Articles Posted in Defending the Case

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The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently held that a trial court’s reference to defense counsel’s status as a public defender before the jury in a DUI case was not grounds for a mistrial. courtroom

One afternoon in May 2014, Pennsylvania state trooper Michael Perillo was dispatched to Interstate 76-West due to reports of erratic driving. Appellant James Melnick reportedly drove his blue Volvo past other drivers, struck the center concrete barrier, and continued driving. Melnick continued driving recklessly. He nearly struck two vehicles and crossed rumble strips. As he proceeded onto State Route 422 West, Melnick almost struck the guardrail. Once on the road, he drifted out of his lane and struck another vehicle driven by Derek Beeks, who had his four-year-old granddaughter as a passenger.

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Everyday I see individuals who are charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania walk into court and  simply plead guilty. Most of the time I know nothing about their case or what their attorney has done or hasn’t done. People need to understand that just because you are arrested for a DUI that doesn’t automatically mean that your are guilty of the crime.  There are many defenses and ways to challenge a DUI in Pennsylvania and I want to take some time and go through some of them.

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ILLEGAL STOP

The most common way to challenge a DUI is to argue that the actual stop of the motor vehicle was illegal in some way.  Many times it is argued that the police did not have “probable cause” to stop the vehicle.  There are many ways to prove that there was something wrong with the stop or that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to act accordingly.  One such way which is to see if the officer had a dash cam video and if they did request it immediately. If for instance the officer claims that a motorist  was pulled over because they were “weaving all over the road”, a video may be able to disprove this and have stop thrown out.

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Medical_Marijuana
Pennsylvania is now one of twenty four (24) states to legalize medical marijuana.  Just yesterday Governor Tom Wolf signed this bill into law.  The bill goes into detail on just how patients can take the marijuana if prescribed by a doctor.  Specifically an individual can take the marijuana in a pill, oil or liquid form.  This is important because many people I have talked to thought that when this bill passed they would be able to just smoke marijuana or even grow their own plants and this is just not the case.

The specific legislation that was passed outline seventeen (17) qualified diagnosed conditions that an individual must exhibit in order to be prescribed marijuana. The medical conditions covered include:

  • Cancer
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The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently reversed a lower court order granting defendant James Finley early parole. mcvegas-1252230

In the early morning of August 2013, Sergeant Timothy Clark responded to a report of a person unconscious inside a gray vehicle in a McDonald’s parking lot. Arriving at the scene, the sergeant noticed an empty bottle of Smirnoff Ice on the floor of the suspect’s car. Clark knocked on the driver’s window and awoke the driver. The driver opened the window. He had glassy, bloodshot eyes, but he denied consuming alcohol. Rather than get out of the car, he closed the window and revved the engine. Sergeant Clark grabbed the door handle, but the driver began to flee. Another officer responded as back-up and pursued the fleeing vehicle.

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The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently reversed the lower court’s dismissal of charges against a defendant charged with a DUI on an allegedly private roadway. parking-lot-1255336

In August 2014, Alison Lees was charged with DUI, reckless driving, and careless driving after driving intoxicated from her parking spot and onto a grassy area. The trial court held a pretrial hearing in July 2015. What follows is a description of the evidence presented.

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The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently upheld appellant Renaire Lewis’s conviction for DUI despite his argument that the stop violated his Fourth Amendment rights. speeding-car-1175932

In the early morning of July 2014, Lower Pottsgrove Police Sgt. Greenwood was investigating a vehicle (“Vehicle 1”) stopped on Buchert Road, which was blocking the lane. During his investigation, Sgt. Greenwood heard a second vehicle (“Vehicle 2”) driven by Lewis accelerating toward him. Sgt. Greenwood attempted to alert Lewis of the danger by waving his flashlight, but appellant continued to drive toward the obstruction. Lewis then slammed his brakes, causing his tires to screech. As Lewis decelerated, he swerved into the eastbound lane of Buchert Road to avoid colliding with Sgt. Greenwood or Vehicle 1.

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DUI
Like many people in Pennsylvania, you find your self in a situation you never thought to be in.  You have just been arrested for a DUI.  You think to yourself “how could this happen to me” or “how will this affect my family”.  It is important to understand what your rights are when you are arrested and what your options are moving forward. The first thing that you need to understand is the criminal process in Pennsylvania, specifically when it comes to DUI.

After a person is arrested for a DUI, the first significant step after that is the preliminary hearing.  At the preliminary hearing the Commonwealth must show that there is enough evidence to hold this case over to the Court of Common Pleas.  Usually in a DUI case the blood or breath report is typically enough to achieve this goal since the standard at this level is VERY low. Many times rather then have a hearing an attorney may advise their client to just waive the charges to the next level.  One reason this may be is because in order to be admitted into Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition https://www.pennsylvaniaduilawyers.com/a-r-d-accelerated-rehabilitative-disposition.html or “ARD” some counties require a person to waive their preliminary hearing. If an individual is NOT eligible for ARD  having a hearing so the affiant or police officer takes the witness stand and testifies to what ALLEGEDLY happened is a very good idea. After a hearing it is then up to a District Judge to make a determination as to whether there is enough evidence to hold the charges over to the next level.

The next phase after the preliminary hearing the case moves up to the Court of Common Pleas in each individual county.  For instance in Montgomery County that would be Norristown, in Delaware County it would be in Media, Chester County would be in West Chester, and Bucks County would be in Doylestown. If a person has applied for ARD and eventually accepted, an ARD hearing will be scheduled in which both client and attorney will have to appear in order to be admitted into the program.   If on the other hand a person is not going into ARD their case will be assigned an Assistant District Attorney as well as an assigned Judge.  At this point an individual arrested for DUI is entitled to ask for all the discovery or evidence that the Commonwealth has.  This is done through an attorney filing a request for discovery with the district attorney’s office.  Discovery can include reports, videos, physical evidence or really just about anything the Commonwealth has in their possession that they intend to use to prosecute at the time of trial.  A qualified DUI attorney will then file any appropriate motions to make sure their client is getting the absolute best result.  One of the most common motions to file is a Motion to Suppress if  for instance the police stopped a vehicle illegally.

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Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThe news occasionally reports on people getting arrested for suspected DUI after police find them asleep in their parked vehicle. This raises the question of how one could be suspected of driving under the influence if the car is parked and you are not actually driving it. Pennsylvania’s DUI statute applies to more than just actual driving. A person may be found guilty of DUI if he or she is “in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle” while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The definition of “actual physical control” is not very precise, though, and Pennsylvania courts have reached different conclusions under varying circumstances, often depending on the location of the vehicle.

One story reported in Pennsylvania about a year ago involved the arrest of a man found asleep in a parked car in Lowhill Township. He had reportedly been delivering newspapers early on a Sunday morning, when he stopped the car and fell asleep parked by the side of the road. Police claimed that the person had an open can of beer in the vehicle’s center console, as well as more unopened cans in the back seat. Chemical testing allegedly found that his blood alcohol content (BAC) exceeded the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

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By Yikrazuul (talk); Ayacop (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsCourts have developed an extensive body of law regarding driving under the influence of alcohol, commonly known simply as “DUI.” Pennsylvania law does not limit the DUI statute to “drunk driving,” however. It also prohibits “drugged driving,” including driving under the influence of certain “controlled substances,” or while “impaired” by drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol. An important question regarding “drugged driving” cases deals with whether proof of “influence,” rather than “impairment,” is enough to support a conviction. Another critical question involves how the state may prove impairment if it is required to do so.

State law has established minimum concentrations of certain controlled substances, similar to the levels of blood alcohol content (BAC) used to prove that a person is “under the influence.” However, the controlled-substance levels merely demonstrate “influence,” while higher BAC results are used to establish “impairment.” The DUI statute prohibits driving if a person has nearly any amount of certain controlled substances in his or her system. It does not offer any guidance on how to determine impairment.

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By United States Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsMost discussions of the laws regarding driving under the influence (DUI) in Pennsylvania focus on alcohol and chemical testing for blood alcohol content (BAC). The Pennsylvania DUI statute also applies to various “controlled substances,” which includes marijuana and other illegal drugs, as well as certain medications obtained with a valid prescription. In the case of illegal drugs, the mere presence of the drug above certain thresholds is sufficient to establish DUI, regardless of whether the driver is actually impaired. If the driver is under the influence of legally prescribed medications, prosecutors must prove a level of impairment that prevents the safe operation of a motor vehicle.

The Pennsylvania DUI statute identifies three levels of impairment due to alcohol, based on chemical testing within two hours of driving. Pennsylvania’s implied consent statute enables police to obtain breath or blood samples to establish BAC. The DUI statute does not identify specific amounts of other controlled substances but rather focuses on their legality. The determination of whether a drug is “illegal” is based on the schedules established by the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act, first enacted in 1972. An “illegal” drug, for the purposes of the DUI statute, is any Schedule I controlled substance, any Schedule II or III substances for which the driver does not have a valid prescription, or the metabolites of any of those substances.

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