Can the police keep my daughter’s cell-phone?

Q: She was with her brother and brother’s friend. She is 16. They went to a gas station and her brother’s friend went in and caused a scene because clerk refused to sell him cigarettes. They left and the clerk called police. Police pulled them over a mile up the road and asked them to get out the car. They searched them and found a gram of cocaine on my daughter. They took her phone and said they are holding it for evidence because she had cocaine on her. The phone is in my name and I asked the officer if I can come get it, but he just laughed and said it was his phone now. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Unless her cell phone is related to the distribution and sale of cocaine, there is probably no nexus to criminal activity. However, if they absolutely will not return it upon request from you or your lawyer, your lawyer will need to file a petition for return of property with the Criminal Division Motion’s Judge. The police probably have had enough time to go through it and determine if it is related to drug activity.

Can I still record a quitclaim deed my sister signed four months ago?

Q: My sister signed a quitclaim deed transferring her property to me in December. I hadn’t recorded the deed due to not having money to pay the property taxes. Now she has dementia and is under state guardianship. Is the quitclaim deed still valid? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: If she was competent when she signed it, it is a valid deed. It just has not been recorded yet. You can file it now. However, there are other factors you need to be aware of. In the event your sister may need Medicaid funding in the future, this transfer could have her penalized and ineligible to receive such benefits. You should consult with an attorney versed in Medicaid regulations.

How do I get my estranged daughter to return my house keys that she has in her possession?

Q: My daughter got angry and caused me financial harm and no longer have any communicates with me. I asked for my house keys back since I no longer trust her not to do me harm. She has refused when asked for the keys by another family member on my behalf. She hasn’t ever lived with me at this address, but had keys in case of emergency, as I have health issues. She is very vindictive and will cause harm to other’s property when she gets angry. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Call a locksmith. Have the locks changed. You should have done this weeks ago. Get and alarm system if you are still worried. If she damages your property or threatens you with violence, consult with a lawyer or the police about filing a Petition under the Protection from

What is the best way to transfer land back to my name?

Q: The land and was in my name. I transferred it to my mother’s name for tax purposes. She passed away with land still in her name. What is the best method of transferring in back into my name? I am trying to avoid attorney fees as well. (Jefferson Hills, PA)

A: If she was the only name on the deed, you likely will need to open an estate, pay inheritance tax and transfer the property out of the estate back to you. Hopefully there are no other issues such as Medicaid and debts.

Can my nephew come home if on probation?

Q: My nephew was arrested in Washington County but lives in Glassport. Now on probation. Does he have to stay in that county while on probation. He took a plea bargain as opposed to jail time and is on probation 3 years for a felony he didn’t commit. (Glassport, PA)

A: Normally, probation can be transferred to another county. This is not always true with house arrest or alternative housing. Ideally, he should ask the judge at sentencing to transfer jurisdiction of his sentence to Allegheny and then ask his probation officer to. It should be no problem.

Will a speeding ticket in MD put points on my PA license?

Q: I was pulled over for going 10mph over the limit, but the trooper was kind and only gave me a ticket for going 9mph over as I have never had a moving violation on my record in the 19 years I’ve been driving. I deserve the ticket and will pay the fine, but I really do not want any points on my license as my insurance is already going up moving to Maryland. Should I mitigate the ticket to keep it off my record and the points off my license or just take the hit?(Pittsburgh, PA)

A: 6-10 miles over in PA is 2 points on your record. PA and MD have reciprocity through the IC. My guess is that PennDOT will assess 2 points when the information from the MD DMV is received. Plead not guilty, go to the hearing and ask the trooper if he can make it 5 over, so you get no points in PA. He may not care since he will get his conviction, MD will get its $ and you were nice.

Can I be sued by the former cult I was a member of?

Q: I was a member of a cult for decades. They practice shunning and have split up many families over the years. I have created a website to warn potential visitors and current members about the church. I signed a NDA while I was there. I am wondering if that is enforceable, what the line is between stating facts, vs slander/libel and are there any limits on my speech. I am commenting on their 4 churches in PA, OH, and ME. (Cranberry Twp., PA)

A: The Non-Disclosure Agreement must be read. Truth is generally a defense to a libel or slander suit. However, if the NDA is restrictive enough, you could be liable for any sort of disclosure. Some of these cults have lots of money and pursue legal action against former members aggressively.

Can a debt collector garnish my wages?

Q: Can a debt collector garnish my wages for an overdrawn bank account? Some time ago I had an account that someone else had access to and it was overdrawn. Now a firm is threatening to garnish my wages. They call me now twice a day. Can they do that? (Washington, PA)

A: To my knowledge, in PA, wage garnishment is limited to taxes, child support, and criminal restitution. What this “debt collector” is doing may violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and subject them to fines and possibly compensation to you. You should contact an attorney who handles consumer law.

Can I charge finder’s fee for a cell phone I found?

Q: If I find a cell phone, can I contact the owner and charge a fee to return the phone to the original owner? Can I sue City of Pittsburgh for a fee? Is it lost and found property? Specifically, I am talking about cell phones. What type of Attorney is needed and who in Pittsburgh, PA practices such law? Is there a limit I can charge? Is this illegal? Can the Pittsburgh police threaten felony charges on me (because he’s doing an investigation on someone else who steals phones then charges people to get them back) whereas I found phone, negotiated a fee (price) to return phone to owner, owner agrees to price, then when meet police show up (obviously the owner called them beforehand because he wants to get phone back free) then police try to threaten me to give ID ‘because investigating similar case’ AND to give phone to officer for free for him to hand over to owner. When he asked for phone I said it’s XX $. The owner has agreed to a price to get his cell back. He then repeats he’s investigating a case similar to this and he’s including me in it -and some other talk. -then when I hand over the phone, he then says, ok so I just took you out of the investigation on that point so your no longer being investigated. Then as we talk casually for the next several minutes -he says I knew you weren’t the guy I’m investigating because we have video footage of him. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: There is a crime in Pennsylvania called “Theft of property lost, mislaid, or delivered by mistake.” 18 Pa.C.S.A. Section 3924 of the PA Crimes Code. The statute says that someone who finds the property of another is guilty of a crime “if, with intent to deprive the owner thereof, he fails to take reasonable measures to restore the property to a person entitled to have it.” I think you are lucky the police did not arrest you and naïve to think you would get away. My suggestion is to cease this type of behavior.

How to avoid jailtime?

Q: I accidentally missed court, so I rescheduled my date. Unfortunately, I missed the second date. The court asked me to come in in two days to try and clear the warrant. What should I do in order to show the judge I’m taking my case seriously and should not be arrested? (Munhall, PA)

A: Show up for court this time. If you can afford a lawyer bring one with you. If you go in alone, dress like you are going to a funeral-your own (just kidding). More importantly, be respectful, apologize and don’t lie if you are not extremely good at it. The judge will probably not incarcerate and reinstate your bond if it was revoked. Just in case, bring your tooth brush.