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.

Sold 6.5 grams of marijuana and got a felony

Q: This happened 10 years ago when I attended Penn State. I have had no trouble since. Even the D.A. later said “usually you get a choice of either a misdemeanor and a few months of jail or a felony and no jail time. Well he was the D.A., so I am sure he did not have my interest foremost in his mind. When I got sentenced his assistant DA was the one at my case. I served my sentence but now the felony is ruining my chances of a good life. How can they give me a felony if the guidelines say a misdemeanor for anything under 30g’s? What can I do? (Monroeville, PA)

A:  It sounds like you pleaded guilty to a felony for delivery. Regardless of the amount, a delivery is a delivery and always a felony. I don’t practice in your county and in my county, this case probably would have been worked out to a misdemeanor or even a summary. Since this happened 10 years ago, you have missed your appeal deadline of 30 days and your rights under the PA Post Conviction Relief Act, which require filing within one-year of conviction. Unfortunately, your only option is a pardon.

Can a university charge you four months later?

Q: I attend a college and one of four roommates made a complaint about the smell of marijuana in the living room. I am a user and so is another roommate. The campus cops barge in and only check our bathroom (there are 2) and they smelled it so charged us with possession and paraphernalia. But, they never conducted a search like they said they would so there isn’t really any solid evidence besides the smell and bag being on the fire alarm. We were told we would receive a letter in 72 hours if we were charged and we did not receive anything until now February, four months later. What can I do to go about this? (Moon Township, PA)

A:  It sounds like you are over 18 and have been charged with two misdemeanors. Yes, they can take four months to charge you. If you do not have your charges handled correctly, this event can ruin your life. I would invest in an attorney. He or she can determine if you have a probable cause or possession defense, and if not, if there is a diversionary program available to you which can prevent you from having a record.

Do I have the legal right to see the evidence against me? PD refuses to meet!

Q: I have been charged with DUI, due to being on prescribed medications. I was arrested and charged only after an officer pulled up behind me because I had a flat tire. My public defender is now refusing to meet with me prior to the morning of my trial date to go over the state’s evidence. I was told that I would have the opportunity/right to go to the PD office to see the discovery, including the officers dash cam video. I’ve requested to make an appointment with my PD and she has refused. What can be done about this and is this illegal? I’ve been on the same prescribed meds for over 10 years and I even have notes from my prescribing doctors stating that they have never witnessed me act or appear “impaired” in any way and that I have always abided by their necessary drug testing and so forth. Even my Psychiatrist and Physician are shocked that I’ve been charged, especially since I wasn’t pulled over for appearing/driving impaired. I have absolutely no prior record at all and this situation just doesn’t seem right or fair, especially the refusal of my public defender to meet with me, prior to my trial date, to go over evidence I to subsequently build a fair and proper defense for my case.

A:  You have the absolute right to see the evidence including the video and your attorney should obtain this evidence through discovery and take time to review it with you. The way you describe this, it sounds like you may have a defense. If the officer cannot say you smelled of alcohol, the Commonwealth must either 1) have an expert to say that the blood test revealed an amount of prescribed drugs in your system that was beyond the medically prescribed therapeutic level, and/or, 2) have the officer testify that your behavior and mannerisms rendered you incapable of safe driving. The dash cam video should shed some light on your behavior. If I was your counsel I would have your prescription information ready and your doctor as a witness. I would request to review the Commonwealth’s medical expert’s report. If you cannot hire private counsel, persist with your Public Defender. If she is not helping you, be polite, but insist on speaking with her supervisor.

What now? A DUI for Christmas?

Q: I was driving on Christmas Day, at night, on the way to pick up my husband from work. I had a police officer come right up on my car, and pull me over. He was IMMEDIATELY persistent that I was under the influence. I haven’t drunk in 4 years, and I haven’t had any drugs in my system for well over a year. I told him I had nerve damage and have bad balance, and such I failed the old toe to heel walk and was given a blood test. I was then released and went on my merry way (with someone else driving my car, which was not towed, thankfully) after being driven back to my car by the officer.  I am on 2 medications (methadone and Elavil) but have been on them long enough that I am very well adjusted (13 months and 12 years respectively) and am not impaired when I take it. What should I expect from here? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: As you may be aware, you can be charged for DUI based on a police officer’s observations, and/or based on the laboratory result from your blood alcohol testing. Methadone is a controlled substance, as I believe Elavil is. I will assume you have prescriptions for both. To prosecute, the Commonwealth would have to send your blood to a lab which has the capability of determining if the levels of either narcotic exceeded prescribed therapeutic levels. I have had the Commonwealth continue preliminary hearings with these cases numerous times awaiting these lab tests but have never seen a conclusive test. I would not treat this lightly and get prepared. First, contact a lawyer. Secondly, do not make statements to police if they contact you. Third, obtain copies of your past 6-months prescriptions from your physician to show that you are maintaining a legally prescribed dosage and not abusing medication. You can also talk to your doctor about the situation and see if he will draft a letter or provide documents that support your physical limitations.

Drug DUI charges

Q: I got stopped for expired tag, I didn’t drive faulty and obeyed all traffic laws, officer noticed that I had slurred speech and saw bruises all over my body and mud. He also noticed that I couldn’t follow directions he asked me to do hgn test 6/6 cues then did walk and turn 8/8 cues and 4/4 cues on one leg stand there was a small rain shower while the tests was performed. I am prescribed glasses but wasn’t wearing them that day. I stumbled several times while being placed under arrest and made strange comments at times when I got to the station an EMS drew my blood which tested positive for phenazepam and mitragynine the exact concentration of the drugs was not provided. Can the government provide this state beyond a reasonable doubt in your opinion?

A: You can be arrested for DUI if in the officer’s opinion, it appeared that you were incapable of safe driving due to being under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. If your testing came back with a controlled substance in your system, there is probably sufficient cause to arrest you. Provided however, they will need to prove that you had no prescription for the drug in your system or the level in your system was beyond the therapeutic level. The last time I visited this issue the Commonwealth had to send the blood work out to an independent lab and call and expert for trial. You should see an attorney about this as you may want to contest this until you see the proof.