Friday, June 20, 2014

Warrant no longer required to search vehicle at roadside stop.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently decided a case which obviated the need for the Police to obtain a warrant during a roadside stop. Police are still required to possess probable cause, but they need not present that cause to a Judge before searching the vehicle.

From -
The Supreme Court's ruling stems from a legal battle over a January 2010 traffic stop in Philadelphia.
Two police officers pulled over a sport-utility vehicle driven by Shiem Gary because they believed its window tinting was too dark. The officers then claimed they smelled marijuana coming from the SUV and that Gary told them there was "weed" in the vehicle.
Police said a drug-sniffing dog hit on the SUV and a subsequent warrantless search discovered about 2 pounds of marijuana hidden under the hood.
 Gary challenged whether the police had legally obtained the drug evidence. The case came to the Supreme Court on appeal after the state Superior Court backed Gary.
This is indeed a setback for personal privacy rights in Pennsylvania, as the requirement of a warrant issued by a neutral Judge was at least some check on the power of the Police.

It is likely that Police will still ask drivers for consent to search their vehicles, even when they believe they possess probable cause. This will be done so that if it is later determined the Officer acted on less than probable cause it is irrelevant if the search is consensual. A driver who refuses the search will likely have his or her car searched anyway. But by refusing the driver still retains the ability to challenge the evidence at a later Court hearing.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Child Custody 101

There are two different types of custody in Pennsylvania. Legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody is the right to make decisions for one's child. Where he or she will go to school, whether the child will have a surgery, which church to go to. Those are all legal custody decisions. Most custody arrangements maintain a 50/50 legal custody situation so that both parents must agree before major life changes in the child's life can take place.

Physical custody is where the child actually resides on a daily basis. This can be structured differently depending on the needs of the parents.

Monday, June 2, 2014

House arrest as an alternative to incarceration.

In some cases, the defendant in a criminal matter may qualify for house arrest instead of being incarcerated. This is an especially important consideration in cases where there are mandatory minimum sentences, such as second offense DUIs and many drug cases. House arrest is an alternative sentence which allows the court to sentence the defendant to a term of home confinement (usually with an ankle bracelet of some form) instead of being sent off to prison.

House arrest allows the defendant to continue to work, to make scheduled appointments, and otherwise live their lives. The defendant is not restricted only to his/her home, as there will be scheduled times he or she can leave to go to work, run errands, etc. There is a requirement of a curfew, and many ankle bracelets now test for the presence of drugs or alcohol in a person's perspiration. But as long as the defendant is able to adhere to the requirements of the program, he or she stands a good chance of being admitted to it.

In my experience, any sentence longer than 3 months is unlikely (but not impossible) to qualify for house arrest. Of course, the defendant will be required to pay the costs of the program, which can be significant, but if the alternative is incarceration it is well worth the cost.