In light of the recent ACLU lawsuit in Allegheny Township, where a PA man was charged for hanging the American flag upside down with the letters A.I.M. on it, many readers were probably surprised to learn flag desecration is an actual criminal offense in Pennsylvania. Under the Criminal and Vehicle Code, certain criminal acts are obvious: driving under the influence (DUI), possession of marijuana, assault, theft, etc. With almost all crimes, there is intent – or a mens rea – to commit these offenses. Most people know they are breaking the law when committing any one of these punishable offenses.
With some situations, an individual may try to avoid breaking the law, but is still committing a crime. For example, a person can be arrested for DUI without driving, so long as he or she was “in actual physical control of the movement” of a car. This would include a scenario where an individual leaves a party and falls asleep in the front seat of a car to sleep off the alcohol rather than drive home. While this person isn’t technically driving, he or she is still breaking the law and can be found guilty of DUI. In this situation, similar to the flag desecrator, ignorance of the law is not a defense.
Below is a list of crimes punishable in Pennsylvania (sometimes up to TWO years in prison!) that most people probably don’t know exist:
18 PA.C.S. 7104: Fortune Telling. This statute punishes a number of genie-like acts, including using cards or tokens to predict future events, using charms, spells and necromancy, administering love potions, putting bad luck on a person or animal, and even “consulting the movements of the heavenly bodies.” There is a reason that spiritual businesses will put up signs that read For Entertainment Purposes Only: otherwise, fortune tellers face up to one year in jail!
18 PA.C.S. 2904: Interfering with Child Custody. Custody matters are civil, and judges have the ability to sanction/find contempt against parents in Family Court. However, at times custody disputes can be criminal. Any person who knowingly or recklessly takes a child away from the child’s parent’s custody for less than 24 hours and (1) the child is subject to a valid custody order; (2) the person has some form of custody under said order, and (3) the parties do not leave the state, commits a Second Degree Misdemeanor. Under this scenario, a parent who disregards a custody order and fails to return a child to the other parent can face charges, including two years in prison and hefty fines.
18 PA.C.S. 5103: Unlawfully Listening to Jury Deliberations. In keeping with the sanctity of jury secrecy, Pennsylvania punishes any person who, in any manner and for any purpose, intentionally listens to jury deliberations. With the manner and purpose irrelevant, this “curiosity killed the cat” crime is punishable by up to one year in jail.
18 PA.C.S. 3015: Nonpayment of wages. A defense to prostitution is trafficking or sexual coercion. But, that doesn’t mean a victim can’t get paid for what he or she is owed. This law specifically prohibits human traffickers from not paying their trafficked victims. In this context, a pimp who fails to pay his or her prostitute for “services” rendered commits a Third Degree misdemeanor if the amount owed is less than $2,000 or a Third Degree Felony if the amount owed is more than $2,000.
18 PA.C.S. 7509: Furnishing Drug Free Urine. Got a probation meeting coming up and need to get a clean sample? Selling, giving, or dealing in clean urine, and subsequently attempting to pass off clean urine during a drug test, is a Third Degree Misdemeanor in Pennsylvania. The statute doesn’t limit punishment of clean urine sellers/users to criminal contexts only – thus, whether the urine is used to avoid probation violation or employment eligibility, it’s illegal.
18 PA.C.S. 5904: Public Exhibition of Insane or Deformed Person. Although circus freaks were a popular source of entertainment in the past and states elsewhere, they’re likely criminal in Pennsylvania. Any person who publicly exhibits “an insane, idiotic or deformed person, or imbecile” for money or other reward is guilty of a Second Degree Misdemeanor. The terms “insane, idiotic and imbecile” are not defined under the law, and to this day remain open to interpretation.
18 PA.C.S. 6708: Failing to Return Library Book. Pennsylvania takes its education seriously – serious enough that any person who retains public library material after being given written notice commits a summary offense. Since a summary offense is punishable up to 90 days in jail, any person willfully committing this offense better chose a book they literally can’t put down!
18 PA.C.S. 3303: Failing to Prevent a Catastrophe. Negligent and reckless acts by landlords, construction companies, business owners, nightclubs and homeowners are some of the most litigious areas of law. These acts can also be punished criminally. A person who recklessly fails to take reasonable measures to prevent or mitigate a catastrophe is guilty of a Second Degree Misdemeanor. A common example includes business owners blatantly disregarding dangerous structural or other defects on their premises. Thus, while a business owner knows he can face civil litigation, he probably doesn’t know he can face criminal prosecution as well.
18 PA.C.S. 6503: Posting Advertisements on Property of Another. If you ever noticed utility poles, highway fences or bridges plastered with stickers, ads, or other signs, you’ve likely witnessed a crime. In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to post, paint, stick or stamp an ad, sign, card or poster on any property belonging to the state, local government or property of another without permission, and is punishable as a summary offense. While trying to promote a local art show or selling your bike, if you want to avoid being a criminal, don’t even think about posting without permission!
As you can see, fortune tellers and library thieves are not too welcomed into the state of Pennsylvania. Although these crimes are rarely prosecuted, they are still illegal acts. Until the Legislature repeals or the Courts strike down these statutes, the law remains. In the surprising, yet still possible, event you or a relative have been arrested for any of the above, be sure to consult an attorney at Skinner Law Firm to discuss your options. Contact us today at (610) 436-1410 or (610) 565-3320.