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Greensburg Legal Blog

Due process remains problematic in campus sex crime cases

When a person faces a criminal charge or pursues legal action, the rule of law dictates that due process be followed. The way the Constitution of the United States expresses this is that every person is presumed innocent until found guilty. Additionally, the Constitution states that in any prosecution, the defendant has a right to confront his or her accuser through cross-examination.

That's not a "nice-to-have" sentiment. It is a "must have." Unfortunately, application can be spotty at times. Cases of alleged sexual assault on college campuses may serve to highlight the point.

Football player charged with drunk driving

A freshman from a neighboring state has been charged with driving under the influence while visiting Neshannock Township, according to local sources. Pennsylvania authorities arrested the 18-year-old man under suspicion of drunk driving. If he is found guilty, the young football player could see his position on his team, as well as his enrollment in his university, both placed at risk.

According to the incident report, on June 16, the 18-year-old was driving in Lawrence County when he was pulled over. Police did not explicitly say why he was pulled over in their report. However, among the charges filed against him, he is accused of careless driving and disregarding traffic lanes, both of which could have prompted officers to pull him over.

Trial proceeds against police officer accused of drunk driving

A police officer in Erie who was suspended after a suspected DUI incident is facing the end of her trial, according to local sources. Pennsylvania State Police responded the the crash, which killed a 57-year-old man in February, and they believe the the 47-year-old officer was at fault. She stands accused of drunk driving, and closing arguments in her case were set to begin the morning of June 18. 

According to court files, a surveillance tape from the bar the woman was patronizing the night of the crash was entered into evidence. It allegedly shows the officer, who was off-duty at the time, consuming some 13 drinks of an unknown nature over the span of five hours prior to the crash. The officer, who has since taken the stand, testified that her ex-boyfriend, who was with her at the time, would not have let her drive home if she was drunk.

Bus driver in Pennsylvania faces drunk driving charges

A bus driver in Smithfield Township is in custody after her arrest for allegedly picking up school children while intoxicated. Pennsylvania State Police apprehended the woman after witnesses called authorities when she was seen behaving erratically. She was arrested and processed, but has since been released on bail. She faces one count of drunk driving, as well as dozens of other charges pertaining to reckless endangerment. 

According to the report, the driver was witnessed staggering upon exiting the bus at a local elementary school, where she was supposed to be picking up students at the end of their school day. The resource officer at the school said the bus had been moving erratically before arriving at the school, and took the driver to the nurse's office upon her arrival. A field sobriety test was conducted, which the driver allegedly failed. 

Pennsylvania police officer faces drunk driving charges

A police officer in Erie could see her career in jeopardy after she was accused of driving under the influence of alcohol. The 47-year-old Pennsylvania police officer is scheduled to appear in court in June for her alleged role in a fatal car accident back in Feb. 2017. The officer initially pleaded guilty to the charge of drunk driving, but recanted her plea earlier this year. She has retained legal representation for her second run at the charges. 

According to the report provided by the Erie Times, the woman was traveling in town on Feb. 18, 2017 when her vehicle entered the opposing lane and struck another car head-on. The driver of that car, a 57-year-old man, was killed in the impact. When the officer, who was off-duty at the time of the incident, was taken to the hospital, her blood alcohol content was registered at almost three times the legal limit of .08. 

Pennsylvania deputy charged with drunk driving

A Westmoreland County sheriff's deputy is under fire for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol while off-duty, according to local sources. The deputy was charged with suspected drunk driving by Pennsylvania authorities on May 7, but she has not been suspended from her duties. She continues to work regular hours pending an internal investigation by the police department.

According to the report, the deputy, who holds the rank of corporal, was pulled over by officers around 11:30 p.m. It is not clear from the report why officers pulled her vehicle over, though neighbors say they saw both police and firefighters on the scene at the time. The deputy's vehicle was the only car involved in the traffic stop.

Criminal defense attorneys review immigration detainee cases

The recent immigration policies of the federal government are resulting in reports of widespread failure to enforce the laws evenly and responsively, and the failure to provide even a small measure of due process. In fact, Pennsylvania is one of the states where the problem has been especially intensified. This is due in part to the fact that Philadelphia's regional Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (ICE) arrested more immigrants without convictions than any other in the country in 2017. This has heightened the need for criminal defense attorneys to provide emergency representation for many of these people.

Due to the broad scale of the task undertaken by ICE, chaos reigns in many aspects of the agency's procedures, and a fair administration of the laws is certainly not intended or noted by experts who observe the process. Pennsylvania ranks 16th among states in terms of its volume of undocumented immigrants. Sixty-four percent of detainees ICE arrested in 2017 were free of any criminal record. Nationally, the same figure is at 38 percent.

Police say former D.A. suppressed drug charges, got sexual favors

Pennsylvania has always had a fair share of public officials who have been arrested and convicted of crimes. The list includes former attorneys general, legislators and police officers. Reports of a high-ranking state law enforcement officer being caught up in allegations of criminality are always shocking and difficult to understand. The latest official to be accused of serious criminality, including the suppression of drug charges and obtaining sexual favors,  is the District Attorney of Bedford County, William Higgins.

The 43-year-old prosecutor resigned from the job recently under a cloud of criminal charges that included obstruction of law enforcement, reckless endangerment, official oppression and hindrance of a prosecution. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced that Higgins had traded his law enforcement authority for sexual favors. Authorities accused him of accessing confidential police records to manipulate the cases against women, refusing to approve search warrants, offering lenient plea bargains and thwarting drug prosecutions.

Can your smartphone prevent DUI charges?

You leave the bar Friday evening after a few drinks with friends. As you slide the key into your car’s ignition you think “I wonder if I’m legally able to drive.” This is a common predicament for many Pennsylvania residents.

While many people know that the legal limit is 0.08, few can accurately predict their BAC on any given night. It is difficult to estimate your BAC, and it can change based on a number of factors other than the amount of alcohol consumed. Can your smartphone provide the answer?

State officials back criminal defense reforms to lower recidivism

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf recently announced that he favors broad reform of the criminal justice system in the state. He claims that the system is broken and needs to be fixed, adding that his administration has promoted programs that would divert individuals from incarceration and that favor rehabilitation. Criminal defense attorneys will likely welcome the Governor's embrace of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative II reforms, which recommend legislative reforms in all major phases of a criminal case.

Wolf has called on the legislature to pass the Justice Reinvestment reforms, which are the result of a study chaired by the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, over the past year and a half. Shapiro says the new policies are both tough and smart, and said they would save the state about $100 million over the next five years. One of the goals is to increase resources to county probation departments so that the number of supervision violations will be reduced, thus reducing also the number of incarcerations.

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