My office is located in historic Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the home of Lehigh University, Moravian College and Northampton County Community College. Needless to say, I see numerous students who have been charged with underage drinking and/or public drunkenness over the course of a school year. Pleading guilty or being convicted (after a hearing) will result in a fine of not more than $300, court costs, a driver's license suspension and a conviction on your record.
If you receive a citation for underage drinking or public drunkenness, it is imperative that you contact an attorney who practices regularly before the Magisterial District Judge where the citation was issued. In an effort to educate students on the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption, many local Magisterial District Judges offer a “Summary ARD” diversionary program (the end result of which is the dismissal of the charges and expungement of your record relatively simply).
Consult with a lawyer as soon as possible after you receive the citation. In many cases, it will mean the difference between being able to participate in “Summary ARD” and being denied that opportunity, having to pay a fine and court costs, having a suspension of your driving privileges, and then having to wait until age 21 to have your record expunged.
Every Magisterial District Judge handles the Summary ARD program differently, and it is important that you know what to expect as soon as possible after you are charged and BEFORE the time in which you must request Summary ARD passes.
If you receive a summary offense citation over the weekend, DO NOT think for one moment that because you are an adult and are away from home that you can handle this on your own. DO NOT run to the Magisterial District Court the morning after you receive the citation to plead guilty. Most criminal defense attorneys will talk with you for free via telephone. Pick up the telephone and call an attorney as soon after you receive the citation as is possible. It is far better to be pro-active rather than “fix” the problem after it is too late.
In Bethlehem at the moment, there are a number of “problem” bars and taverns that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is trying to shut down. This has resulted in increased police presence on campus and off. If you are stopped by a University Police Officer, a Bethlehem Police Officer or a Pennsylvania State Police Officer and you are asked whether you have been drinking; don't say yes. I am not suggesting that you not lie to the police if you were, in fact, drinking. It is, however, perfectly legal to say (politely and respectfully), "I would rather not answer" or "I would like to invoke my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent." At that point, the officer is supposed to stop questioning you further.
I am often asked whether a request to submit to a breathalyzer test can be refused. It is human nature for most people want to cooperate. “I am being asked by a police officer so, I must have to do whatever he/she asks of me, right?” In Pennsylvania, the operator of a motor vehicle who is suspected of DUI must, as a general rule, submit to a chemical blood test or a certified portable breath test, there is no such requirement of someone suspected of underage drinking or public drunkenness. If you agree to the test and you test positive for alcohol, the officer will then try to manipulate you into a confession. Believe me when I tell you that the police are extensively trained on interrogation techniques and are quite adept at coercing confessions.
Of course, if you have told the officer you are under 21, you are visibly intoxicated, the officer personally observes you consuming a beverage known to be alcohol; none of the above matters, because you could be convicted on that basis alone.
If you or your son or daughter has been charged with underage drinking, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct or any other offense, call me at (610) 861-5100 for a free consultation. Please leave a message including a telephone number where you can be reached and I will return your call as soon as possible. Or, contact me via my website at http://www.nennilaw.com/or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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IGNITION INTERLOCK LIMITED LICENSES (SUMMARY)
Effective in 15 months from May 25, 2016 (i.e. August 25, 2017):
(1) Occupational limited licenses are no longer available for DUIs.
Instead, motorists may apply for the new “Ignition Interlock Limited License.”
(2) Ignition Interlock Limited License (IILL)
If first offense DUI:
T he motorist is immediately eligible for the IILL.
(Apply by filing a Petition with PennDOT. PennDOT must approve the Petition within 20 days.)
-- License cannot be suspended for any other reason.
--Cannot get an IILL for Commercial Vehicles.
--Cannot get IILL for suspensions resulting from Homicide by Vehicle or Homicide by Vehicle while DUI convictions.
--IILL only required on any vehicle driven by motorists (not all vehicles owned by motorist).
--Motorist may drive employers owned vehicle without an ignition interlock if within scope of employment. (Requires employer’s notarized signature on PennDOT form (which will be created) authorizing employee to drive and stating employer is aware of the employee’s restricted license.)
If Prior Offense DUI offenses:
--IILL available after 6 months of 12 month suspensions (ungraded misdemeanor DUI cases).
--IILL available after 9 months of 18 month suspensions (misdemeanor 1 DUI cases).
-- IILL available after 6 months of a 12 month suspension
-- ILL available after 9 months of an 18 month suspension.
The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Goslin, No. 1114 MDA 2015 (February 16, 2017), holding that the language of the statute prohibiting the possession of knives on school property, though broad, is unambiguous, and that Goslin possessed his pocketknife on school grounds for [an] “other lawful purpose.”
Gov. Wolf signs legislation reducing no-fault divorce period from two years to one
Pennsylvania reduces no-fault divorce waiting period
Gov. Tom Wolf has signed into law a bill that advocates say will lessen the toll divorce takes on children.
Act 102, which takes effect in 60 days, reduces the waiting period for unilateral no-fault divorce from two years to one.
That means a spouse will need to wait only a year before obtaining a divorce without the other spouse's consent. It will also allows couples to more quickly start the process of dividing assets and determining whether alimony is necessary.
Spouses must live apart for the one-year period before one can file an affidavit affirming that the marriage is irreparable.
Pennsylvania introduced no-fault divorce in 1980 when it reformed its 1785 divorce code after years of debate.
It joined three other methods — mutual no-fault, in which both spouses consent to divorce; fault, in which one spouse has to prove wrongdoing by the other; and divorces granted when one spouse has been confined to a mental hospital for 18 months and will remain confined at least another 18 months.
The no-fault waiting period, meant to give couples time to reconcile, was three years but reduced to two in 1988.
By reducing it further, "it looks like we were making it easier for people to get divorces, but what we've learned is that a long mandatory separation period doesn't help people reconcile," said Mary Cushing Doherty, a Doylestown attorney who advocated for the legislation on behalf of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Section.
Indeed, some would take advantage of the long wait to intimidate their spouses into abandoning their divorce bid, said Cushing Doherty, who has been in family law practice for 35 years.
"Sometimes the people who were benefiting were manipulators," she said, "and sometimes they were lawyers dragging out [billable] hours."
Tom Strohl, a longtime marriage counselor in Allentown, agreed that it's pointless to keep people legally bound for two years.
"I've counseled hundreds of couples who were going through the divorce process and stopped at my office as a last-ditch effort," he said. "A high percentage of them I help to find their way back to being in love with one another. But a two-year period isn't necessary. One year is more than ample."
A longer process also increases the chances that the couple's relationship will become more acrimonious.
"If the parents are doing it badly and it's dragged out over that long a time, those parties are not coming to reconciliation and you run a risk of them escalating fights and argument," he said. "If the kids are in front of that at all, that's what will do the damage to them."
When the measure was being debated, opponents contended it would hurt dependent spouses by giving them less time to transition into new lives, which they can do with various forms of state assistance — continuation of health insurance, for example — during the divorce process.
In a statement, however, Republican state Rep. Tarah Toohil of Luzerne County, who sponsored the bill, said quicker resolution is to everyone's benefit.
"The shorter waiting period allows the couple's financial situation to be resolved more quickly and at less expense, so they can tend to their children's well-being," she said.
Doherty said the change was overdue. "The sooner we can help our constituents, the sooner we can help them through the process and the sooner we can relieve the court system and let children get on with their lives," she said.
Strohl called the law a good step, but the smartest approach to divorce is preventing it in the first place.
"The state should get on the front side and mandate marriage education," he said. "It's driver's education for your marriage. We have information, solid, scientific information, about what couples do right and wrong."
• Pennsylvania's divorce code was reformed in 1980 to add no-fault divorce, which allows one spouse to obtain divorce without the other's consent.
• The no-fault waiting period , intended to give couples time to reconcile, was three years. It was reduced to two in 1988. Gov. Wolf this week signed legislation further reducing it to one year.
• Under the new law, spouses must live apart for a year before one can file for divorce. They can then start the process of dividing assets and determining alimony.
Court of Appeal: Insurer can avoid payout in fatal 2011 crash
January 15, 2017
A vehicle owner’s previous traffic charges, which were not disclosed to her insurance company, permitted the insurer to avoid any right of recovery of funds in connection with a deadly 2011 crash on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal has ruled.
The court’s decision, released last week, involves the death of a Pennsylvania man – Richard Martin – in a Nov. 30, 2011 crash and any “vicarious liabilities” arising from that accident. Mr. Martin was studying at Cayman’s St. Matthew’s University at the time.
A lawsuit filed in 2012 by the Pennsylvania man’s widow claimed that both the vehicle driver, Patrick Brooks-Dixon, and the vehicle owner, Victoria Jane Banks, should be assessed some liability in connection with the fatal crash. Brooks-Dixon was sentenced to prison in connection with the wreck. Ms. Banks, who was never accused of any criminal wrongdoing, was nonetheless accused in the civil suit of being “vicariously liable” due to the fact that Brooks-Dixon was driving her SUV when the deadly accident occurred.
The trial court found Ms. Banks had an active insurance policy in place at the time of the wreck with the Insurance Company of the West Indies. However, the trial judge, Robin McMillan, found that ICWI was “entitled to avoid the policy” on the ground that Ms. Banks had not reported having been charged with numerous traffic offenses in 2010.
She was convicted of those offenses in 2013, according to the court records, which were separate from the Nov. 30, 2011 fatal crash.
Ms. Banks appealed the trial court’s ruling to the Court of Appeal, which dismissed the matter in November 2016, upholding the decision of the trial judge.
Writing the unanimous judgment of the court, Justice Dennis Morrison noted that Ms. Banks’s attorneys had argued her insurance policy should have covered the 2011 fatal accident, since the she was not convicted of her various traffic offenses until 2013.
“This is an untenable argument,” Mr. Justice Morrison wrote. “[Justice McMillan] was entirely correct in his decision that ICWI was entitled to avoid the policy on the ground of the appellant’s non-disclosure of the pending motoring charges.
“There was no unconscionable conduct or want of good faith by ICWI,” Justice Morrison wrote.
Brooks-Dixon pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving in May 2102 and was sentenced to three years in prison.
About six months later, Mr. Martin’s widow, Susan Yee, listed several claims made as a result of the fatal accident.
For instance, the lawsuit claimed that Mr. Martin’s salary as an employee of Ms. Yee’s company, Active Data, would have been about US$196,000 per year. Child care he provided for his daughter Zoe and 15-year-old Kayla Yee, who the lawsuit states “treated [Mr. Martin] as her father,” about 25 hours per week – would cost about US$58,000 per year.
Funeral costs for Mr. Martin were listed at more than US$83,000; the value of his Honda that was destroyed in the crash was listed at around US$5,600 and a Tag Heuer watch destroyed in the car crash was valued at US$2,500.
“[Mr. Martin] was a loving a dedicated husband and father,” the lawsuit states. “In 2011, [Mr. Martin] enrolled at St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine to train to obtain a medical qualification to, among other things, develop [Ms. Yee’s] business further and provide an alternative source of income for their family.”
It’s not known if any of these claims were able to be collected. Attempts to reach Ms. Yee in Pennsylvania Friday were unsuccessful.