Friday, August 29, 2014

Grading of Offenses - Summary, Misdemeanor and Felonies. Part 1.

In Pennsylvania criminal offenses are generally categorized into one of three grades. Summary offenses, misdemeanors, and felonies. The major differences between these grades is the "seriousness" of the offense and the possible range of sentences that may be imposed. There are certain exceptions to this general rule and some offenses have their own special sentencing scheme, but the vast majority of crimes can be classified in this way.

Summary Offenses are the lowest level of criminal acts. These are mostly traffic tickets and the like, but also includes some retail theft charges, disorderly conduct and possession of some controlled substances such as marijuana. The maximum possible penalty that can be imposed for a summary offense is $300 and/or 90 days in prison. Most convictions for summary offenses do not result in imprisonment, but there are some that are more serious than others. For example while a speeding ticket is likely to result in a simple fine the summary offense of driving without a license that was suspended for a previous DUI actually carries with it mandatory imprisonment.

Summary offenses can also carry with them "collateral consequences." These are supposed civil penalties that someone can suffer in addition to the criminal penalties. Points on a person's driver license or a suspension for excessive speeding are such consequences. The tricky part of these collateral consequences is that they are rarely spelled out prior to a guilty plea and are not mentioned on traffic tickets. A person could therefore find him/herself in the position of pleading guilty and assuming the only penalty is a fine but then receive notice of a license suspension a month or more later.

Even though the fine may not be too serious and the cost of hiring an attorney may outweigh the fine a person accused of a summary offense should still consult with a lawyer to ensure he or she does not suffer significant collateral consequences.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Attorney C. Daniel Higgins has passed away.

Sadly, fellow local attorney and Past President of the Monroe County Bar Association C. Daniel Higgins has passed away.

He will be missed. Condolences to his family.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

PA Supreme Court rules - Homeowner warranties only apply to first purchaser

The PA Supreme Court has just decided a case of first impression in which it held that warranties provided to homeowners who are the first purchases of newly constructed homes applies only to the first purchaser, and not to subsequent ones.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that homeowners' warranties against defects apply only to a property's first buyer, and cannot be passed along in subsequent sales.
The unanimous decision, reversing a Pennsylvania Superior Court decision, said homeowners' warranties are based on the contractual relationship between a builder of a new home and its purchasers. There is no such relationship between the developer and subsequent purchasers, the court said in an opinion written by Justice Seamus P. McCaffery.
In finding that such warranties can only be exercised by first purchasers of new homes, the court rejected the reasoning of Superior Court, which said such warranties are aimed at equalizing the "disparate" positions of home sellers and buyers, and exist even in the absence of any contract between the two.

The Court went further in describing how there was no privity of contract between the home builder or developer and subsequent purchases. So for example, if person A buys a newly built home with a 20 year warranty from Builder X, then 2 years later decides to sell it to Person B the warranty does not transfer by operation of law. This could be a significant detriment to new home buyers trying to sell before the expiration of such warranties, and might result in a decrease of the selling price for new homes.

The Court also addressed that this issue is primarily one of legislative, not judicial purview, and that should the legislature choose to enact legislation to provide for transferable warranties they are able to do so.

It would also seem not to affect any contracts which expressly provide for transferability of warranties. However, in my experience these are few and far between.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Where do the police patrol for speeding tickets?

Knowing where the high concentration of speeding tickets are issued in your area can give you a good idea of where police presence is increased. Speeding tickets are a major revenue generator, so it's important to know where to stay on your best behaviour while driving.

In the Pocono area, the Pocono Record recently published a study of recent traffic tickets to determine areas of high State Police concentration.

If the Police are there for speeding tickets, it's a good bet they also patrol those areas heavily for other traffic offenses including DUIs and minor offenses which could lead to a traffic stop.

The best policy is to avoid these areas altogether and find an alternate route.