Month: January 2014

Pennsylvania moves to pass Revenge Porn law

The Pennsylvania Senate unanimously voted Tuesday to criminalize so-called “revenge porn.”

The bill would make it illegal for intimate or former intimate partners to post photos or videos identifying another person who is naked or engaged in a sexual act, without that person’s consent. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Judy Schwank, a Berks County Democrat, would not cover photos posted with a person’s consent.

The bill would create a new crime. Intimate Partner Harassment would carry a penalty of up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine in cases involving victims who are minors, and up to 2 years and $5,000 when the victim is an adult.

The proposal will now head to the House.

Here is the current bill:

Amending Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in assault, providing for the offense of intimate partner harassment.
The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hereby enacts as follows:

Section 1.   Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated
7Statutes is amended by adding a section to read:

§ 2709.2.   Intimate partner harassment.

(a)   Offense defined.–A person commits the crime of intimate
partner harassment by exposing a photograph, film, videotape or
similar recording of the identifiable image of an intimate
partner who is nude or explicitly engaged in a sexual act to the
view of a third party for no legitimate purpose and with the
intent to harass, annoy or alarm the person depicted.

(b)   Affirmative defense.–It shall not be an offense under
this section for a person to expose an image with the consent of
the person depicted.

 (c)   Grading.–An offense under this section shall be:

(1)   A misdemeanor of the first degree when the person depicted is a minor.

(2)   A misdemeanor of the <-third second degree when the person depicted is not a minor.

(d)   Applicability.–This section shall not apply to any

activity described in section 6321 (relating to transmission of
sexually explicit images by minor).

(e)   Definition.–As used in this section, the term

“nude” shall have the meaning provided under section 5903(b)
(relating to obscene and other sexual materials and
performances).

Section 2.   This act shall take effect in 60 days.

This bill raises serious concerns about the type of conduct that is and is not criminal. Is the showing of a picture to another covered by the statute? What qualifies as intent to harras, annoy, or alarm? Can the “victim” retroactively change their mind and seek prosecution? Can the “victim” revoke consent at a later time? Where and when is the crime committed? Suppose a photo is posted online by phone from out of state? Or the picture is taken out of state?

Attorney General moves for Suspension of Nursing License

The Delaware State Attorney General has called for the Board of Nursing to permanently suspend the professional license of a Delaware nurse who was recently charged with several Pennsylvania drug offenses. Authorities allege that the nurse, a 37-year-old man who is licensed to practice in Delaware but who had been employed at DuBois Regional Medical Center in central Pennsylvania, was in possession of four bags of cocaine and 33 bags of heroin. Stating that he believes the nurse to be an “immediate and imminent danger to public health,” the attorney general reportedly generated the emergency petition to ensure that the nurse will permanently lose his license and never be able to work in Delaware.

The nurse was taken into custody on July 13 by the Towamencin Township Police. He was charged with two counts of drug possession, possession of drug paraphernalia and receipt in commerce of a controlled substance. He has reportedly resigned from his position at DuBois Regional Medical Center and faces an October hearing.

While the nurse’s alleged acts are serious, they are at this point only charges. While it may benefit the attorney general to take a tough stance against a health care professional who allegedly committed these offenses, the accused has not been convicted of any crime. He is protected by a presumption of innocence and entitled to due process of law.

When a member of the health care profession is charged with drug offenses, a lawyer will have to challenge the evidence on two fronts: at an administrative hearing in front of the licensing authority as well as in the courtroom. The mere the fact of an arrest does not always rise to the level of unprofessional conduct in the one forum, nor is it proof beyond a reasonable doubt in the other.

Source: delawareonline, “Delaware nurse faces drug charges; emergency license suspension sought“, Terri Sanginiti, July 31, 2013

Pennsylvania House weighs expansion of designer drug ban

The Pennsylvania legislature is currently considering a bill that would expand the types of synthetic drugs that are prohibited. The state currently has laws that ban these substances, including bath salts, synthetic marijuana and any substance designed to imitate the effects of heroin, methamphetamine or cocaine. However, drug manufacturers are still able to change the formulation of the drug and produce a similar substance that is not contained within the list of illegal substances.

Supporters of the bill, known as House Bill 1217, believe that if it ultimately becomes law, it will be more difficult for synthetic drug manufacturers to get around the law by making minor chemical changes. This may make it easier for law enforcement to catch those creating and selling so-called designer drugs.

The bill was approved by a legislative committee in the House of Representatives on April 22. The full House will now consider the proposed law. If it passes the House, it must also be approved by the Senate before being forwarded to the governor for approval. It was not stated whether or not the governor supports the bill.

Act 7 of 2011 amended the Pennsylvania controlled substance act to make designer drugs a Schedule I controlled substance, which means the government believes the drugs have no accepted medical purpose and a high potential for abuse. Any person who has been charged with a crime related to the possession, sale or manufacture of designer drugs may benefit from speaking with a defense lawyer to discuss the situation. In some cases, a lawyer may be able to get a person into a drug diversion program to avoid some of the penalties of a conviction or possibly negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecution for a reduced sentence.

Source: WHTM, “Pa. bill would expand designer drug ban,” Myles Snyder, April 23, 2013

Source: General Assembly, “SB 1006,” June 23, 2011

The Problem of Mandatory Sentencing

Many states, including Pennsylvania, have begun to reform their sentencing laws in regards to mandatory sentencing. Mandatory sentencing, normally subjected to those convicted of drug charges, is a minimum sentence that is to be given to someone convicted of a specific crime. Since it’s introduction in the 1970s, the prison population in the U.S. has quadrupled. The U.S. currently incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other country, including Iran and China.

Many politicians believe that mandatory sentencing is causing more problems than it is solving. In addition to states changing their laws, this concern has pushed the federal government to consider legislation that would do the same. Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder directed prosecutors working on federal cases to not introduce evidence against people with a limited criminal history that could cause such sentences to be given.

Those in favor of reform want to completely do away with these sentences of non-violent crimes. They also want sentencing to be back in the hands of judges for minor drug crimes. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is co-sponsoring federal legislation to reform the practice for federal crimes because he thinks mandatory sentencing is costly and unfair.

These laws have filled prisons with non-violent criminals and haven’t stopped the sale or use of illegal drugs. This movement to end these mandatory minimum sentences may help many people avoid prison sentences that are a harsher punishment than the crime they were convicted of deserves. While Pennsylvania has taken steps to address the issue, those with drug charges still face the possibility of long prison sentences. An attorney may be able to assist those charged with drug crimes better understand what options they have to protect their future. An attorney could also negotiate for a plea deal with the prosecution that results in their client enrolling in a substance abuse program.

Source: The Week, “Rethinking mandatory sentencing“, Dan Stewart, September 14, 2013

Philadelphia police officers sued for planting drugs at apartment

Dozens of drug cases are being dropped by the Philadelphia district attorney’s office after several officers had been accused of making false arrests, using excessive force and planting drugs while conducting drug crime investigations in the area.

When the Philadelphia police officers had their credibility questioned last year, it was also reported that dozens of other cases involving the officers would likely need to be reexamined in order to determine whether similar wrongdoings and violations were made in those cases. And a few weeks ago, three individuals who have claimed that they are victims of these wrongdoings reported that they are now filing a lawsuit against several of the officers for illegally raiding their apartment and arresting them.

The lawsuit was filed by three individuals who were inside an apartment unit when police raided the unit on July 31, 2012. Several officers that are named in the lawsuit are the same officers who were involved in the dozens of cases that had to be dropped late last year due to credibility concerns. Other officers have also been named in the lawsuit for allegedly conducting the illegal arrests and planting evidence at the apartment.

According to the lawsuit, police had executed a search warrant at the wrong apartment unit. Police also allegedly harassed the occupants and then arrested the individuals after planting drugs in their apartment. After arresting the occupants, it was later discovered that police were supposed to execute the search warrant at a different unit at the same apartment complex.

Although many drug arrests are conducted lawfully, folks should always consider consulting an attorney after being accused of committing drug crimes in order to make sure they protect their rights as best as possible. Clearly, mistakes may be made when executing search warrants and conducting criminal investigations, but even when arrests are conducted lawfully, an aggressive defense attorney may still help to mitigate the consequences of a drug arrest in Pennsylvania.

Source: Philly.com, “Lawsuit accuses cops of false arrests,” Morgan Zalot, Feb. 1, 2013

Will Pennsylvania Leaglize Marijuana?

Although several states   have legalized the use and possession of marijuana under certain conditions,   pot is still illegal in Pennsylvania. This means folks in Bucks County and   throughout the entire state may still face serious legal consequences if they   are caught with marijuana.

Despite marijuana being   illegal throughout most of the U.S., there are still many Americans who use   marijuana. In Pennsylvania alone, more than 24,000 people were arrested in   2006 for marijuana-related crimes. The Office of National Drug Control Policy   claims that taxpayers paid about $325.36 million for these arrests and other   costs associated with the alleged drug crimes.

With thousands of people   being arrested and millions being spent on marijuana-related arrests each   year in the state, citizens and lawmakers have often considered whether it   would be better to just legalize marijuana and regulate the substance like   alcohol in order to avoid wasting taxpayers’ dollars and law enforcement   officers’ time and efforts. Although it may be awhile yet before Pennsylvania   even considers legalizing marijuana, one lawmaker has recently stated that he   plans to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana in the state.

Democrat State Sen.   Daylin Leach announced that he plans to introduce a bill that would legalize   the use of marijuana in Pennsylvania. The bill would only make it legal for   residents who are 21 or older to possess and smoke marijuana. The lawmaker   said that he believes legalizing marijuana will not only allow folks to   purchase safer forms of the substance, but it could also reduce wasteful   spending of taxpayers’ dollars.

If the bill is ever   passed, residents could still face criminal charges for marijuana-related   offenses. For example, folks could face criminal charges for driving under   the influence of marijuana or for selling marijuana to those who are under   the age of 21. It will certainly be interesting to see what comes of the   lawmaker’s plans to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania. We will be sure to   revisit this topic on our blog when more developments occur.

Source: CBS Pittsburgh, “Pa. Senator Introduces Bill To Legalize Marijuana,”   Jan. 10, 2013