The fact that private criminal defense attorneys always seemed to get better plea deals for their clients than public defenders irked me to no end during the five years that I spent as a public defender at the start of my career as a criminal defense lawyer. This discrepancy in plea offers extended to private counsel versus public defenders was so universally known that my mentor in the Public Defenders' Office would advise defendants charged with serious felonies, who had no viable defense to raise at trial, that they should hire a private attorney in order to maximize their chances of getting a favorable plea offer. It was not that my mentor was trying to avoid another client on his case load; he legitimately cared about the wellbeing of these defendants and was giving them solid advice.
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.
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 headaches.
Apparently, Prohibition did not end in 1933 after all, at least in State College, Pennsylvania, where it has now become a tradition to revive the failed social experiment each State Patty's Day. All the downtown bars, six pack shops, beer distributors and state stores will be closed this year. With the exception of the government-owned state stores, all the private businesses are being compensated by university and municipal government money to partially offset the big financial hit they will take by closing on a Saturday. The servers and bartenders, who are not exactly in the same wealth category as bar owners, will be given a one day unpaid vacation, on the heels of sober THON weekend and two dead spring break weekends to follow.
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.
As a criminal defense attorney who represents a lot of Penn State students, there is one characteristic common to all of my college student clients: they want to avoid a criminal record. ARD, which stands for "Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition" is a program for first time offenders in Pennsylvania. Successful completion of the ARD program allows a defense attorney to file a motion seeking dismissal of charges and expungement of the defendant's record.
Some form of bail must be set in all misdemeanor, felony or homicide cases in Pennsylvania. By far the most common form of bail is ROR, especially here in Centre County, where we have a lot of non-violent offenses like DUI, small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. ROR stands for "released on own recognizance." That means that the defendant need not post any form of cash bail. Rather, the defendant must simply promise to appear at all future court proceedings.
"Terroristic Threats" is such a common offense in Pennsylvania, that pretty much everyone in the Commonwealth has heard of this crime, and most Pennsylvanians have a pretty good idea of what it entails. Pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2706(a)(1), terroristic threats is defined as making either a direct or indirect threat to commit a crime of violence, with the intent of terrorizing another person. Thus, threatening to slash someone's tires is not a terroristic threat, but threatening to slash someone's throat is a terroristic threat.