Q: I live with my daughter and her 3 boys, ages 16, 14, and 11. My 16-year old grandson has severe mental health issues. He was diagnosed with mental health issues 10 years ago. Jump to the present. Early this past spring he tried to kill himself with his psychiatric medications. He hasn’t been the same person since the overdose. Since then he has been verbally abusing everyone in the household. In September, he threatened to kill me and his mom. Two weeks ago, he was verbally abusive and punched his mom, held his 11-year old brother hostage in her bedroom and then proceeded to cause $1,000.00 damage in our living room. Presently he is in a Children’s Hospital. The hospital is recommending a Residential Treatment Facility, but he has declined to go there, because of Act 147. Because of this act, he thinks that he rules his own mental health. He wants to go to a DOS program for 30 days and then come home, so that he may terrorize his family more. We are very scared and do not want him at home for fear what he may do. A week before he was admitted to the psych hospital he threatened to torch his bedroom. We are not safe. Please help me. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: I am not understanding why he has not been involuntarily committed, either initiated by you, the hospital or police, if police were ever involved. It appears he is a danger to himself and others. Have you tried this? He needs a doctor’s prescription for an involuntary commitment at his age. Yes, you can obtain a Protection from Abuse (PFA) Order. I would call the police to initiate it. I would make sure you have the police aware of his condition and on your side before you obtain the PFA. A PFA order is only a piece of paper. Your real protection depends on how quickly the police arrive if your grandson decides to violate it. The power of the PFA is that once he violates it, when you call the police, they take him straight to jail, as he is in contempt of the order. You could also try to get help through CYF. If you cannot have him live in your home, he is therefore without proper parental control and supervision. CYF can file a Petition for Dependency, and ask the court to find him a dependent child. At that point, the court decides where he will be placed if home is not an option. Prior to filing the Dependency Petition, CYF can file for a Shelter Order and take temporary custody of him. If you do this, you need to understand that CYF has legal and physical custody of him, until such time that he is deemed able to return home or to a less structured environment.
Q: My 13-year-old daughter was charged with a summary offense of Harassment of a former friend. She received a citation with a $250 fine. Do I need to contest these charges and retain a lawyer or should I just pay the fine? Also, will she have a criminal record and can this be expunged? Thanks. (Mt Lebanon)
A: I find it odd that she is 13 years old and cited. Do not check “guilty” and send your money in for the fine. Check “not guilty” and request a hearing. If it requires money to be sent, send it. With no criminal history, this is the type of case that can be worked out without a conviction and a fine. This will be much easier if you have an attorney who is familiar with the court system guide you to this result.
JUVENILE LAW, CITATION, HARASSMENT
Q: My 12-year-old has a public defender. She is accused of felony indecent sexual assault and misdemeanor indecent assault against a 12-year-old peer. We believe it was consensual and the girl has “buyer’s remorse”. I would like to plead not guilty. She can plead to the misdemeanor, I don’t accept that. What do you think would be best? (Cranberry Township, PA)
Q: These cases require a great deal of preparation and attention. The penalties are drastic and unfair. Jail is unlikely but sexual offender registration could be, which is oppressive. I had a similar case between teenagers. We were in the middle of trial and because the judge sensed that it was consensual, the judge brokered a consent decree with no admission of guilt for my client. This seemed fair to me as it would help avoid any Megan’s law (SORA at the time) compliance or registration and a criminal/juvenile record. However, every fact pattern is different. You have an entirely different prosecutor and Judge. I am not sure what options are available to your child. Talk with her public defender and gauge how involved they are and how interested they are in defending your daughter. If you are not comfortable, you can always hire a private attorney.
Q: This happened after an adjudication hearing was scheduled. The Assistant DA made a deal for an informal hearing with our lawyer, Is this legal?
A: Cases of first-time juvenile offenders can be handled by an informal disposition. This keeps them out of court. This normally is offered to low level offenders with no juvenile court history. The youth is given conditions to fulfill and if so fulfilled and complied with, the charges are withdrawn. If there was no great defense to the allegations, it sounds like what a good attorney would do with a juvenile delinquency case.
JUVENILE LAW, INFORMAL DISPOSITION
Q: My son rolled through a stop sign and was pulled over by cop in PA. The cop could smell marijuana and asked my son if he had any. My son said yes. The cop got the marijuana and arrested my son. He was released the same day but they confiscated his phone and money and car. We can pick up the car but the police still have his phone and money. (Munhall, PA)
A: I will assume your son has no criminal record. Your goal should be to get him out of this with no criminal record. An attorney can increase the chances of this result. Perhaps there is a constitutional illegal stop and search defense but if not, there may be other options, especially if he has no record. He will likely be summoned in the mail and charged with possession of marijuana and prohibited acts as well as some sort of motor vehicle summary. The summons will likely come from Allegheny County Juvenile Court. I have seen police departments keep cars in this situation and force the owner to petition the court for return of property. They can try to keep the cell phone and money by arguing they are linked to criminal enterprise if the case is active. Seek legal representation for him.
Q: My 17-year-old was at a house where there was alcohol. There was an altercation between others. She was not involved and asked a friend to take her home because she was scared. Police stopped them did not test them. The cop did ask her how much were you drinking and she said a little. She was drinking Red Bull and thought that was illegal. Will she still be charged? (Mt. Lebanon)
A: Attorneys defend these cases all the time. Police break up an underage drinking party and don’t have evidence of alcohol consumption for some of the kids because they have no beverage container in their possession, do not appear to be intoxicated nor smell like alcohol. This normally does not prevent the police from citing everybody at the party. The statute 18 Pa. C.S.A Sec. 6308, requires proof that a minor consumed, transported, possessed or purchased alcohol. If the only evidence against your daughter is that she said she was drinking, the officer can testify to that and it would be up to the District Justice to believe your daughter’s story about her believing Red Bull was illegal. I find her story questionable but I would have to hear it in person. Bear in mind that many District Justice offices offer a program for minors in this situation whereby the charges will be withdrawn if the minor completes an alcohol class. I would consult with a lawyer as if your daughter is convicted, she will have a record for five years and will lose her driver’s license for 90 days.
Q: If a 17-year-old minor involved in a case as a witness, refuses to attend and testify in court, what charges would he/she be facing? Could they receive a fine, or even jail time? (Peters Township, PA)
A: The only circumstance in which a person can be legally obligated to appear in court and testify is if they were served with a Subpoena. As this person is a minor, his parents or guardians must be served. If the parent or guardian is served with the subpoena and do not want to bring their son to court, they should seek the advice of a lawyer as to whether they have legal grounds to not comply, such as the minor’s 5th Amendment rights or a real threat of retaliation or witness intimidation. If the parent or guardian has no such valid reason, then they can be held in contempt of court by the judge and the judge can issue an order or warrant and have them brought to court by sheriff or police.
Q: My son (19) took the state cops on high speed chase reaching speed limits of 130 miles per hour (my Lexis). No one was injured, thank God. He did go through some field sobriety tests but apparently, they didn’t think he was high. He surrendered in the end with no incidents. There was a passenger in the vehicle but she was passed out. He did this in Allegheny County just short of the Westmoreland County line. (North Huntington, PA)
A: 75 Pa.C.S.A. Section 3733 defines the offense of fleeing or attending to elude a police officer. It is graded as a misdemeanor of the second degree. However, if the driver was DUI, left the state jurisdiction, or endangered the police or public via a high-speed chase, the crime is graded as a felony of the third degree. The maximum penalty for a M2 is 2 years in jail. The maximum penalty for a F3 is 7 years in jail. I assume he will be charged with a misdemeanor 2, fleeing and eluding. He will probably be charged with a smorgasbord of other motor vehicle offenses like speeding, reckless driving. He may also be charged with a misdemeanor level of Reckless Endangering of Another Person (REAP). Your son needs a lawyer. If your son has no criminal record, it will be considered a win to get out of this with summary motor vehicle charges. He will no doubt lose his license for at least one year. In addition, I would take his X-Box away, make him use a bicycle for transportation and get a job.
Q: I’m on probation for selling drugs turned from felony to misdemeanor. I’m 17 years old and recently am going to court for DUI. I got pulled over and admitted I had been drinking. I know I will need a lawyer. What will most likely happen in court since I also violated my probation. Also, I don’t think I’ll be able to get a lawyer because of my family income.
A: Being arrested while on probation, will be considered a probation violation, if you are adjudicated delinquent of the new offense. This means the probation judge can hold a probation violation and sentence you on the probation violation. You need to stop doing whatever it is that you are doing, and, try to get a lawyer. Apply to the Public Defender. If you qualify, you will be assigned a lawyer. A good lawyer can look at the case to see if you have a defense, and if not, mitigate your damages. You will also receive a lengthy driver’s license suspension for DUI while being a minor. The biggest challenge will be to prevent you from getting a criminal record. The juvenile court system is designed to rehabilitate youth and not to punish-at least it is thought to be. My thought is that either of your judges will be inclined to order more intense drug and alcohol counseling through your probation. You may want to be proactive and get yourself a Drug and Alcohol evaluation and follow any treatment recommended before the final court date on your case.
Q: She is 17 years old. They go into her room when she is at school and go through everything just to see if they can find something. The step dad is the worse about doing it. She has no privacy whatsoever. Can she get a restraining order or PFA?
A: In PA, she is a child until she reaches the age of majority at age 18. Even if she is 18, and living in her parent’s home, she has no privacy rights unless she is paying rent pursuant to a lease, assuming she does not own the property. She would not qualify for a Protection from Abuse Order if there is no violence. She can petition the court to become emancipated, which sounds attractive to kids, but is normally unrealistic as she would need to prove that she can sustain herself independently of her parents (rent, food, health insurance, etc.) I think she needs to play by the rules at home. If she is not hiding drugs or having on-line contact with sexual predators, she should have no problem.