Q&A Topic: Misdemeanors and Non-Violent Crimes
1. I’ve been charged, or am worried about somebody I know being charged, with drug possession. What are the legal ramifications? Does this apply to marijuana?
The legal ramifications for somebody being charged could be an ungraded misdemeanor, possession of a small amount of marijuana or possession of a controlled substance. These come with a conviction and a license suspension as a collateral consequence. There are a lot of different ways to mitigate these charges, though. For prosecutors, proving constructive possession requires proof of knowledge about the illicit substance and intent to control it by the defendant, which is difficult to prove. Those under 18 would face adjudication, the juvenile terminology for guilt or innocence, and can be expunged statutorily. For adults, juveniles and first time offenders, there are often diversionary programs to keep people from being convicted. Additionally, even if convicted, a new law recently came out that allows some of these charges to be sealed after 7 to 10 years have passed, crime free.
2. How does the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania treat DUI offenders, even if it’s a first offense?
We are in a very exciting time when the Supreme Court of the United States has found that forcing people to give blood for DUI is unconstitutional without a warrant. DUI offenses will usually go into Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD), a diversion program. It’s a first time offenders program and the charges are usually dismissed. There is no admittance of guilt, and the arrest record can be expunged once all conditions of the program are completed.
3. What does ARD entail?
It’s a discretionary decision made by the district attorney’s office. ARD comes with no admission of guilt, a fine, community service and usually anywhere from six months to two years in the program, during which time the person must be arrest-free. If a person doesn’t complete ARD, they still retain the same rights they would have before—they still have a right to go to trial and defend themselves. The program is generally a non-reporting probation. For example, in Delaware County, you check in online once a month.
4. What is “white-collar crime?” What is the punishment?
White-collar crime is embezzlement, insider trading, financial crimes, fraud and theft. Many white-collar crimes are prosecuted federally. They deal with sophisticated schemes, like Ponzi schemes, and typically deal with large sums of money and an intent to deprive someone of their money permanently. Local police will usually catch the Little League treasurer who deposits money into his own account. There’s a fine line between sloppy records and accounting, and deliberate financial fraud. These types of crimes are statutorily specific about the person’s mental state.
5. What happens in the cases of non-violent domestic abuse?
Most domestic violence charges in Pennsylvania require violent, offensive touching. However, non-violent domestic violence can include stalking and harassment. If someone has been accused of domestic violence, they may deal with a protection from abuse (PFA), ordered by civil court, in which the offender can be given a three-year stay away order. If that person violates it, then it becomes a crime for violation of the PFA.
Another example of non-violent domestic abuse comes in the form of terroristic threats. The victim fears for his or her life, generally having been threatened with death or violence. Some of these cases can be resolved with cooperation from the victim, who may not want to see their partner with a criminal conviction but simply wants them to get help. Different ways they may be able to get help would be through, for example, attending Alcoholics Anonymous, rehabilitation and/or anger management.