Will I go to jail? Is there a statute of limitations?

Q: I was called today in reference to a woman claiming that when we had sex, it was not consensual. This accusation happened three years ago. A detective called me and asked me to come in and answer some questions. This accusation has completely blindsided me and I’m wondering what is going to happen next. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: More information is required to determine if a PA Statue of Limitations subsection applies as there are numerous factors needed to be known, like the specific charge and whether the victim is a minor. However, the statute of limitations for sex crimes has been greatly expanded over the past few years-as much as 50 years with some sex crimes. Non-consensual sex is Rape. You really need to find a lawyer asap and not speak to the police or anyone about this including friends and acquaintances. Gather your evidence from this event as best as you can. This could be a serious situation.

Can my roommate put video surveillance cameras in our house?

Q: I live in a four-bedroom house with three other roommates. Since they have moved in they have been a nightmare to live with. They moved all the furniture out and since that point in time installed security cameras in both the living room and kitchen. The cameras record video and audio. Is it legal for them to do this in the state of Pennsylvania? Is this a violation of wiretapping laws? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: You should consider moving out and certainly bring this to the attention of the landlord. Audio taping without your consent is a definite violation of PA wiretap laws. However, if the cameras are in plain view I do not think the video violates PA wiretap laws.

I wrecked my car and my son’s drugs were in it which I didn’t know

Q: I was driving and ran off the road. No property damage. My granddaughter was in the back seat. No injuries. Drugs and paraphernalia that was not mine was in the car and I didn’t know about it until the police stuck it in my face. I own the car, but my son drives it all the time. What kind of charges and outcome am I looking at? How do I prove they were not my drugs? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: If you are guilty or plan on pleading guilty, to determine what your sentence would be depends on several factors such as the type and quantity of drugs and your prior criminal record. If you have no record or a minimal criminal record and the drugs are consistent with personal use, marijuana or even heroin, you could be looking at probation. If they found several pounds of packaged heroin in your car, that is another matter. Also important is where the drugs were found in the car. The Commonwealth would have the burden to prove a theory of constructive possession beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you. These cases are very fact specific. If all the facts in their totality indicate that you may not have been in possession of the drugs and they may have belonged to someone else, you may have a defense. Only a skilled criminal defense attorney would know so I suggest you consult with one.

Can a 16-year-old continue to live in a house alone if his father is in jail?

Q: If a single father is sent to jail for 6 months, is it legal for his 16-year-old son to continue to live alone at the home they rented? Does the child need to be emancipated? Are there any legal/liability implications for the landlord in this situation? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: The child is still a minor and therefore is without proper supervision or control of an adult. This would constitute “neglect” under the Juvenile Act. This probably should be brought to the attention of the police or CYF. They will likely place him with a relative or friend of the family and if none are available, place him in shelter until he could be placed in foster care. A “mandated reporter” would have a duty to notify CYF or the police of a minor in such a situation. As a landlord, I do not think you are a mandated reporter. However, given the well-being of the child, it would be wise to notify CYF or the police. If you want to go above and beyond, you can reach out to his family to see if someone can take him in or someone can live in the apartment until his father is released.

Can my sister keep me off my mother’s property?

Q: My family owns 52 acres. The property was my dad and uncles and my dad’s part went to my mom when he died. I lived there for over 23 years in the main house but moved into an RV on the property so my mother, sister, and her husband and kids could have the house. I alone paid the 2-year delinquent property taxes. Before that we had all pitched in on them. Then recently, my sister and I had a falling out and my wife and I left for a few weeks to let things calm down and in our absence my sister sold my RV, kept the money, and told my mother that if she allows me to come back to the property, that she will move away and no longer provide care for her. Don’t I have some legal right to be there since I paid the $10,000.00 in back taxes? Can I file charges against my sister for selling my RV?

A: Based on the facts you have given, if your mother and uncle are on the deed to the property, your mother and uncle are the only ones who can exclude you from the property. The only way your sister can legally exclude you from the property is if she is acting under a Power of Attorney for one or both, or gets a court order which bars you from the property. The fact that you paid real estate taxes for them alone gives you no right to be on the property without your mother or uncle’s consent. And yes, if you owned the RV, and have proof your sister sold the RV, you may have a civil claim against her, and she may have even committed a crime. If this was someone else’s RV, like your mothers, and you don’t own it, your sister may be liable for your belongings inside. She basically evicted you without following the law and converted your personal property inside the RV.

How is a beneficiary best protected from a surviving parent?

Q: My mother was recently diagnosed with late stage cancer. Two years ago, she divorced her husband and remarried. Before remarrying, she placed her divorce settlement in a savings account with me (her only child) as the sole beneficiary. My mother’s new husband is not named on the account and the money was all hers before they married. My mother wants me to get all the money in this account. Does she need a will to state this or is me being the sole beneficiary enough? Does her new husband have any claim to the money? How does she make sure that her wishes are carried out? (Greentree, PA)

A: I am sorry to hear about your mother’s diagnosis. If you are a named beneficiary, the money passes to you upon the death of your mother and does not become estate/probate property and therefore does not pass to the heirs in her will. In Pennsylvania, her estate or you, depending on how the will reads, would pay inheritance tax on this. In Pennsylvania, a spouse who believes he or she was disinherited by the will, or not left enough money by the will, can challenge the will by “electing” to take against the will. This election must be filed in the Register of Wills within 6 months of death or 6 months of probate. This means the disgruntled surviving spouse who elects to do so, may choose to not inherit through the will but instead take a percentage, one-third, of certain non-probate assets. The PA statute on this is arcane and convoluted and difficult to understand. If you think it is a possibility that your stepfather would challenge your mother’s will, you may want to consult with an attorney now. The attorney would need to know the extent of your mother’s present assets and do the math on what potentially her husband would be entitled to under PA law. Keep in mind that as your mother owns this account, you have no right to it while she is alive, and she may liquidate it as needed to pay for her care as her needs increase with age.

How do I try to have a misdemeanor hit and run dismissed?

Q: On Monday, November 4th , on my way home from work, I entered a traffic circle and was immediately blinded by oncoming headlights. I felt a very slight bump and felt I may have bumped a reflector pole in the circle. At home, I checked the car and there was a scratch on my right front fender. That evening an officer arrives to let me know I bumped another car and he needed my insurance, license and registration to share with the other driver. Tuesday the officer calls to tell me I need to come in for fingerprinting due to a hit and run charge! It was a minor hit and run charges with little damage and no injury! Can it be dismissed. How would I try to do that? (Mt. Pleasant, PA)

A: Try to get an experienced criminal defense attorney. Most people are not aware of the laws applied to these circumstances, but they are strict. Section 3743 of the Title 75 of the PA Motor Vehicle Code requires you to remain at the scene and exchange information when there is an accident involving property damage. Section 3744 basically says that if you cannot locate the other driver or property owner you need to go to the closes police station and make a report. A misdemeanor 3 can stay on your record for years, and there is a hidden driver license suspension with this offense. Believing that you hit a reflector pole, if damaged, would require such reporting to the police. However, your defense of not knowing you hit another vehicle and you being fully insured and hopefully not having a bad driving record, may help in negotiating this down to a summary leaving the scene or even another less harmless traffic offense. An attorney will know every angel of this. Do not try it on your own.

What should I do? Niece is now Power of Attorney for my parents?

Q: My mother has Parkinson’s Disease and father has Alzheimer’s disease. My niece just had paperwork sign giving her power of attorney. I’m one of three sons. Is their anything I can do to claim some of her estate? (South Hills, PA)

A: Their Last Will and Testaments determine to whom their property passes upon death. A Power of Attorney does not empower an Agent (your niece) to make a new will for the Principal (your mother and father). A Power of Attorney does not permit an Agent to make gifts to themselves or others, change beneficiaries, or take a fee for services unless the wording of the document specifically allows them to do this. If your parents POA does not have such language, their money can only be used to pay for their own needs. After the survivor of them passes, what is left of their estate, after taxes, debts and taxes are paid, will pass to the heirs named in their Will, or if there is no will, to the heirs under PA intestate law. If you have evidence your niece is taking advantage of your parents, consult with an attorney about becoming their court-appointed guardian.