Archive for September, 2010

1543(a) / 1543(b) – Driving Under Suspension in Berks County

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Most people think of a traffic ticket as a pretty minor offense.  The only punishment is usually paying a fine and court costs.  Sometimes, a driver might get a couple of points added to their license.  If it is a serious traffic offense, perhaps a driver would get his license suspended.  Hardly anyone, however, would expect to go to jail.

In some instances, incarceration is not only a possibility, it is MANDATORY under the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code.  Most commonly, this occurs when a driver is issued a citation for driving with a suspended license, which is codified at 75 Pa.C.S.A. 1543.  There are two basic types of citations for driving with a suspended license.

First, a “1543(a)”, covers any person who is caught driving a vehicle after the commencement of a suspension, revocation, or cancellation of a operating privilege but before the operating privilege has been restored.  The penalty, upon conviction, is a $200 fine per statute.  However, under a separate section of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code, 75 Pa.C.S.A. 6503, upon conviction of a second offense under 1543(a), the fine changes to a sliding scale of $200 to $1,000.  Furthermore, a Judge has the option to sentence a “second offender” to up to six months in prison.

Perhaps even more significantly, anyone convicted of a sixth or subsequent offense under1543(a) SHALL be sentenced to a MANDATORY fine of not less than $1,000 and MANDATORY imprisonment of not less than 30 days to six months.  In other words, a Judge does not have any discretion to sentence someone in this situation to less than 30 days in jail.

The second type of citation for driving with a suspended license is a “1543(b)”; it is commonly referred to as a license suspension that is “DUI-Related”.  A 1543(b) applies to anyone caught driving a vehicle while his operating privileges have been suspended or revoked because of a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) conviction in Pennsylvania.  The law also applies to a conviction for a “substantially similar” offense to DUI in another state.  The law even applies to someone who has their license suspended for refusing to submit to chemical testing as part of a DUI arrest.  And since the suspension is “DUI-Related”, the Pennsylvania Legislature decided to make the punishment more severe than a more general 1543(a) offense.  Under 1543(b), a first time offender, if convicted, must pay a MANDATORY fine of $500 and serve a MANDATORY 60-90 days in prison.

I have represented many clients charged with 1543(a) and 1543(b).  In the vast majority of these cases, the number one goal of my client is to eliminate the threat of any jail time.  I have been successful in achieving that goal in most of my clients’ cases.  Whether it is negotiating with the police officer who charged the citation or arguing the case in front of the Judge, there are many different strategies that I can utilize to minimize the impact that this type of case can have on someone’s life.

If you have been charged with a traffic citation for driving with a suspended license under 75 Pa.C.S.A. 1543(a) or 1543(b) in Reading or Berks County, call my office today.  I would be happy to set up a no cost consultation to discuss your situation in more detail.

Can a Witness Refuse to Testify in a Criminal Case?

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

It is not unusual for a witness or a victim to threaten to “press charges” against another person.  Likewise, many times a witness or a victim will want to “drop charges” that were filed against a friend, relative, or paramour.  A quick look at the caption of a criminal complaint (Commonwealth v. Smith), however, will reveal that a witness or a victim is not the one pressing charges against a defendant.  Rather, it is the police officers and assistant district attorneys, collectively referred to as the “Commonwealth of Pennsylvania”, that “press” the charges against a defendant.

In the situation where a victim or a witness wants to drop the charges against a loved one, the Commonwealth must agree to have the charges dropped against the defendant.  If the Commonwealth does not want to drop the charges against a particular defendant, the assistant district attorney will then proceed with the prosecution of the case.  No matter if the case is at the preliminary hearing stage or a jury trial, the burden of proof is always on the Commonwealth to present the proper evidence to prosecute the case.  In many cases, such as a simple assault, the primary evidence, and sometimes the only evidence, against the defendant is the testimony of the victim.

Many times, a victim will think that he or she can simply refuse to testify in order to get a case dismissed against a loved one.  While it is true that it is difficult to actually force a victim or a witness to testify, it is important to note that nobody has the right to refuse  to testify.  Moreover, nobody has the right to simply ignore a subpoena to appear in a Pennsylvania court of law.  In fact, there could be serious consequences for a victim or a witness who refuses to testify or fails to show up for court.  Under 42 Pa.C.S.A. 4137, Pennsylvania Magisterial District Judges are given the power to levy fines and impose sentences of imprisonment to persons found to be in contempt of court.  Likewise, Judges of the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas are given even broader contempt powers; again, punishment may include fines, incarceration, or both.

I have represented victims and witnesses in cases before Magisterial District Courts, Common Pleas Courts, and Grand Jury Investigations.  I am often able to work out a resolution to the case that is satisfactory both to my client and the other parties involved in the case.  Other times, I have advised victims and witnesses on their 5th Amendment Right Against Self-Incrimination; by assisting my clients in invoking their 5th Amendment Rights, my clients have been excused from testifying against a defendant.  In some instances, I have been able to get my clients “immunity” from future prosecution.

If you are a witness or a victim in a criminal case and have questions or concerns about the prosecution of a case, I will be happy to meet with you to discuss the matter in more detail.

Underage Drinking in Pennsylvania

Monday, September 13th, 2010

I recently represented a Kutztown University student on a citation for underage drinking.  Pennsylvania’s underage drinking statute, 18 Pa.C.S.A. 6308, actually covers “purchase, consumption, possession, or transportation” of alcohol.  Although it is a relatively minor summary offense that is most often punishable by a fine, most young people, including my client, want to avoid having any type of “record”, including one for underage drinking.  This is especially important in the case of a successful college student with a bright future ahead of him.  Furthermore, although Pennsylvania law allows for an expungement of an underage drinking citation upon reaching 21 years of age, my client didn’t want to wait until his 21st birthday to have his record expunged; he didn’t want any type of record at all.

In this case, several students were issued citations by campus police for underage drinking in my client’s dorm room.  Additionally, one student, who was over 21, was charged with supplying alcohol to minors, which is a misdemeanor under Pennsylvania state law.  Although there was no evidence that my client was even drinking that night, he was issued a citation for “constructively possessing” the alcohol that was present in his college dorm room.

After a long hearing in front of the Magistrate, which included over 5 witnesses, my client was found guilty.  Based on the facts presented at the hearing, I strongly disagreed with the ruling.  After discussing it with my client, I filed an appeal at the Berks County Court of Common Pleas that same day.  Although I would have liked to have had the opportunity argue the case again at the higher court, my client and I ultimately decided that the best course of action would be to enter into the accelerated rehabilitative disposition (ARD) program.

At the hearing, my client did not have to plead guilty or admit any guilt.  He was placed on informal supervision for a few months and must complete community service.  After he successfully completes ARD, any information related to the case will be expunged, and there will be no formal record of his charges.  The entire incident will be a thing of the past well before my client starts applying for internships for the upcoming summer.

Most importantly, my client was very satisfied with the outcome of his case.