Misdemeanor and summary offense charges have been filed against a Nashville Predators fan who had the audacity to throw a dead catfish onto the sacred ice of PPG Paints Arena during Game 1 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals last night. Jacob Waddell of Nolenville, TN, who was lucky enough to procure a ticket which should have gone to a more-deserving Penguins fan, erroneously believed that throwing a dead catfish onto the ice would be as legally permissible in Pittsburgh as it is at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Neither Pens fans nor the Pittsburgh Police were amused by this rude gesture, and not only was Wadell ejected from the game, he now also finds himself charged with possessing instruments of crime, disrupting meetings and disorderly conduct.
All public defenders worth their salt are verbally assaulted by judges from time to time, but a Brevard County, Florida judge took things to another level when he physically attacked a public defender in the hallway, after the two verbally sparred in the courtroom. When Public Defender Andrew Weinstock refused to waive his client's constitutional right to a speedy trial, Judge John Murphy became enraged, stating "if I had a rock I would throw it at you right now. Stop pissing me off. Just sit down." When Weinstock pointed out that he had a right to be present and represent his client, Judge Murphy said "if you want to fight, let's just go out back and I'll beat your ass." Ironically, Attorney Weinstock was representing a defendant charged with two counts of assault when Judge Murphy made this threat.
As a criminal defense lawyer a mere five minute walk from the Penn State campus, I have represented countless Penn State students charged with marijuana-related offenses. More often than not, the initial phone calls or emails come from the students' parents, rather than the students themselves, because the parents are the ones who will be hiring a criminal defense attorney. A commonly raised concern among parents is whether they should be worried about deeper problems than the small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia charge, and whether they should get their child into drug treatment.
The favorite answer of lawyers to most questions is "it depends," and it is the most appropriate answer in this scenario. Sometimes, marijuana use is a symptom of bigger problems, like depression, while other times it is harmless, occasional recreational use. We really need to know more before we can ascertain whether criminal charges arising from marijuana use are just the tip of the iceberg.
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?"
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 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.
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.
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.
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.