Central Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Legal Blog

“Swatting” crime may be more common than people think

It can be frustrating when someone messes up in an online game and causes the team to lose. The same can be said when people get into an Internet argument or when real-life bullying crosses over onto social media. For whatever reason, the Internet is not always a peaceful place. There are some people in Pennsylvania and elsewhere who might be tempted to take a dispute a step further and play a seemingly harmless prank on someone they do not like.

One of these is something called “swatting.” The New York Times defines swatting as a prank in which someone calls authorities to report a crime or other false information, for the purpose of luring police or swat teams to an unsuspecting person’s residence or workplace. There can be some confusion and fear while the target, who is innocent of the alleged wrongdoing, finds himself or herself surrounded by armed law enforcement. The incident is usually cleared up quickly once law enforcement realizes the swatting target has done nothing wrong, which may be why many pranksters believe they are committing a harmless ruse.

What you need to know about Pennsylvania firearm laws

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees all citizens, including those living in Pennsylvania, the right to bear arms. However, each state is allowed to regulate under what circumstances and conditions a citizen is allowed to carry a gun, particularly one that is concealed.

Per the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association, gun owners do not need a license to openly carry their gun(s), assuming they are not openly carrying them in a motor vehicle. Nor do they need to register their guns. Surprisingly enough, Section 6111.4 of the Pennsylvania Statutes prohibits any governmental or police agency from keeping a firearms registry. Should a gun owner wish to sell or otherwise transfer his or her guns to someone else, however, he or she must go through the Pennsylvania Instant Check System to do so. The Pennsylvania State Police keep a registry, called a “sales database,” of all such sales within the state.

Understanding distracted driving

Drivers on Pennsylvania’s streets, roads and highways see evidence of distracted driving all around them on a daily basis. The main problem is people using cellphones while driving. The Morning Call, a leading Lehigh Valley news source, reports that whether used for talking or texting, cellphone usage is a leading cause of fatal accidents according to the National Safety Council, along with speeding and drunk driving.

Pennsylvania banned texting while driving in 2012. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation admits that conviction of violating this state law carries only a $50 fine in addition to court costs and fees. No points are assessed against the offender’s driving record if he or she is a noncommercial driver.

How does Pennsylvania define theft?

If you are a Pennsylvania resident who has been arrested and charged with theft, you may be confused about exactly what is that you are accused of having done. That is not surprising given that the Pennsylvania Legislature has defined no less than 17 types of theft that can occur in this state.

All thefts are property crimes and Pennsylvania defines property as “anything of value,” including such things as the following:

  • Personal items
  • Real estate
  • Animals
  • Food and/or drinks
  • Rights and/or claims
  • Electric and other types of power

What are the penalties for a DUI?

Pennsylvania law takes a three-tiered approach to driving under the influence. If you are convicted of DUI, your penalties will depend upon which level your blood alcohol content falls under and whether or not you have had any prior DUI convictions.

As explained by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the three BAC tiers are as follows:

  1. General impairment for a BAC of 0.08 percent to 0.099 percent
  2. High BAC for a BAC of 0.10 percent to 0.159 percent
  3. Highest BAC for a BAC of 0.16 percent or higher

Who may legally own a gun

People may be curious to know who can legally own a gun in the U.S. Because gun laws can change from state to state, it is important to understand the law in Pennsylvania, as well as the restrictions that determine who can and cannot purchase a gun.

FindLaw says that in the U.S., people cannot own a gun if they have been dishonorably discharged from the military or if they have a substance addiction. People with a domestic violence conviction or restraining order, as well as those who have been imprisoned for one year, are also barred from owning guns. Mental illness also determines whether or not someone owns a gun, as someone who is legally mentally defective usually cannot posses a firearm. Illegal immigrants and fugitives also may not have guns. Additionally, someone cannot own a firearm if they have renounced U.S. citizenship.

What to know about prescription drugs and driving

Pennsylvanian residents may have to pop some allergy pills to get through the day. They may be taking antibiotics that make it difficult to focus, or medication with warnings not to operate machinery or drive while using it. But is driving while on medication really illegal?

The answer is both yes and no. The Food and Drug Administration states that many people are completely safe to drive while taking medication. If a person is affected by their medicine too strongly to be able to drive, then the dosage, timing of the dose, or a change in medication can be used to facilitate wakefulness. For many people, medications won't affect their ability to drive in the first place. Medications that do cause drowsiness or impairment will always come with a warning, though you may have an unexpected reaction to a medicine that shouldn't cause this.

How fast does your body metabolize alcohol?

Imagine that while driving through York, you are stopped by a law enforcement officer. You did have a drink a few hours past, yet felt as though you waited a sufficient amount of time for it to not affect your judgment or your driving abilities. When asked to take a breathalyzer test, however, you register a blood-alcohol content reading of 0.08 percent, which you know is enough to be arrested for DUI. Yet an hour later, a blood test is administered which shows your BAC to be 0.02. You see this as proof that the earlier test was wrong. Your arresting officer, however, says that your body has just metabolized the alcohol in that time. Is that possible? 

To answer this question, you need to understand how alcohol interacts with your body's system. According to information shared by Brown University, when you consume alcohol, 20 percent of its content is absorbed by your stomach, with the rest being absorbed by the small intestine. It is them metabolized by the liver, which can process roughly one ounce of alcohol per hour. The rest accumulates in your body tissues as well as your bloodstream waiting to be metabolized. To reach the 0.08 threshold, it may take an average 175-lb person about three drinks. 

What distinguishes criminal law from civil law?

The differences between the criminal law and civil law in Pennsylvania are manifest in at least two major ways: the consequences flowing from a violation of either type and the parties involved in each case. A civil case, for example, involves private parties who have a dispute over a matter. The person initiating the lawsuit is called the “plaintiff” and the person against whom relief is sought is called the “defendant.” At stake in a civil case are injunctive relief or damages. Injunctive relief means that a court may force a party to do something or prevent a party from doing another. Damages are the money compensation that are awarded by a court to the party who has suffered a harm or deprivation attributable to the other. In a civil case, one party does not ask the court to incarcerate or arrest the other party. Civil law can be laid down in a state statute or can be found in common law. Common law is the body of law adopted from English law and developed over time in Pennsylvania through the precedent of court rulings. A “tort” is the general term used to define a civil wrong for which a remedy may be allowed. However, contract law, property law, family law, and probate law also fall under the civil law.

Criminal law, on the other hand, is a creature of statute. Pennsylvania legislators decide whether certain conduct is prohibited by law. In Pennsylvania, the crimes and offenses are enumerated in Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Code. “Crimes” are those acts that constitute violations of the criminal code. The criminal law or code also prescribes punishments and sentencing guidelines. The parties in a criminal case are the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, on the one hand, and the alleged criminal called the “defendant,” on the other. The consequences under criminal law are more often considered more severe because they include incarceration.

What is a plea negotiation?

After a criminal complaint has been filed against a defendant, a prosecutor representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and an attorney representing the defendant begin communicating over the terms of the defendant’s pending criminal case. A criminal complaint outlines the criminal charges against the defendant. This process of communication is referred to as plea negotiation or plea bargaining and concerns the content of the criminal complaint and the sentencing guidelines that would typically apply. Subject to negotiation are the defendant’s plea, alterations to the original charges, and the resultant sentencing and punishment to be recommended to the court.

Similar to negotiations in the civil context, communications between opposing sides revolve around terms with which each party must agree. In a criminal case, however, the defendant brings to the table his or her ability to submit a plea other than “not guilty,” and effectively save the cost, time, and burden associated with a criminal trial. The prosecutor brings to the table the ability to reduce or drop charges, and recommend a diversion program, other alternative or shorter sentence to the judge.

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