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What Are Corruption of a Minor Charges in Pennsylvania?

There are multiple situations in which a person, typically an adult, may be charged with the corruption of a minor. This charge is often included with more severe crimes. In these cases, you will need a professional Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and help you get charges reduced or dismissed.

What Is Corruption of a Minor?

Under Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes (PCS) 6301, the corruption of a minor may be charged against anyone 18 or older who corrupts the morals of a minor under 18. It also applies to an adult who aids, abets, entices, or encourages a minor to commit a crime, violates parole, disregards a court order, or commits truancy — this is a first-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania.

It can also involve certain sexual acts with a minor — this is a third-degree felony.

Since so many different actions can result in the corruption of minor charges, prosecutors often impose additional charges for other offenses simultaneously.

Types of Corruption of Minor Charges

Multiple different actions may be considered the corruption of a minor. In general, if an adult does any of the following, they may be convicted of the crime:

  • Convincing a Minor to Commit a Crime
  • Convincing a Minor to Violate Parole
  • Convincing a Minor to Violate a Court Order
  • Convincing a Minor to Commit a Sexual Act
  • Encouraging a Minor to Engage in Truancy

In addition to this charge, the adult will likely be charged with more severe related offenses.

What Are the Elements of a Corruption of a Minor Offense?

No matter what type of corruption of a minor charges are assessed, the prosecution must prove the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

The prosecution must prove the following:

  • The defendant tried to corrupt the morals of a minor; AND
  • The defendant abetted, aided, encouraged, or enticed the minor to commit a crime; OR
  • The defendant encouraged the minor to violate parole or a court order; OR
  • The defendant encouraged the minor to commit truancy; OR
  • The defendant encouraged or enticed the minor to commit a sexual offense.

The minor does not have to be convicted of a crime, violation of probation, truancy, or a sexual offense for the defendant to be convicted.

What Are the Penalties in PA for a Corruption of a Minor Offense?

Penalties for corruption of a minor charges depend on the severity of the offense.

If you are involved in convincing a minor to commit truancy, then you may face a maximum of 90 days in jail.

If you are convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor, you will face up to five years in prison and a fine of between $1,500 and $10,000.

Suppose your crime involves sexual acts, and you are convicted of a third-degree felony. In that case, you may face seven years in prison and between $5,000 and $25,000 in fines.

Additionally, if the conviction involves a sexual offense, you will face a 15-year sexual offender registration requirement pursuant to the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).

Common Defenses for Corruption of a Minor in Pennsylvania

Defenses for corruption of a minor charges are similar to those for any other crime. Your Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney can target the elements of the crime and try to get your charges reduced or dismissed.

Mistake of Age

Mistake of the age of the minor is only a defense in limited circumstances. If the minor is over the age of 16 but less than 18, then you must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that you believed the minor was 18 or older.

Not Actually a Minor

The prosecution must prove the person who was “morally corrupted” was a minor. They must have evidence of the age of the individual as well. If the individual does not cooperate, this can be difficult for the prosecutor to obtain.

No Criminal Act

If the minor did not commit a criminal act, then it will be difficult for the prosecutor to prove you encouraged, aided, or enticed them to commit the act. Although a conviction of the minor is not required, it can help their case. A lack of conviction can help yours.

No Violation of Probation or Court Order

If the minor did not violate their probation or court order, the prosecution would have an uphill battle proving you attempted to corrupt them.

No Sexual Act

If the minor was not involved in a sexual act, then you can use that as a defense against corruption of a minor involving sexual acts. This will help you avoid the harshest penalties and registration as a sexual offender.

No Truancy

Schools keep detailed records of truancy, and minors can get into serious trouble for these acts. If the minor has not received any notices for truancy, then the prosecution will not likely be able to convict you of the related crime.

Violation of Your Rights

Suppose the police or investigators violated your rights by failing to read your Miranda rights, conducting an illegal search and seizure, or any other method. In that case, you can get evidence suppressed and statements thrown out. This can help you get your case dismissed or charges reduced.

A Pittsburgh Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help with Your Charges

If you’re charged with corruption of a minor charges in Pennsylvania, you should immediately reach out to a Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer. You will likely be charged with additional crimes as well. Getting ahead of the prosecution and protecting your rights is vital.

Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC at (412) 281-2146, or reach out online to schedule a case consultation.

How to Get Charges Dismissed at the Preliminary Hearing

The criminal court process can be overwhelming, but knowing what to expect can reduce some of the stress. In this article, our Pittsburgh criminal defense attorneys will explain what to expect at a preliminary hearing and the things that can happen with your case at one. After your arrest and arraignment, you will attend a preliminary hearing. This is the first opportunity for your Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to get your charges dismissed.

Do You Need A Defense Attorney For Your Preliminary Hearing? Contact Us For A Free Consultation.
When you work with our team of criminal defense attorneys, we will fight for your rights and work to get your freedom. Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys today at (412) 281-2146, or contact us online to get started with a free and confidential consultation.

What Is a Preliminary Hearing in Pennsylvania?

A preliminary hearing in PA is a crucial stage of the criminal court process. It typically occurs within three to 10 days of your arraignment. During the preliminary hearing, the state prosecutor must prove that a crime occurred and that you were likely the person who committed that crime.

In many criminal proceedings, the case is resolved at the preliminary hearing. You could discredit all their evidence and get your charges dismissed. You may also be able to accept a plea deal to end the case. Only 5% of criminal cases go to trial—the rest end in the pretrial stage, such as at or before the preliminary hearing.

What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing in Allegheny County?

At the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor will present evidence against you. This will be the first time any of the evidence will be presented. Your defense attorney is not likely to have seen any evidence before that point. Thus, the preliminary hearing is a crucial fact-gathering stage of the criminal court process.

The preliminary hearing proceeds like a mini trial. Witnesses may present testimony as well. Even hearsay may be validly presented at the preliminary hearing. The purpose is not to determine your guilt. The preliminary hearing is to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial.

Why a Preliminary Hearing is Important

A preliminary hearing protects the rights of the accused individual. One of the most critical aspects of the preliminary hearing is that your attorney will get to review the evidence against you. They can look for legal errors and prepare to have evidence suppressed and your charges dismissed.

Prosecutors often count on defendants to waive their right to a preliminary hearing to have bail reduced or gain other benefits. The prosecutor does not have your best interests in mind, so waiving your preliminary hearing is not typically the best strategy. It’s essential to retain a criminal defense attorney who can advise you on the best path forward.

When Can a Criminal Case Be Dismissed in Pennsylvania?

A dismissal of your case is appropriate if either side believes charges have been filed unjustly. Many factors may contribute to unjust charges, including:

How Your Preliminary Hearing Attorney Can Be Proactive

Your attorney can use several strategies at the preliminary hearing to get your charges dismissed. If your attorney can discredit the prosecution’s case, they might voluntarily dismiss your charges. However, if your attorney is forced to use strategies like making pretrial motions to dismiss, then you may get an involuntary dismissal of your case.

The Prosecution’s Burden of Proof

If the prosecution does not meet its burden of proof that a crime was committed or that you are likely the culprit, your charges will be dismissed. This is uncommon because the prosecution must only make a prima facie case. That means they only must show that it’s more likely than not that you committed the crime. This is different than the burden of proof they have at trial to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime.

Faulty or Lacking Evidence

Your attorney may also draw attention to the fact that the prosecution does not have enough evidence to support the charges. Generally, the prosecution does not have to have much to get the case to move forward, so this is not always an effective strategy. However, poking holes in the prosecution’s evidence can make the state question the case, and they may drop your charges.

Negotiating a Plea Bargain

Your attorney can also help you negotiate a plea bargain before the preliminary hearing. If your goal is to have your charges dismissed, you may resist making a plea bargain. However, if there is compelling evidence against you, your preliminary hearing lawyer may strongly advise you to consider this option. A plea bargain can help you avoid more serious charges, allow you to return to normal life sooner, and limit your legal expenses.

Motions in a Preliminary Hearing

Your attorney can also submit pretrial motions that benefit your case at the preliminary hearing stage and soon after. Pretrial motions are submitted any time before the beginning of trial. Some common motions used by criminal defense attorneys include the following:

  • Motion for Bail – This can allow you to post bail and be released from jail while you await your trial.
  • Motion to Suppress Evidence – This will throw out evidence illegally obtained or otherwise flawed and may damage your case. Without the evidence, the judge may dismiss your charges, or the prosecutor may drop them altogether.
  • Motion to Dismiss the Charges – This should always be filed to get your charges dismissed due to a lack of evidence against you.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer must draft, file, and argue pretrial motions. In fact, you should retain an attorney as soon as possible after your arrest. If you wait until your preliminary hearing to begin looking for an attorney, you could lose valuable opportunities to have charges dismissed or reduced.

Find Out How an Attorney Can Help You

If you have been arrested and are facing criminal charges, you will go through the criminal court process, which involves a preliminary hearing. You shouldn’t face this alone. While you may be offered a free public defender, they rarely have enough time to focus on dismissing your charges.

When you work with our team of Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyers, we will fight for your rights and work to get your freedom. Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys today at (412) 281-2146, or contact us online to get started with a free and confidential consultation.

What Happens When Your Child is Arrested at School?

All parents dread getting a phone call from the school telling them their child is in trouble. However, when their child’s acts amount to criminal behavior, the police get involved.

What Is the Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act?

The Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act (Act 44 of 2018) is a law that requires schools to do the following:

  1. Appoint School Safety and Security Coordinators
  2. Establish safety training for school employees
  3. Establish standards for school police, resource officers, and security guards

The Act also created the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) program and the School Safety and Security Committee within the program. The PCCD helps schools develop guides with specific assessment criteria focused on school safety.

Some core components of the Safe Schools Act include preventing and awareness of suicide, bullying, violence, and substance use.

Safe2Say Something Program

The Safe2Say Something Program was established by Act 44 to prevent youth violence. It teaches adults and youth how to recognize warning signs on social media and in real life when an individual is a threat to themselves or others.

Suppose a school official believes a student is a threat to themselves or others. In that case, they may handle the situation internally or, in extreme cases, alert the authorities, and the child may be arrested for protecting themselves and others.

What Are Common School Offenses?

Children in schools may engage in criminal activity for several reasons. They may be trying to protect themselves, misunderstand the situation, or be influenced by peer pressure. Regardless of the cause, these common school offenses can lead to severe penalties:

18 Pa. C.S. Chapter 9 describes various inchoate crimes, such as possession of instruments of a crime and prohibited offensive weapons. These criminal offenses make it illegal to have a knife, firearm, or another unlawful weapon on school property.

Bullying may fall into various categories, including assault, harassment, or hazing. While assault (18 Pa. C.S. Chapter 7) involves a single episode of a threat or actual physical harm, harassment is ongoing abuse.

Hazing (18 Pa. C.S. Chapter 28) involves several harmful activities to a minor or student for the purpose of initiating, admitting, or affiliating the individual into or with an organization.

What Happens When an Incident Is Committed at School?

In many cases, an offensive incident at school may be handled by school personnel. However, if the activity arises to criminal action, law enforcement will be called.

The school will conduct an initial investigation of the incident, including interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence. They will create an official report.

Unfortunately, school reports of incidents are often unreliable. However, that information will be transmitted to the police and incorporated into the police report.

It is essential to contact a juvenile justice attorney immediately if law enforcement is involved in an incident related to your child. Your attorney must conduct an independent investigation to ensure your child has a fair outcome in court.

What Is Law Enforcement’s Role?

Law enforcement will arrive at the school after an incident and oversee the investigation. Their immediate goal is to stabilize the scene and ensure no one else is in danger. Then, first responders will provide medical treatment to anyone who is injured.

Investigators will arrive on the scene, secure evidence so it does not get contaminated, and place it in safe locations. They will also talk to witnesses and obtain contact information from anyone involved.

What Happens When Your Child is Arrested in Pennsylvania?

The police may arrest your child and take them into custody. Law enforcement may try to ask your child questions without giving them proper warnings about their rights to legal representation and to have their parents present.

The school must contact the child’s parents and document each attempt. They should not question your child without you being present. However, they often do interrogate a suspect before any support arrives.

The district attorney (DA) may press charges against your child if your child is labeled as an actor in the incident. Your child will appear in court at an arraignment, and bail may be offered. If the judge does not set a bail amount, your child may remain in police custody until their initial appearance.

You Need a Private Juvenile Defense Attorney

Although your child could be appointed a public defender, that attorney will be very busy and may not have time to investigate the situation appropriately.

Public defenders often cannot negotiate a plea bargain effectively because of their time restraints. To get the best outcome possible, you need to hire a private juvenile defense attorney who will dedicate time to your case.

Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys at (412) 281-2146, or use our online contact form to reach out.

What if I’m Arrested While on ARD?

Every county handles ARD probation violations differently; however, a general violation of the program’s requirements can land you in hot water.

Even an arrest and new criminal charges without a formal conviction can revoke your ARD probation. You may return to court for your original case and additional charges.

What Is ARD?

ARD, also called the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program, is a probation program that is an alternative to traditional criminal penalties. It is generally offered to first-time offenders with no prior criminal convictions and who have not previously participated in ARD.

The ARD program helps expedite the disposition of charges and eliminate costly and time-consuming trials. It saves resources for Pennsylvania and the defendant.

Eligible offenders for the ARD probation program must be willing to accept treatment and participate in rehabilitation to effectively move their cases away from the traditional criminal justice process.

It requires an individual to waive their preliminary hearing and formal arraignment instead of probation. Community service and fines are often included as well. When individuals complete the ARD program, they may request an expungement of their criminal record.

What Are the Conditions of ARD?

Each defendant completes ARD probation differently. ARD aims to rehabilitate the individual and reduce incidents of re-offense. Thus, if a person was charged with a DUI, they may be required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and receive alcohol treatment and counseling.

Additionally, all ARD probation defendants must:

  • Pay fines, costs, and restitution in full
  • Report monthly or more often to a probation officer
  • Comply with local, state, and federal criminal laws
  • Notify their probation officer immediately if they are arrested
  • Not create a danger to the community or themselves
  • Seek permission from the ARD Coordinator before changing residence
  • Make every effort to obtain and maintain employment
  • Limit daily travel to adjoining counties
  • Seek permission from the ARD Coordinator for travel outside of adjoining counties
  • Cooperate in medical, psychological, or psychiatric examinations, tests, and treatments
  • Notify the ARD Coordinator of any treatment or counseling
  • Abstain from the unlawful possession, use, or sale of narcotics or other drugs
  • Submit urine samples upon request
  • Not own, use, or possess any type of lethal weapons or explosives
  • Allow the probation department to search their person or place of residence without a warrant if they have reasonable suspicion

The court or ARD Coordinator may add specific conditions to each individual’s probation plan.

What Happens After an ARD Violation?

ARD programs include a contract regarding violations that the defendant must sign. For example, it might state:

“If I violate the rules and conditions of the ARD Program or am arrested on new criminal charges, the Montgomery County Adult Probation and Parole Department will return my case to the District Attorney’s Office coupled with the recommendation that my case be relisted for trial.”

Thus, if a defendant violates their ARD probation, their case will be returned to the DA. They will go to a hearing to determine if they violated their probation. They will be allowed to present defenses and work with an attorney. A judge will determine the outcome of the case.

Suppose it is determined that the defendant violated ARD probation. In that case, their case will be sent back to trial, and they will face traditional criminal penalties for their original and new charges.

What Are Some Defenses of an ARD Violation?

There are alternatives to being kicked out of the ARD probation program and defenses you can use at your hearing.

Alternatives to Being Kicked Out of ARD

If you violated your ARD, then you could seek re-admission. If your arrest did not result in new charges, you could petition to return to the ARD program. Every county has different procedures for returning to the ARD program.

If your ARD violation involved failure to pay fines or complete community service, you can ask for an extension of time to comply with the conditions. This may extend the length of your ARD probation, but it can prevent you from returning to trial.

Defenses for ARD Violation

If you are accused of violating your ARD probation, you can assert defenses to avoid being kicked out of the program. Some common defenses include:

  • You did not travel outside of your allowed area
  • You were not in possession of illegal drugs or weapons
  • There was no reasonable suspicion to search your person or residence
  • You attempted to notify your ARD Coordinator of the necessary information

Contact an ARD Violation Defense Attorney Today

If you face ARD violation charges, you must immediately contact an ARD violation defense attorney.

The legal team at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, is here to help. Call us at (412) 281-2146 or use our online form to reach out.

Why Knowing the Number of PA Law Enforcement Agencies Matters

Pennsylvania has enacted laws to hold police officers accountable for misconduct, but how do citizens know that law enforcement actions are accurately reported? With PA Act 57, the legislature created a database that is supposed to track misconduct.

More than 1,100 Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies are enrolled to use the database. However, there is no way to know if this is all the agencies in Pennsylvania or merely a fraction.

Spotlight PA recently investigated the situation and pointed out the critical problem: “If the state doesn’t know how many agencies employ people with the power to make an arrest or carry a gun, for example, how can it hold them accountable? When agencies are overlooked by state and federal reporting, residents lose access to vital information about their communities.”

What is Act 57?

Act 57 of 2020 created a database to track police misconduct and provide guidelines for hiring new officers to be followed by law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania. All agencies in Pennsylvania are required to report to the database. However, some loopholes may result in a lack of enforcement.

What’s the Discrepancy Between State & Federal Numbers?

More than 1,100 law enforcement agencies have enrolled in the database created by Act 57. However, there is no indication of whether this is all the agencies in Pennsylvania. Additionally, there is ambiguous information about which agencies are included in federal reports.

Pennsylvania’s Numbers

According to Spotlight PA reporters, the number of agencies may change over time, but there is a large discrepancy. According to Pennsylvania, at the launch of the Act 57 database, there were more than 1,300 law enforcement agencies in 2021. However, in a 2018 Annual Uniform Crime Report, data had been received from 1,913 jurisdictions.

Federal Numbers

This dramatically differs from the federal FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which lists more than 1,700 Pennsylvania agency codes in its 2020 data. It is unclear if each “code” is a unique law enforcement agency or whether smaller units within larger departments have unique codes. Reporting to the federal program is voluntary, so some departments may not participate.
State and federal numbers do not specify what qualifies as a law enforcement agency and what is being counted.

Still No Clear Answer on the Number of Agencies

Spotlight PA asked ten people, including Pennsylvania lawmakers, federal officials, and academics, how many law enforcement agencies were in the state. None of them had an absolute number. Even the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office and the governor did not have clear answers.
State Police Communications Director Lt. Adam Reed said, “It turns out that [we do] not have a definitive total on the number of agencies in PA.”

What’s the Problem with Not Knowing the Law Enforcement Agencies in Your Area?

When law enforcement agencies fail to report misconduct to the database, it can go unchecked. There is no oversight on the frequency of police misconduct in each agency. This reduces the opportunity for corrective action and transparency to the public.

Transparency between the police and the public is essential to building trust. Police officers have gained significant scrutiny because of their actions across the nation. Act 57 works to identify misconduct in the state and correct it.

While acts of severe police misconduct will become known to the public over time, the public cannot know that it is being addressed appropriately if it isn’t recorded in the database.

Why Are Police-Community Relationships So Important?

Strong relationships between the police and the community are essential to maintaining public safety and effective policing. Law enforcement agencies need the cooperation of the public, especially community leaders, to provide information about crime in neighborhoods. The public can also help develop solutions for problems with local crime.

Trust in the police depends on shared values and principles within the community. This requires procedural, nondiscriminatory justice and legitimacy. One of the critical components of this is accurate reporting of police misconduct.

The community has a right to know about misconduct and learn how the agency handles it. The Act 57 database is a tool that enables the sharing of this information when agencies participate.

How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Help?

The legal team at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys supports the registration of police agencies with the Act 57 database. We want communities to have information about police misconduct to hold agencies accountable.

If police misconduct was involved in your case, contact us today at (412) 281-2146 or contact us online for a consultation.

Can My Social Media Be Used As Evidence?

Yes, in many cases, your social media posts can be used as evidence against you in a criminal case. However, there are ways to protect yourself. Limiting what you post could prevent the prosecutor from finding incriminating content.

Always remember that the prosecutor must prove every element of your crime beyond a reasonable doubt. They will try to use social media posts to prove those elements.

What Does PA Law Say About Using Social Media in a Criminal Case?

Pennsylvania laws do not specifically address using social media in a criminal case. However, some relevant federal and state statutes about electronic data have been used to decide case law on the issue.

What Is Case Law?

Case law is a type of law established through court rulings. When a court decides a case, other courts may follow that decision in similar cases in some situations.

Commonwealth v. Mangel

In a 2018 case called Commonwealth v. Mangel (2018 Pa. Super. 57), the defendant was charged with aggravated assault. The victim said they could identify the defendant through Facebook pictures. The trial court allowed the prosecutor to obtain the defendant’s Facebook records, including screenshots of pictures of the defendant.

In one picture, the defendant had bloody hands. The court allowed the prosecution to get pictures, posts, and “chat” messages from the defendant’s social media.

Court Orders May Require Social Media Companies to Disclose Information

In the Mangel case, the prosecutor relied on two statutes to obtain this information. The first was 18 U.S.C. §2307(c), which requires the disclosure of customer communications or records in certain situations.

Specifically, with a court order, the prosecution may order Facebook or any other social media company to disclose a record of information about the subscriber or customer, including the contents of communications.

Prosecutors Must Have Reasonable Grounds

The prosecution in Mangel’s case also used 18 Pa.C.S.A. §5743(c) and (d), similar to federal law. The Pennsylvania code also states that to obtain a court order to get social media records, there must be “reasonable grounds to believe that the contents of a wire or electronic communication, or the records or other information sought, are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”

Thus, federal and state laws allow police investigators and prosecutors to obtain social media posts and other data in a criminal case.

How Does the Prosecution Use Social Media Against a Defendant?

The prosecution may use social media in two ways: to prove elements of a crime or as character evidence against a defendant.

Using Social Media to Prove Elements of a Crime

To be convicted of a crime, the prosecution must prove every element beyond a reasonable doubt. Social media may be used as a source of information or evidence to support those elements of the crime.

For example, if the prosecution charges you with theft by unlawful taking, they must prove the following elements:

  • You unlawfully took, transferred, or exercised control over
  • Another person’s movable or immovable property
  • With the intent of depriving the owner of their property or using it to benefit yourself or another who is not entitled to it

Let’s focus on one element – depriving the owner of their property. You must intend to keep that property away from the rightful owner permanently. If your true intent is to borrow and return it, you cannot be found guilty of theft.

A prosecutor may find a photograph of you on social media with the property that was allegedly stolen. This may be evidence that you unlawfully exercised control over another person’s property.

Then, the prosecutor may look at your social media chat messages and find a conversation about how you intend to use the property in the future. This may prove that you intended to use the property to benefit yourself and not return it to the proper owner.

The prosecution will use information you post publicly and private conversations as evidence against you.

Using Social Media as Character Evidence Against a Defendant

While prosecutors aren’t generally allowed to present character evidence against a defendant, there are situations where it is permitted. For example, suppose the defendant first introduces that they have a reputation for being honest. In that case, the defendant has “opened the door” for the prosecution to present evidence to the contrary.

The prosecution may find posts on your social media accounts about fraudulent activities. Those posts may be from years ago and may not even seem relevant. However, if the court allows the prosecution to use this evidence, it can be detrimental to your case.

What Kinds of Posts Hurt Your Criminal Case?

Federal and state laws require social media companies to provide a wide range of information to investigators and the prosecutor if adequately requested. Even if your social media accounts are restricted to “friends only” or private, the prosecutor can likely get information that may be relevant to your case.

Courts have ruled that prosecutors can obtain data from social media posts, pictures, and messages. Thus, it seems that any actions taken on social media may be used against you in a criminal case.

How to Prevent Prosecutors from Using Your Posts Against You

The best way to prevent the prosecution from using your social media posts against you is to be very careful about your posts. If you are involved in any activities that could be considered questionable or illegal, you should never post about them – even jokingly.

You should also be careful about who you associate with on social media. Your constant interaction with known gang members or drug dealers may make you a target to investigators.

Never joke about illegal activity. You might think that casual use of marijuana is not a big deal, but if you are caught with a significant amount of drugs, that funny post may be used against you in court.

Don’t have conversations on social media public posts, or private messenger services about your illegal activities. The prosecution can get access to these conversations, and they will use them against you.

Call A Criminal Defense Attorney About Your Case

If you have specific questions about your case, you should immediately contact a criminal defense lawyer for answers. The experienced attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC have helped countless people facing difficult situations. Call us today at (412) 281-2146 or contact us online to discuss how we can help you.

How to Get the Most Out of a Plea Agreement

According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, most criminal cases are resolved through plea bargaining. However, it can be hard to know when to accept a deal from the prosecutor. You must weigh the pros and cons of what is presented to get the most out of the agreement.

What Is a Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain is an agreement between a defendant and the prosecutor representing the state in a criminal case. During a plea deal, the defendant will plead no contest or guilty to a crime in return for a sentence that is less than the maximum for the charge against them.

A plea bargain sometimes involves the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser charge. This allows them to have a less severe crime on their criminal record and a lower sentence.

How Do Plea Bargains Work?

The prosecutor often offers a plea bargain after an initial charge is presented at the arraignment. The initial charge may be inflated or barely supported by evidence to scare the defendant.

That way, when the prosecutor offers a lower sentence or lesser charge, the defendant is more inclined to accept the agreement.

Negotiating a Plea Agreement

After the prosecutor makes the offer to the defendant’s attorney, the legal representative will present that offer to the client. If the client feels the plea deal is fair, they may accept it. However, it is often beneficial to negotiate with the prosecutor.

The criminal defense attorney can return to the prosecutor with plea bargain terms that the defendant feels are more beneficial. There is no guarantee that the prosecutor will negotiate, but they may reduce their offer if there is room to budge.

A Judge Must Approve the Plea Agreement

Acceptance of the plea agreement by the defendant and the prosecutor is not the end. The judge must review the plea deal. The judge will also ask the defendant many questions to ensure they agree with their own free will and understand the consequences.

If the judge approves the plea agreement, they will officially sentence the defendant. The defendant may take their case to trial if the judge doesn’t approve the plea deal.

How to Get the Best Plea Agreement Possible

It’s essential to know that the initial plea offer from the prosecutor does not always have to be the final deal. With a skilled negotiator, you could reduce your charges or sentence significantly. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your plea agreement.

1. Compromise, But Don’t Settle

When the evidence is stacked against you, a plea bargain can be a good deal. However, you shouldn’t sacrifice everything right away. Find out the minimum and maximum sentences that could be thrown at you if you go to trial.

You will likely have to compromise and accept a deal somewhere in the middle. Don’t settle for the prosecutor’s initial offer.

2. Understand the Prosecutor’s Purpose

When the prosecutor makes a plea deal, they do so with a purpose. They may be trying to save themselves time and the state resources.

If they don’t offer you what you feel is fair, they may try to prove a point to future defendants. When you understand the prosecutor’s goal, you can better negotiate with them.

3. Make Sure Your Goals Are Realistic

Although the goal of a plea bargain is to get a better deal than the maximum sentence you might face at trial, you need to be realistic. You will receive a penalty if you plead no contest or guilty to a criminal offense.

However, if this is your first crime or the charge isn’t too severe, you might avoid incarceration. In other situations, you should shoot for the lowest possible jail time. Remember that the sentence will still be proportionate to the crime you are pleading to.

4. Understand the Strengths & Weaknesses of Your Case

Every criminal case has strengths and weaknesses. Evidence could support arguments made by both sides – defense and prosecution. You must know how much information is working for and against your case.

Your criminal defense attorney can help you better understand whether the evidence supports the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

5. Hire a Skilled Negotiator as Your Attorney

Some attorneys have received education and have taken significant training to build their skills as a negotiator. Those abilities benefit you when obtaining a fair plea deal.

Negotiation is more than going back and forth with the prosecution. It involves a certain amount of smooth talking and pointing out the strengths of your case and weaknesses in theirs.

 A Criminal Defense Law Firm Can Help with a Plea Agreement

You may be worried about the potential penalties if you face significant criminal charges. You can take control by negotiating a plea agreement with the prosecutor before going to trial. With the help of Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, you can get the best deal possible.

Call us today at (412) 281-2146 or contact us online to schedule an initial case consultation.

Can Cell Phone Video Be Used as Evidence in Court?

It is very common for people to take their phones out and photograph or film exciting things in their daily lives. If you are witnessing a crime, it is understandable that you may begin recording the incident on your cell phone.

This video can help you review your situation after the fact, but you may be interested in using it to clear your name of any wrongdoing.

When Are Cell Phone Videos Admissible?

Using cell phone video as evidence in court is certainly possible, but this evidence is not always guaranteed to be admissible. If you would like to use cell phone evidence in your case, your attorney will have to convince the judge that the video footage is both relevant to your case and reliable.

For evidence to be allowed into court, it must be considered relevant to the case at hand. Something relevant tends to make an essential fact in your trial either more or less probable. Irrelevant pieces of evidence waste time and may distract the jury from a vital part of the case.

What Makes a Cell Phone Video Authentic?

For your video to be declared admissible, it must be deemed authentic. Demonstrative evidence such as a video cannot come from anywhere. Rather, it must be brought forth by someone who can testify in court to the legitimacy of the video.

Video captured by traffic cameras will carry more legitimacy than a cell phone video captured by someone trying to win a legal proceeding. If the video’s source cannot be found, its authenticity is not good. Therefore, it can be excluded under Pennsylvania’s hearsay rules.

When Can Videos Be Inadmissible in Court?

A significant problem with videos such as those captured on a cell phone is the issue of credibility. When you put forth something as evidence, you’re trying to convince the court that something specific happened, and the video should be able to tell its story without guessing. Problems with your cell phone video could include:

  • Lighting – If lighting is poor, it could be hard to tell certain features of the video, such as the identity of a person or the distance between two things.
  • Time of Recording Questions – timing is everything, and maybe your video portrays something that should have occurred at a certain time, but it is impossible to prove it.
  • Location – Is there too much guessing that must go into determining where your video was filmed? If your video requires taking your word for its details, it doesn’t offer much more than your spoken testimony.

Things to Consider Before Using Cell Phone Video as Evidence

Before you take steps to use cell phone video as evidence to support your case, there may be several items to consider. Using cell phone video as evidence may do more harm than good in some cases. Here are a few other essential details you should know before using cell phone video as evidence in your case.

Can an Attorney Subpoena Cell Phone Records to Clear Your Name?

Many people assume that social media videos online can be used as evidence in a trial to support their case. But for such footage to be admissible, your attorney must recover the original video evidence.

Often, video data can be acquired by simply asking for it from the originator. But your attorney may be able to file a subpoena, or police can execute a search warrant to access the video footage in question.

Do Privacy Laws Interfere With Obtaining Cell Phone Videos?

The ability to utilize cell phone video footage as evidence to support your case can vary widely depending on whether the law requires two-party consent. Under Pennsylvania law, recording a telephone call or conversation without both party’s consent is illegal.

This means that the audio portion of your video footage may be protected as private communication, but the video footage may not be.

Contact a Pittsburgh Criminal Defense Attorney for Help

People often feel that video is the perfect evidence in court, and they’re usually right. While your cell phone video might be good evidence for your case, there is never a guarantee that the judge will allow it.

With years of trial experience, our attorneys understand Pennsylvania’s evidence rules, and we have successfully used them to help many of our clients.

If you would like to speak with an experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer about your case, contact our office today. Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC at 412-281-2146, or contact us online for a free and confidential case consultation.

What Is Veterans Court?

Pennsylvania’s Veterans Treatment Court (usually called Veterans Court) is an alternative to incarceration for veterans facing criminal charges. Based on similar effective programs (such as Drug Courts), this specialized program helps veterans connect with resources for addiction, mental illness, or other disorders. Veterans Court addresses the underlying issues that often lead to criminal behavior.

Many veterans find it challenging to adjust to civilian life. Like many other states, Pennsylvania provides Veterans Court as an alternative to imprisonment and other traditional criminal justice actions.

Infographic about veterans fights the opioid epidemic

We Owe America’s Veterans

The United States currently has about 1.3 million active-duty service members from a population of over 258.3 million Americans ages 18 and older. Military service requires enormous sacrifice from members and their families. Long deployments wreak havoc with personal relationships. The pay is often lower for service members than their civilian counterparts, when applicable. And always, there is the possibility of severe injuries or death.

When America’s veterans sacrifice so much for us, we owe it to them to provide the resources they need when they find themselves in legal trouble.

Veterans Face Special Challenges

Of the 2.6 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, 50 percent suffer from one or more treatable conditions, including:

  • One in six veterans has a substance abuse disorder.
  • One in five show signs of cognitive impairment or a mental health disorder.
  • Veterans are twice as likely to die from accidental overdoses of opioid painkillers.
  • Half of returning veterans have untreated PTSD.

Approximately 38,000 of all veterans nationwide are homeless. Additionally, most employers are not obligated to hold jobs open for returning veterans. Without proper resources, housing stability, and lack of physical and emotional illness treatment, veterans are trapped in the criminal justice system.

Addiction, Mental Illness Tied to Incarceration

According to Justice for Vets, 81% of justice-involved veterans had a substance use disorder before incarceration. About 25% of justice-involved veterans suffered from mental health issues. Some of America’s 181,000 incarcerated veterans might have avoided prison had they received proper treatment, counseling, and support. Veterans Court is an effective diversion program designed to reduce the number of justice-involved veterans.

Why a Special Court for Veterans?

Veterans have unique training and life experiences that are misunderstood or ignored by traditional criminal justice courts. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, veterans are more likely to suffer from mental illness, substance abuse addiction, and trauma than non-veterans. These factors, combined with a struggle to adjust to life without the structure and camaraderie of active duty, make veterans vulnerable to the justice system.

Pennsylvania has the fourth-largest population of veterans in the country, with an estimated 798,000 veteran residents. Both prosecutors and judges realize the need for an effective alternative to the criminal justice system for veterans.

How Veterans Court Works

Defendants in Veterans Court must commit to a rigorous program as an alternative to jail or prison. The emphasis is not on punishment, but a focused interdisciplinary program designed to discourage repeat offenders. The court works with the Veterans Administration and other agencies to give participants the help and support they need to achieve:

  • Affordable, stable housing
  • Reliable transportation via a free public transit service for veterans
  • Sobriety
  • Improved mental health
  • Financial independence through a veterans’ jobs initiative

Specially Trained Probation Officers & Mentors

Program participants have specialized probation officers who are familiar with the needs of former service members. Additionally, defendants have support and guidance from mentors, informally called “battle buddies.” These mentors share their experience, strength, and hope with participants to guide them through the successful completion of Veterans Court.

Who Is Eligible for Veterans Court?

Veterans Court is limited to defendants who are:

  • Veterans from any branch of service (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard)
  • Addicted to substances including alcohol, opioids, and other drugs (both prescribed and illegal)
  • Struggling with major depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions
  • Not charged with homicide or sex crimes

Pennsylvania’s Veterans Courts

Pennsylvania’s first Veterans Court opened in Lackawanna County in November 2009.

Since then, Veterans Court has been available in the following counties:

  • Allegheny
  • Armstrong
  • Beaver
  • Berks
  • Butler
  • Cambria
  • Carbon
  • Chester
  • Clinton
  • Dauphin
  • Delaware
  • Erie
  • Fayette
  • Indiana
  • Lackawanna
  • Lancaster
  • Lebanon
  • Lycoming
  • Mercer
  • Montgomery
  • Northumberland
  • Philadelphia
  • Washington
  • Westmoreland
  • York

Help for Veterans Facing Drug Crimes

Many veterans who suffer severe and catastrophic injuries receive prescriptions for pain relief. This factor may account for veterans being two times more likely to overdose from opioid painkillers than non-veterans. More than 20 percent of veterans with PTSD also have a substance abuse problem.

Justice-involved veterans account for 14 percent of drug crimes nationwide, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Veterans Courts offer a path to counseling, support, and drug treatment programs, both inpatient and outpatient. Some Drug Courts throughout the state also have a veteran’s track.

Veterans Court Success Rate

According to the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, 207 of the 233 participants in the 2018 Veterans Court program completed the program. This high completion rate means that 81 percent of participating veterans successfully graduated, allowing them to re-enter civilian life stable and substance-free.

In an early study of veterans’ courts, researchers found that 89.5 percent of program participants:

  • Remained arrest-free during the program
  • Experienced substantial improvement with depression and PTSD
  • Achieved and maintained a substance-free life
  • Enjoyed better emotional health
  • Found stable housing
  • Formed better personal relationships and social connections
  • Reported improved overall functioning and well-being

Contact Information

Police Misconduct in Pittsburgh

Police officers are supposed to uphold the law and protect innocent citizens. However, officers’ actions have become questionable in many situations where they interact with the public, such as during the Black Lives Matter protests in Pittsburgh and nationwide.

If you or a loved one was injured due to police brutality or another case of police misconduct, contact an attorney right away. These situations often result in wrongful arrests that require an aggressive defense.

What Is Police Misconduct?

The Pittsburgh Code of Ordinances Section 661.01(a) defines police misconduct as:

“…any alleged improper or illegal acts, omissions or decisions directly affecting the person or property of a natural person by reason of:

  1. A violation of any general, standing, or special orders or guidelines of the Police Bureau or Department of Public Safety; or
  2. A violation of any federal law or the Pittsburgh Code;
  3. Any act otherwise evidencing improper or unbecoming conduct by a police officer employed by the City of Pittsburgh.”

Types of Police Misconduct

There are three broad categories of police misconduct:

  • Procedural – This type of misconduct refers to any action that violates police procedure.
  • Criminal – This refers to any misconduct specifically against a local, state, or federal law.
  • Constitutional – This includes any actions that violate a citizen’s civil rights.

Actual misconduct can often fall into more than one category. For example, a false arrest in which an officer beats the suspect is both a criminal and constitutional violation. It may even be considered procedural misconduct when it violates police union regulations.

Common Examples of Police Misconduct

When you think of police misconduct, you often associate it with police brutality. However, that is only one type of behavior that qualifies as misconduct. There are many examples of misconduct, including the following:

  • Police Brutality – This refers to excessive force on someone beyond what is necessary for the situation. Police officers should have techniques that subdue a violent or dangerous suspect (or a weak, unarmed suspect) without intentional harm. The murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May 2020 is an example of police brutality.
  • Abuse of Authority — Includes police actions that use their position of authority to perpetrate a crime or civil rights violation. This abuse may involve sexual abuse or forcibly coerced confessions.
  • Bias/Racial Profiling – When an officer uses racial or other prejudicial attributes as the basis of an arrest, search, or harassment, it indicates bias or racial profiling. Profiling often when a police officer pulls over a male person of color because they “look suspicious.”
  • Bribery, Kickbacks, or Extortion – A police officer should never receive extra compensation for their duties. They should also not turn a blind eye to crime with financial motivation. It is unlawful for law enforcement officers to use their position to take advantage of a financial opportunity.
  • Falsifying Evidence – This can include planting evidence at a crime scene or making up false witness statements.
  • False Arrest – An officer must have probable cause that a suspect committed a crime to make a lawful arrest. Without that probable cause, they wrongfully deny a person their constitutional right to freedom.

These are just a few examples of police misconduct. If you think you are the victim of police misconduct, call a lawyer who can look into the situation and help you file a report with the appropriate agencies.

What Should I Do If I’m the Victim of Police Misconduct?

First, you should contact an attorney right away. You will have to interact with the government when reporting police misconduct. While they should accept your report, they may try to protect the police officer and place blame on you. It would help if you had someone on your side to represent your rights and make sure your story is heard.

Reporting Police Misconduct in Pittsburgh, PA

Incidences of police misconduct in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, should be reported to the Office of Municipal Investigations (OMI). They handle citizen complaints about misconduct by any employees of the City of Pittsburgh, including fire, EMS, and police.

The Citizen’s Police Review Board (CPRB) also investigates complaints against police officers. This independent review agency can investigate allegations and hold public hearings. During those hearings, they may review complaints, question witnesses, and elicit testimony from police officers.

How Is Pittsburgh Cracking Down on Police Misconduct?

In the past, complaints of police misconduct often got swept under the rug. Officers would either escape discipline entirely or take a few days off. When they returned, the alleged police misconduct would continue.

However, in July 2021, the Pennsylvania Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, announced the launch of a statewide police misconduct database. The database will track complaints and confirmed cases of misconduct. It will identify officers with a history of “red flags” to warn other law enforcement agencies who might hire them.

The database is not accessible to the public; however, police departments must use it when hiring new officers. Suppose a department hires an officer who has a history of discipline. In that case, the department has to write a public report explaining their reason for hiring them.

Get Help from a Police Brutality Lawyer

If you were injured or wrongfully arrested because of police misconduct, our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, can help.

Call us today at (412) 281-2146 or use our online contact form for a free consultation.