Q: I pleaded guilty because I was promised Drug Court. The deal exploded and the DA refused to agree but I entered the plea anyway as I was nervous and my attorney was little help. Can the Judge deny my right to withdraw my plea? I have not been sentenced yet and have no idea what my sentence will be and don’t trust anyone. Is there a civil rights violation here?
A: You can file a petition to withdraw your plea at any time prior to sentencing. You must file a written motion making the request. The decision is entirely in the judge’s discretion. Usually such requests are granted. Be aware however, that now you will face trial unless you can negotiate a deal with the DA that is acceptable to you. I do not see a civil rights violation here.
Q: I carry my prescription medicine in an unmarked plastic bottle. I was recently questioned by building security when entering a building during a search of my back pack. They said I need to carry all prescription pills in their prescription bottles. I cannot find a law on this. I need to know as I pass security points in the courts of my job. (Scott Township, PA)
A: I know of no such law. If there is such a law, all those senior citizens with the pill counter containers will be busted. There is no doubt that you will attract law enforcement with your pills in an unmarked container if you are subject to been screened at airports or buildings. The issue is whether you have a current prescription. I would therefore keep my written prescription folded in my wallet.
Q: I was pulled over for out registration and police call tow truck driver for a tow. Police officer said he would take inventory of car so I could grab what I need but never did because he also was responding to a disable tractor trailer. I asked him to grab my girlfriend’s wallet. The cop goes into car lifts the center console and grabs it but I never got it. Tow truck pulls up. Tow driver was about to load car then. He opens driver side door reaches in. Then flags down officer and walks him over to say that there was a bag of marijuana on the floor. I am getting charged. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: You have a Fourth Amendment right against illegal searches. However, here it sounds like a tow truck driver alleges to have found the marijuana while performing his job and in in plain view. If the tow truck driver had a legitimate reason to be in the car and the marijuana is in plain view, you will have no Fourth Amendment protection. If that is what the tow truck driver will testify to, you may have a problem. The marijuana belongs to either you, your girlfriend or was planted by the cop or tow truck driver. The latter two are unlikely and hard to prove. The tow truck driver is a necessary witness. If you want to fight this, I would hire a lawyer for the preliminary hearing to make sure the tow truck driver appears and to cross examine him on the details. If this is a small amount of marijuana and you have no record, you may be able to get out of this with no conviction with the guidance of a good attorney.
Q: I was in subway with friend and they got into a fight. I was pulled in middle of situation but, didn’t have anything to do with me. We both were arrested. Now I go to court. I didn’t start anything just defended myself. (Castle Shannon, PA)
A: You need to inform your probation officer. Normally, he or she will wait until the preliminary hearing and see if your case is held for court or not, before he or she will file for a violation. Your goal is to get your case dismissed or at the most pleaded down to a summary conviction at the preliminary hearing. If it is dismissed, you may not face a probation violation. If you end up pleading to, or being found guilty of, a summary Disorderly Conduct, the PO may or may not file for a violation given that a summary conviction on probation is considered a technical violation of probation. I would get a lawyer for the preliminary hearing. A lot of times, victims in these situations do not show for court.
Q: I walked on train tracks and Port Authority police were called because I was told to get off due to a trolley coming. I got off but got back on after it passed. I was depressed and confused. They told me I wasn’t getting charged, until I got papers in the mail and found out. I’m 18 and people are scaring me saying I might be put in jail for this. It is considered defiant trespass. I was a bad juvenile when I was younger with a record but this is the first thing I’ve gotten charged with at 18. Do you think it’s likely I’ll be put in jail? I went to talk to a psychiatrist at a hospital that night because I knew that’s what I needed. I’m just worried because Port Authority is serious and has good lawyers. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: One cannot be convicted of “Defiant Trespass” unless there is prior notice to the defendant such as a previous verbal warning or posting of a sign. This should not be a jail case if defended properly, which will be accomplished better with legal representation. If you were my client, my goal would be to get you out of this with no conviction. It would require you to get a mental health evaluation and follow any recommended treatment before your court date.
Q: Can a 16-year-old have sex with 19-year-old legally? And if everything is 100% consensual.
A: Not a good idea. Corruption of Minors charges could be filed. I have seen this happen for a variety of reasons. For example, the relationship sours, the family of the 16-year -old, or any other person, is offended by it then talks to the police, etc. There is too much at risk for the 19-year-old. 16-year-old children are generally not emotionally mature enough to be doing this. (Pittsburgh, PA)
Q: If someone has a criminal record that includes possession of substances in another state but then incurs the charges below in Pennsylvania will they be able to avoid jail time with a public defender? The person in question does have a valid diagnosis and prescription for the pain killers on hand. Does this seem like definite jail time or could a public defender offer a plea without jail time? Should a private attorney be retained for something like this? Here is the list of charges recently incurred: 1 35 § 780-113 §§ A16 M Int Poss Contr Subst By Per Not Reg 2 35 § 780-113 §§ A31I M Marijuana-Small Amt Personal Use 3 35 § 780-113 §§ A32 M Use/Poss Of Drug Paraph 4 75 § 3802 §§ D2* M DUI: Controlled Substance – Impaired Ability – 1st Offense 5 75 § 3301 §§ A S Fail To Keep Right
A: No one can answer this question with any precision as much more information is needed. For example, whether there are any defenses, what the sentencing guidelines are, the position of the police and the DA. As far as a general prognosis, having prior possession of controlled substance charges and new DUI and drug charges, which according to you, are misdemeanors, this person most likely is not looking at any serious jail time. If handled correctly, this person could receive a probation sentence which will address drug counselling and rehabilitation with a negotiated plea. The prior out of state conviction will count toward his or her prior record score. The county DA will examine the other state prior charges and weigh them in accordance with the most similarly graded PA crimes in arriving at a prior record score. If the person is out on bond, it is important that they are involved in treatment and stay in treatment before they go to court.
Q: In his technical probation violation court hearing, the judge said no living with or contacting me. I talked to his probation officer and she told me that I could contact him since it was never written on the sentencing paper work that we couldn’t have contact. According to her it only said that we couldn’t live together. She was fine with us talking till we got married then she got all mad and tried to say he was violating a court order. I even asked the Clerk of Courts when I got a copy of the sentencing paper work and they said the same thing, that we could have contact since it wasn’t written on the sentencing paper work. But the probation officer (who I swear is bi-polar) told him if she gets the transcripts and it says that we can’t have contact that he could have a probation violation on his hands. Can she even do that since she told both of us we we’re allowed to have contact and that she had to go by what the sentencing paper work said? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: It sounds like the judge verbally ordered no contact. Generally, “no contact” means NO contact, by any method. Regardless of what the written court order says, or what the probation officer thinks, I would advise not to risk it, and follow what the judge said verbally. The judge may remember what he or she said or may have kept notes. In addition, if the transcript of the hearing is ordered, it will be clear. The safest way to seek a limited contact order is to file a motion to reconsider, in which you ask the judge to grant some form of contact.
Q: My daughter 19 was in a relationship on and off with a 17-year old male. Both sets of parents knew about relationship. In April, my daughter found out she was pregnant and now the mother of the boy wants to press charges for corruption of minor.
A: Legally, it could happen as he is a minor and she is an adult, even though barely. People on the lower IQ spectrum feed off television and want to put everyone else in jail. Will it happen? I would hope the police will not pursue this and would think cooler heads will prevail. To start young parents off with criminal charges will not serve any purpose other than aggravating the situation. Plus, the defendant may have a judge find her not guilty given the circumstances.
Q: While I was incarcerated I had a Public Defender representing me. After I was released from serving my Parole Violation I reapplied for the PD but was told my wife makes too much. Unfortunately, even at a discount, I cannot afford an attorney. I am already at the trial stage. I have two separate cases being tried and I refuse to take a plea since I am innocent on both cases and I will not let them bully me into a longer record and more time on probation or parole! If I must represent myself then I shall, I am not afraid to put in work on my cases! I only need to know what procedure or motion or petition I need to follow or submit in order to represent myself! I know each county in Pennsylvania can be slightly different and my county (Fayette) seems to follow their own rules, but I know I am afforded the right to represent myself by the US Constitution and they can’t deny that. (Uniontown, PA)
A: No one can advise you what to do without knowing all the facts and all the applicable law. You can probably find a lawyer to work with you. When I was a young lawyer, one of my first jury trial was done at a drastically reduced rate for a career criminal who had learned the law on the job, so to speak, while spending time in state correctional facilities. We ended up with a hung jury the first time, and an acquittal on the retrial. If you want to do this yourself, pro se, all I can say is read, read, read and reread the law. Go get em!