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Central Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Legal Blog

Miranda warnings are required by law

When people in Pennsylvania are accused and arrested on criminal charges, police have the obligation to inform them of their constitutional rights against self-incrimination. These Fifth Amendment rights have been distilled into a standard Miranda warning, named after the 1966 Supreme Court case that mandated its usage nationwide. The words are familiar to many, whether through personal experience or through their propagation in television and movie police dramas. Miranda warnings advise people of their right to remain silent, that anything they say can be used against them in court, of their right to an attorney and that one will be appointed for those who cannot afford to pay for an attorney.

In short, people are informed that they do not have to speak to police and can ask for a lawyer. These rights persist despite any other techniques or tactics used by police in order to elicit a confession or other information under interrogation. These are more than just words; Miranda warnings can have a major effect on the outcome of a criminal case. If people give a confession to police under arrest after not being provided with a proper Miranda warning, they may be able to have it taken off the table as a coerced and unlawful confession.

Pennsylvania DUI rates in nationwide comparison

In one study of drunk driving rates nationwide, Pennsylvania fell in the middle of the pack. Compiling information from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and federal crime reports, a drug testing firm ranked states to determine the frequency of DUI incidents. In 2018, Pennsylvania came in 24th for DUI arrests. For every 100,000 state residents, there were 346.8 arrests for drunk driving. Fewer people have been accused of DUI in recent years, with an 8.3% decrease in arrests from 2014 and a sharper 18.4% fall since 2009.

In 2009, Pennsylvania actually saw its highest rate of DUI arrests, with a rate of 424.7 arrests for every 100,000 residents. The downward trend in Pennsylvania mirrors that around the world. Over the past decade, drunk driving arrests fell by 35% across the country, with only three states seeing a rise in DUI incidents over that period. Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that there are 130,000,000 examples of drunk driving that take place every year. Men make up over 75% of people charged with DUI nationwide.

Unproven technique used by police to accuse suspects

When people in Pennsylvania are suspected or accused of a crime, innocent people may particularly rush to answer police questions. They may believe that answering openly and honestly will protect them and win their freedom. Unfortunately, however, police and prosecutors are often most interested in securing a conviction, and if they are convinced that a suspect is responsible, they may rely on questionable evidence or psychological pressure techniques in order to coerce a confession or make a case against a suspect. While TV shows often focus on exciting police science, many forensic techniques used by police departments are actually of questionable value.

One commonly used questioning technique, however, is little known outside law enforcement and rarely makes its way into television dramas. Scientific Content Analysis, also called SCAN, is a system of reading a written questionnaire in which police are trained to glean intent or perceive deception from the words and references a suspect uses when answering questions. Many of the suppositions in SCAN seem doubtful. For example, omitting the word "I" could be seen as avoiding responsibility for a crime, and writing that gets larger or spread out across a page may indicate an attempt to pass off a lie as truthful.

New technology would test for marijuana in drivers

The DUI laws in Pennsylvania say that a person can be charged with and convicted of driving under the influence if they are found to have been behind the wheel with any amount of marijuana in their system. This is because marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I narcotic at the federal level, despite many states legalizing it for medical or recreational use. People in Pennsylvania should be aware of a new technology that may make it possible for law enforcement to determine marijuana impairment among drivers.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh developed the technology, which works similarly to a breath test for alcohol but tests for the presence of THC, one of the active chemicals in marijuana. According to the researchers, the device makes use of carbon nanotubes that are 100,000 times smaller than a human hair. They claim that THC molecules in the breath attach to the nanotubes when a person who has been smoking marijuana blows into the device. The electrical properties of the nanotubes are changed by the THC, and the device indicates its presence.

Police search Pennsylvania home and find heroin, cocaine and pot

Pennsylvania law enforcement officers arrested two people on drug charges after raiding a home in Richland Township on Nov. 14. Police reported that they decided to search the home on the 100 block of Gap Avenue after investigating possible drug activity at the location for two months. Officers took a 33-year-old man and 26-year-old woman into custody after discovering what they called "large quantities" of marijuana, heroin, cocaine and pills.

Court documents revealed that investigators also seized cash, a .45 caliber handgun, a 12-gauge shotgun, drug paraphernalia and equipment for packaging drugs. Due to the large quantities of drugs and packaging equipment, local authorities have chosen to charge the people on multiple counts of possessing controlled substances with the intent to manufacturer or deliver the drugs. The man and woman face additional charges of conspiracy to possess controlled substances.

Report questions the validity of breath test evidence

Motorists in Pennsylvania and around the country who are charged with driving under the influence are usually taken into custody after breath tests reveal their blood alcohol concentrations to be .08% or higher, but questions have been raised about the reliability of toxicology evidence in drunk driving cases for years. A team of reporters from the New York Times recently investigated the way police departments in the United States conduct breath tests, and they found that most of the equipment used is extremely unreliable.

The results of the investigation were released on Nov. 3, and they reveal that virtually all law enforcement agencies use breath-testing equipment that has been poorly maintained. Accurate results are only produced when these devices are regularly recalibrated and filled with the correct chemical solutions. The report suggests that these requirements are widely overlooked. Reporters discovered one machine that was being used as a nesting site by rats and another that had been drilled by police officers to influence the results it produced.

Can you rebuild your reputation after a criminal conviction?

Once you have been convicted of committing a crime in Pennsylvania, you could be facing consequences that vary in the way they impact your life. Some of the negative effects of having participated in criminal behavior could be legal fees, time spent behind bars and the requirement to complete various community service projects to return to good standing with the law. Your effort to take responsibility for your actions and promptly pay the consequences that have been recommended for you can be instrumental in helping you rebuild your life successfully. 

One area of your life that will require time and dedication to fixing is the process of repairing your reputation. Depending on the severity of the crime you committed and who was affected by your actions, chances are you have lost the trust of many important people in your life. These people could include family members, friends, coworkers and even law enforcement. Demonstrating your commitment to change is going to require that you make sustainable changes in your lifestyle. 

What should parents know about juvenile offenses?

When your child gets in trouble with the law in Pennsylvania, you may wonder what is going to happen next. Juvenile law is sometimes different from adult law and it is important to understand these differences and how they might affect your son or daughter. 

When your child commits a crime, you might wonder if the public will learn about this offense. According to the Pennsylvania Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network, juvenile offenses are typically only part of the public record if they meet certain criteria. One of the criteria is the type of offense. If a minor commits arson, rape or aggravated assault, for example, then the offense may become part of the public record. Additionally, if your teenager is at least 14 years old and commits an offense that a court considers a felony, then the offense may become public knowledge. If your son or daughter's offense does not meet these criteria, then members of the public generally cannot access these records.

The dangers of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome

Despite the willingness of officials in state government to take a look at recreational marijuana use in Pennsylvania, as of now it remains illegal. However, long-term marijuana use could involve more than mere legal consequences. It could cause a medical condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome which, according to USA Today, could prove fatal

CHS is a relatively recent medical discovery, not yet fully understood. The primary known cause is prolonged use of products containing THC. However, not everyone who uses marijuana heavily will develop the syndrome, and scientists are not entirely sure why.

First prosecution under bump stock ban reportedly takes place

A bump stock is a device that allows a semiautomatic rifle in Pennsylvania to mimic the firing capability of a machine gun. Over a year ago, the government issued a new regulation banning ownership, possession or use of bump stocks following several high-profile mass shooting incidents.

The bump stock ban went into effect in March of this year following an unsuccessful attempt to challenge it in the Supreme Court. Approximately six months later, authorities in Texas have brought the first charges in the country related to bump stock possession since the ban went into effect. 

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