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Unmanned Aircraft Systems in Pennsylvania

Technology is constantly advancing and as we get closer to the world promised in Back to the Future, the more creative the government must be in coming up with regulations for these advances. Drones are a perfect example of advances in technology that have become available to widespread users and are now subject to federal and state regulation.

Drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), are defined as unmanned aircraft (UA) with the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications, and navigation equipment necessary to operate it.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization Reform Act of 2012 will have the FAA amending its regulations for airplanes and similar aircraft to include rules for UAS. An unmanned aircraft (UA) is considered an aircraft and falls under FAA regulation. Federal and state governments have deemed it necessary to enact laws to regulate drones. Approximately thirty (30) states have passed laws to regulate drones. The federal laws deal with airspace regulation, registration, and safety while the laws in most states focus on privacy.

Can I Fly my Drone?

On January 3, 2012, 49 U.S.C. § 40103 went into effect. Section 40103 requires the FAA to regulate aircraft and UAS operations. 49 U.S.C. §§40101 -113 regulates all unmanned aircraft. At this point, most drone use by everyday citizens is recreational. Still, the government may require you to register your drone. Small drones are considered to be drones that weigh more than 0.55lbs and less than 55lbs, including all the attachments and payloads such as cameras. Small drones may be registered online. Large drones are considered drones that weigh 55lbs or more. Large drones must be registered through a paper system. The following are the federal requirements for flying drones recreationally.

Drone Rules

The FAA has implemented multiple regulations for recreational drone flying. The regulations for flying a drone for fun include the following:

  • must be at least 13 years old;
  • must be a U.S. Citizen or legal permanent resident;
  • must be clear of all aircraft, people, and structures;
  • must operate UAS within visual sight at all times;
  • must not fly UAS no higher than 400ft;
  • must contact the airport or airport traffic control towers before flying within five miles of an airport;
  • must not fly within three miles and up to 3,000 ft in altitude of any major sporting event;
  • must not fly near or over sensitive infrastructures (such as electric plants);
  • must not fly in adverse weather conditions; and
  • must not fly while under the influence.

The FAA has an app that helps UA operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect in the location where they want to fly their drone. The app is called B4UFly.

Should Pennsylvania Enact Drone Laws?

In PA, the Legislature has tried to introduce drone legislation in multiple sessions. In 2015, the Legislature proposed four bills and regulations, but none passed. Most recently, on January 20, 2017, the Pennsylvania Senate introduced a bill to amend Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses), in obstructing governmental operations, providing for the offense of unlawful drone activity over correctional institutions. Whether drone regulation will pass has yet to be seen.

Since the FAA laws focus primarily on safety and airspace regulation, the state’s laws have focused mostly on privacy. In Pennsylvania, however, some argue that Pennsylvania does not need additional laws to regulate drones for privacy because existing laws already protect against private citizens spying on others. Private Citizen privacy regulation is just one side of the issue.

A lack of laws regulating government use of drones could become a real issue as drone use becomes more prevalent. The idea that law enforcement could use drones to fly over a person’s private property and potentially gather evidence is scary. The holding by the US Supreme Court in Kyllo v. the United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), where the Court held, “[w]here, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of a private home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a Fourth Amendment ‘search,’ and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant,” comes to mind.

According to U.S. officials, approximately one million drones were sold last holiday season, and that number is expected to increase. The holding in Kyllo soon will not apply to drones because unmanned aircraft will not be considered “a device that is not in general public use.” As general drone use continues to increase, it will be important to pay attention to how law enforcement agencies use drones.

Additional Resources

Section § 44102 –Visit the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, the United States Code page for the full statutory language include the subsections of the Federal statute regulating drones.

Fly for Fun –Visit the Federal Aviation Administration website for a list of rules and requirements for flying a drone recreationally. Find the age and citizenship restrictions for flying and also find links to the pages to register your drone.

Interactive Drone Map –Visit Smithsonian Magazine, the official website of the Smithsonian museum, which places a “Smithsonian lens” on the world, looking at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian institution.

Flying a Drone in PA Parks – Visit the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Services for more information on the rules for flying drones in the various Pennsylvania State Parks.

 

 

 

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Prescription Marijuana Could Result in a DUI Arrest In Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania recently hopped on board the ever-growing list of states that have made medical marijuana possible for chronically ill people. However, the new law did not address, nor change, the current DUI laws. As such, considering the archaic nature of the Pennsylvania Criminal Code, it remains illegal to drive with any marijuana in one’s system. This article will seek to clarify the law about driving and marijuana use in Pennsylvania.

DUI Laws in Downingtown, Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle with marijuana in one’s blood system. Driving and operating a vehicle is obvious – whether a driver is on a highway or roadway, he or she is driving.

It is important to note the latter phrase “actual physical control.” This statement incorporates non-moving conduct, such as sitting in a parked vehicle with the engine running.

Therefore, even if a driver does not have an intention of driving the vehicle, he still has physical control of the vehicle’s movements. Under this scenario, he or she could be arrested.

Penalties for Cannabis-Based DUI in Chester County, PA

DUI offenses in Pennsylvania involving a controlled substance, such as marijuana, are subject to the highest penalties possible. The range of penalties that can be imposed on a defendant are contingent on the existence of prior DUI convictions, if any.

For a conviction, under 75 Pa.C.S. §3802(d), the following mandatory minimum penalties apply:

Mandatory
Incarceration

Minimum
Fine

License Suspension

Ignition Interlock

First Offense

72 hours

$1,000

12 months

No

Second Offense

90 days

$1,500

18 months

Yes

Third Offense

1 year

$2,500

18 months

Yes

Fourth + Offense

1 year

$2,500

18 months

Yes

Medicinal Marijuana Could Result in a DUI in Norristown, PA

Under 75 Pa.C.S. §3802(d)(1), it is illegal to drive with any amount of a Schedule I Controlled Substance in a driver’s blood system. Marijuana is a Schedule I drug under both Pennsylvania and Federal law; however, marijuana is unique in that it contains both active and inactive ingredients. Some drivers will show signs of recent marijuana use during a traffic stop. A majority of driver’s won’t show any signs of recent marijuana use, but will still have inactive metabolites in their system.

Prescription Marijuana Results in a DUI Arrest in Lancaster, PA

There are no current medical marijuana laws that protect drivers in Pennsylvania or elsewhere. It is irrelevant if a patient’s ID card is from a state that either allows medical marijuana patients to drive or otherwise legalizes marijuana.

This means, driving under the influence of marijuana, including medically prescribed marijuana, could potentially result in an individual being arrested for a DUI offense in Pennsylvania.

Effectively Dispute a Marijuana-based DUI in West Chester, PA

Most first time offenders will be eligible for Pennsylvania’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. Upon successful completion of this program, all DUI charges qualify for dismissal and expungement.

Similarly, some defendants find the benefit of being admitted to Drug Court for marijuana-related cases. Successful completion of Drug Court allows the same charges to be dismissed and expungeable.

For defendants who are ineligible for ARD or Drug Court, there are still options to fight a DUI based on marijuana, such as:

  • A member of law enforcement must be within his or her jurisdiction to approach, investigate and/or arrest an individual.
  • A member of law enforcement must have reasonable suspicion to stop a moving vehicle or detain a person in a non-moving vehicle.
  • Defendants have the right to cross-examine and discredit an officer’s testimony regarding impairment.
  • A member of law enforcement must have probable cause to arrest a person for marijuana-based DUI.
  • Blood tests must be obtained with a driver’s consent or valid warrant.
  • Blood tests must be administered pursuant to specific rules and regulations.
  • Even if a blood test shows the presence of marijuana, the test must still be admissible in a court of law.

Things To Remember If Arrested for a DUI in Pennsylvania

A few words of advice apply to all criminal defendants. If you have been arrested or accused of a marijuana-based DUI,

  • Do not speak to, text, write or otherwise communicate to anyone about your case, especially the officer.
  • Do not post anything to social media platforms about your case, including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram.
  • Consult an attorney right away to preserve your options, including eligibility for ARD or Drug Court.
  • Write down everything you remember about the night of the arrest, from the pre-arrest period to being released from the police station.
  • If there are any witnesses, such as a passenger, have them do the same as above.

The trial-proven attorneys at the Skinner Law Firm handle all forms of DUI cases, including DUI by marijuana and DUI by any other controlled substance. It is imperative to speak with an attorney before your first hearing.

If you have been arrested for DUI and fear you may have had any marijuana in your system at the time of your arrest, call the Skinner Law Firm today to schedule a consultation at (610) 436-1410.

 

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You can get in trouble for WHAT?! A description of some lesser known (but actually punishable) crimes in Pennsylvania.

arrested man hands close up

         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.

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How Alcohol and Drugs Can Affect Your Immigration Status

There are three major ways that alcohol and drugs can affect immigration status: substance abuse, criminal convictions, and criminal association. Not only can drugs and alcohol prevent you from getting a green card, but they can make you deportable. It is important to note that everyone’s case is different. In some cases, you do not need a conviction to be considered inadmissible or deportable. In other cases, a criminal defendant can plead guilty to a felony drug trafficking charge and preserve his or her immigration options. Below are a few common ways that drugs and alcohol can affect immigration status.

 

Drug Addict or Alcoholic

Under 8 U.S.C. 1182, any alien who is determined:

(I) to have a physical or mental disorder and behavior associated with the disorder that may pose, or has posed, a threat to the property, safety, or welfare of the alien or others, or

(II) to have had a physical or mental disorder and a history of behavior associated with the disorder, which behavior has posed a threat to the property, safety, or welfare of the alien or others and which behavior is likely to recur or to lead to other harmful behavior, or

(iv) … to be a drug abuser or addict,

is inadmissible.

If an immigration applicant admits to doing drugs or drinking to a point of self-harm, he or she may not be able to obtain a green card or enter the United States. When a USCIS or consular officer suspects an applicant is a drug addict or harmful alcoholic, the officer will likely refer the applicant to a civil surgeon for a medical review. If the civil surgeon concludes the applicant is a drug addict or harmful alcoholic, any application for a green card or visa will be denied. In addition, even though alcoholism isn’t an explicit inadmissibility ground, alcoholism tends to lead to harmful behavior that is. It is important to never freely admit to or discuss any drug use or any problematic alcohol use with anyone.

Even if a person is already in the United States, he or she could be deported. Under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(B)(ii), “any alien who is, or at any time after admission has been, a drug abuser or addict is deportable.” Although there are few ways that ICE agents can prove a person is a drug addict, people aren’t always the smartest when it comes to addiction. ICE agents can come across evidence of drug addiction through a person’s posting on social media or admission through Drug Court programs.

 

Criminal Convictions

Under 8 U.S.C. 1182, a person is inadmissible if he or she is convicted of, admits committing, or admits committing the essential elements of a violation of (or a conspiracy or attempt to violate) any law relating to a controlled substance. There is a time-consuming waiver available only for cases involving less than 30 grams of marijuana.

There are a few major concerns with this ground of inadmissibility. First, a person does not need a conviction to be found inadmissible! Simply “admitting” to possessing drugs is grounds for inadmissibility. Second, the term “controlled substances” relates to federal, not state, law. Even though marijuana is now legal in a few states and countries around the world, it is still a Schedule I Controlled Substance under federal law. Third, this ground of inadmissibility involves actions “relating” to controlled substances; anything from drug paraphernalia to trafficking to drug money laundering could have severe immigration consequences.

For deportations, the law is somewhat different. In order to be deported for a drug-related crime, a person must have a conviction for an offense relating to a controlled substance as defined under federal law. There is also an exception for a single conviction involving possessing for one’s own use of 30 grams or less of marijuana. Convictions “relating to” a controlled substance include possession, trafficking, misbranding, adultering or selling. In addition, different states have different types of diversionary programs that may actually qualify as “convictions” under immigration law. Never assume that a dismissed or expunged charge won’t have lasting immigration consequences.

 

Drug Association

In some cases, a person does not need to admit to a crime or have a conviction to be considered inadmissible. One of the harshest provisions under immigration law relates to noncitizens and drug trafficking. The law punishes anyone even associated with drug trafficking activity or financial gains from either obtaining a visa or green card, or entering the United States at all.

Under 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(2)(C), Any alien who the consular officer or the Attorney General knows or has reason to believe

(i) is or has been an illicit trafficker in any controlled substance or in any listed chemical (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)), or is or has been a knowing aider, abettor, assister, conspirator, or colluder with others in the illicit trafficking in any such controlled or listed substance or chemical, or endeavored to do so; or

(ii) is the spouse, son, or daughter of an alien inadmissible under clause (i), has, within the previous 5 years, obtained any financial or other benefit from the illicit activity of that alien, and knew or reasonably should have known that the financial or other benefit was the product of such illicit activity,

is inadmissible.

Thus, consular officers only need a “reason to believe” an immigration applicant is associated with drug activity or profits. Under this provision, immigration officials can use all sorts of evidence, including evidence from a criminal case that was dismissed, withdrawn or from which a noncitizen was found not guilty. The type of evidence is endless: family members’ association with drug gangs, financial records, fancy and high priced purchases, etc. This provision of the law punishes family members who turn a blind eye to drug trafficking activity.

 

Because of this highly complex area of law, it is important to retain the expertise of an immigration attorney. The attorneys at Skinner Law Firm can assist you if you have be charged with, accused of, or refused a visa anything relating to a controlled substance. Even if you cannot avoid a conviction, a carefully crafted case can preserve your immigration benefits and your future. Contact us today for a consultation.

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Voluntary Departure: When Self Deportation is the Best Option for Noncitizens

Passports

Voluntary departure is a form of immigration relief. Its meaning is exactly how its read – a person voluntarily agrees to depart the United States. It is usually the best option for people who truly have no other form of relief, and wish to one day return to the United States to live, work, study or tour.

If granted, a noncitizen can leave the United States on his or her own terms (up to a period of 120 days) and more importantly, leave without the stigma of an Order of Removal imposed against him or her. With an Order of Removal, a person would be barred from entering the United States or obtaining an immigration benefit for a certain number of years.

However, it is only available to certain applicants who meet a certain set of criteria. Characteristics that make a person ineligible for voluntary departure no matter when it is requested, including persons who were previously granted voluntary departure, arriving aliens, aggravate felons and terrorists. In addition, a very important factor for voluntary departure is when it is requested – before, during or after removal (deportation) proceedings.

Requesting Before Commencement of Removal Proceedings

Requesting voluntary departure before any immigration hearing is scheduled is the most flexible option. The noncitizen would work out an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and without a judge’s inquiry into any negative characteristics, such as police contact.

If granted, DHS may give a person up to 6 months (120) days to leave. This allows the most amount of time to have arrangements made for housing leases, moving expenses, bank accounts, employment terminations and family arrangements.

Requesting During (at the Beginning) of Immigration Proceedings

The first hearing in removal proceedings is the Master Hearing. In order to be granted the same departure benefits as Section A (above), the noncitizen must request voluntary departure at the Master Hearing. When a noncitizen requests voluntary departure from an immigration judge, he or she must admit certain facts and give up certain rights.

The noncitizen must admit he or she is removable, must give up the right to appeal and must give up the right to apply for any other type of immigration benefit. For example, an applicant cannot request voluntary departure and cancellation of removal, asylum, TPS or other humanitarian protections at the same time. An immigration judge has wide discretion in granting or denying voluntary departure.

Requesting At the Conclusion of Removal Proceedings

Even if a noncitizen fights removal, there is still a chance to request voluntary departure. However, the law is much stricter at this point. If granted, the noncitizen will only have 60 days to leave the United States.

In order to be eligible for voluntary departure at the end of removal proceedings, a noncitizen must prove he or she:

  • Has been physically present in the United States for at least one year;
  • Has been a person of “good moral character” for the past 5 years;
  • Does not have a conviction for an aggravated felony;
  • Has the means (financial and travel ability) to leave the United States;
  • Will post a bond (at least $500) ordered by the immigration judge;
  • Can show valid travel documentation, including a valid passport.

The consequences of a denial of voluntary departure are severe: the noncitizen not only must leave the United States, but he or she will be subject to a Removal Order. A Removal Order prevents a person from entering the United States for a period of not less than 5 years. There may also be time bars based on accrual of any unlawful status. A denial of voluntary departure cannot be appealed.

Voluntary departure may be the best option, especially since it allows a person to one day become eligible for an immigration benefit. This is incredibly important for families, students and people who have built their careers within the United States.

If you are interested in seeking voluntary departure, then contact an experienced immigration attorney in Pennsylvania at Skinner Law Firm today. Our offices are located in Media in Delaware County and West Chester in Chester County, PA. Call (267) 388-3476 today.

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Rise in Prosecutions under Third Degree Murder in Cases Involving Homicide While DUI

DUI Checkpoint

There are many cases that have come up in the news involving murder charges and DUI. Oklahoma authorities recently charged Adacia Chambers of DUI and second-degree murder, when she allegedly crashed through a crowd of homecoming spectators, killing four people. Just this month, defendants in Virginia, Kentucky and California were convicted of felony murder after causing fatal accidents while DUI. How does this relate to Pennsylvania law?

Pennsylvania has seen its share of DUI-related murder cases. In 2014, one defendant from Delaware County was found guilty of third-degree murder after consuming the equivalent of seven drinks and causing multiple vehicle crashes, ultimately killing a woman. That same year, a Lancaster man pled guilty to third-degree murder for the killing of a high school student, after going on a reckless driving, weaving and alcohol/heroin binge.  Just a year prior, another defendant from Philadelphia pled guilty to third-degree murder and was sentenced to 10—20 years in prison, after killing a decorated Philadelphia police officer while DUI. In each of these cases, the defendants were charged with Homicide by Vehicle – DUI Related, but ultimately convicted of murder.

It begs the question why some cases are prosecuted under the severest vehicle code violation (Homicide by Vehicle – DUI Related), rather than one of the severest criminal code violations (murder). Under 75 Pa.C.S. § 3735 – Homicide by Vehicle – DUI Related, a defendant is guilty if he or she unintentionally causes the death of another person while DUI. This crime is graded as a second-degree felony with sentence of 3 – 10 years’ incarceration. In contrast, under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502(c), third-degree murder is classified as “all other kinds of murder” that is committed with malice, and not intentional or committed in the course of a felony.  Third-degree murder is graded as a first-degree felony with a maximum sentence of 40 years’ incarceration.

As you can see from above, vehicular homicide while DUI specifically addresses unintentional behavior. Under the crimes code, however, criminal homicide involves intentional, knowing, reckless or negligent behavior, which is ultimately classified as murder or manslaughter.   Homicide, therefore, can incorporate unintentional, but grossly reckless behavior. Thus, in cases where the defendant is a repeat DUI offender or cases which involve drastic facts and unconscionable behavior while DUI, wouldn’t prosecutors want to pursue lengthier murder charges, as opposed to vehicular homicide charges?

The answer to that may be unanswerable. The decision to pursue charges under the vehicle code or criminal code is ultimately up to the prosecutor. It is a prosecutor’s burden to prove each and every element of an offense. The term malice relates to a defendant’s behavior and state of mind. Jurors may ultimately disagree whether a person driving while DUI actually has a malicious state of mind. However, recent cases in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States have shown that prosecutors are stepping up in how they treat DUI-related homicide cases. This may mean an increase in prosecutions under the crimes code when the defendant is DUI.

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Lesser Known Consequences of Drug Convictions

 

DSC_0144

 

It is common knowledge that a conviction for a drug offense – even simple possession of marijuana – carries some type of penalty that limits freedom, such as incarceration or probation. However, a conviction for a drug offense may carry other lesser known penalties, some of which carry lifetime bans. Consider the following limitations placed on defendants with drug convictions:

Travel:

Even a simple possession of marijuana charge from your youthful years could affect any future international travel plans. Certain countries – including many Asian counties and Canada – treat drug and DUI convictions very seriously. In some cases, you will not be allowed to obtain a visa to enter. Even if you can obtain a visa and you try to enter one of these countries, you may be detained and deported. In other cases, your travel insurance may not cover such interruption due to a prior drug conviction.

 

Hefty Fines:

Although unlikely, certain drug convictions can carry a civil penalty of up to $250,000! Some fines may be doubled depending on certain aggravating factors of your case. You will be on the hook to pay off all fines and costs associated with your case. Money made from the sale of drugs will be confiscated and forfeited, so you won’t be able to use those funds to pay. Failure to pay could mean violation of the terms of your probation or parole. If your probation or parole expires and there are still fines and costs associated with your case, the balance may go to collections, thereby affecting your credit score.

 

Employment:

Some of the biggest nuisance categories for employment opportunities are alcohol, drug and sex-offense convictions. Depending on the type of job or license you wish to seek, you may be barred from consideration for a period of three years, five years or even permanently. Certain industries, such as banking and transportation, which are regulated by federal law, may prevent employment opportunities for drug convicts. In rare but serious circumstances, a person already employed who pleads guilty to a drug offense must be let go. In other particular categories, such as law enforcement or teaching, even after a time-barred period expires you may still have to prove rehabilitation in order to qualify. In addition, each branch of the military carries its own code regarding drug convictions, and the odds are always against convicted drug offenders.

 

License Suspension:

Alcohol and traffic offenses are not the only category of crimes that may suspend your license for up to a year. Most drug-related convictions carry some sort of license suspension. If caught driving while suspended, you may face a violation of any probation or parole and be subject to another one year suspension. Multiple driving while suspended tickets can deem a defendant a “repeat offender” and result in imprisonment of up to thirty (30) days.

 

Public Civil Service and Rights:

In Pennsylvania, if you are convicted of a felony drug offense, you will lose the right to own a firearm. There are severe penalties for felons unlawfully possessing firearms. You will also lose the right to vote while incarcerated and permanently lose the right to sit on a jury or hold public office.  While many people would rather not sit on a jury or vote/run for office, it is still a constitutional right you will forfeit upon a felony drug conviction. The only remedy is through a pardon.

 

Federal Benefits and Programs:

A drug conviction also affects everyday eligibility for federal benefits.  Certain benefits, such as student loans, Temporary Assistant to Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and public housing, carry mandatory rules where a person convicted of a drug offense is ineligible for a period of years, or until successful rehabilitation has been proven. In rare cases with repeat offenders, a person may be permanently banned.

 

As shown above, drug convictions are very serious, and can affect even minimal aspects of life. It is very important to speak to an attorney before pleading guilty to any offense.

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New Sexual Offense Requirements


Crimes of a sexual nature will always be considered a controversial issue. As a political hot-button topic for the past decade in particular, many states have been revising their rules in order to accommodate the increasingly negative public opinion on the subject. Pennsylvania has recently entered the fray by enacting Senate Bill 1183, expanding registration rules for convicted sex offenders.

Following the precedent set by the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), the state has expanded its registration requirements for those found guilty of sexual offenses in accordance with the national guidelines. These new prerequisites to the already strict Pennsylvania sex crime laws take effect on December 20, 2012.

The new piece of legislation replaces the present “Megan’s Law” system. According to the law, the most serious sex offenders in the state must report their addresses every three months to both the parole and probation departments of Pennsylvania law enforcement. Those convicted of lesser offenses will be required to report their whereabouts every six months to a year, depending on their specific crimes.

One of the primary additions to reporting guidelines is the inclusion of digital and internet profiles. In addition to the basic requirements like name, address, employer and driver’s license information, offenders will need to supply the state with usernames for any social media websites that they use, as well as email and internet service provider addresses.

A decidedly controversial aspect of the new provision is the retroactive nature of the reporting requirements. Simply put, when the provision takes effect, a convict’s “new” registration period will be determined by the “new” time-frames for sexually violent offenses. This means that, in certain cases, even if the individual has completed seven of ten years, his or her registration period will increase to 15, 25, or life.

Some of the primary sexual offenses that will be included in these new requirements include:

  • Rape
  • Sexual Assault
  • Statutory Sexual Assault
  • Sexual Conduct with a Minor
  • Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse
  • Indecent Assault
  • Aggravated Indecent Assault
  • Institutional Sexual Assault
  • Indecent Exposure

This presents many issues to those who have paid their debt to society and are now continually paying for the mistakes they made in the past. Not only will this bring additional pressure to those convicted, it could also end up costing the state and the taxpayers a great deal of money.

This puts the states in a difficult position, because, under the federal law, they will lose 10% of their funding if they do not comply. Some states, like Texas and Ohio, have refused to pass their own versions of this bill, for two stated reasons: First, that the cost to implement the law would greatly exceed the loss in funding, and, second, that the Act takes a “one-size-fits-all” approach for all states, despite the many differences that exist between state law.

These expanded requirements will disproportionately affect the many Pennsylvania residents convicted of lesser sexual crimes. This is why it is so important to keep from being forced to deal with this difficult situation in the first place by working with a qualified Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney who has experience in this volatile and complicated area of law.

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Marijuana Usage among High School Seniors Reaches 30 Year Record “High;” West Chester Marijuana Crimes Attorney Michael Skinner Discusses Trend and Pennsylvania Marijuana Laws

According to the 2011 Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF) released last week by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana usage among the nation’s high school teens has steadily increased over the past four years, with high school seniors hitting a 30 year record peak in 2011.  The findings come as a result after surveying 46,733 students at 400 public and private schools in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades.  The study reported 50 percent of high school seniors having tried an illicit drug at some time, with this number being heavily influenced by the high amount of reported marijuana use.

More information specific for juvenile Pennsylvania marijuana crimes will be released later this spring when the Pennsylvania Youth Survey statistics are released.  Possession of marijuana in Pennsylvania is the most common marijuana related crime in the state, accounting for 79% of all marijuana related arrests in Pennsylvania during 2007.  Penalties associated with illegal possession of marijuana in Pennsylvania depend on several factors including the amount of marijuana found in possession, criminal history of the arrested person and whether that person had a “conscious dominion over the contraband.”

Commonwealth v. Davis, 444 Pa. 11 (1971) established that just simply being present at the scene of a crime involving a person or group of people in possession of marijuana does not provide sufficient evidence of proof that one has committed that crime; and therefore, a person cannot be held accountable for possession if that person does not have “conscious dominion over the contraband.”  Many states have similar “I didn’t know” laws but there are also limits to these such laws.  For instance, the fact of possession loses all persuasiveness if persons other than the accused had equal access to the drug.

Common punishments for Pennsylvania possession of marijuana charges heavily depend on the amount of drugs found.  The least serious being possession of 30 grams of Marijuana or less which Pennsylvania considers a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.  A person accused of possession of Marijuana with more than 30 grams is also still a misdemeanor but punishable by one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.  The more marijuana a person has in their possession and that is ultimately seized by authorities, the more susceptible a person also becomes to other charges such as intent to distribution or sale marijuana, which can have even greater penalties with more serious lasting effects.

Discrepancies and complexities associated with Georgia’s marijuana laws including possession of marijuana in Lancaster or Cultivation of Marijuana in West Chester can work for or against an individual arrested in Pennsylvania for a marijuana related crime.  It’s important to speak with a lawyer in your area about the specific details of your case if you have been arrested for a marijuana crime.  Hiring an attorney to create a defense for your case might ultimately help you avoid harsh repercussions such as a criminal record, large fines, difficulties getting the job you want due to commonly used background checks and youths accused of marijuana crimes may avoid problems gaining school loans and/or scholarships as well as other tuition assistance for higher education.

Chester County marijuana lawyer Michael Skinner represents men, women and minors accused of all types of Pennsylvania marijuana related crimes including possession of marijuana, marijuana trafficking in Pennsylvania and cultivation/grow house crimes throughout West Chester and surrounding areas within Chester County, Delaware County, Lancaster County and Montgomery County.  Call (267) 388-3476 to schedule a free consultation with West Chester criminal defense attorney Michael skinner.  The sooner you react to the charges against you, the better your chances become at fighting and having a strong enough defense to challenge the prosecutions efforts to penalize you with the harshest punishments.  Call Michael Skinner at Skinner Law Firm today.

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