. Some students, especially seniors, do not have any finals, so finals weekend is for celebrating, while very few students get rowdy on THON weekend.
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.
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.
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?"