Violent Crimes Archives | Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC

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Comparing Pittsburgh’s Crime Rates to National Rates

Most of us have been victims of crime at some point in our lives, or at least know someone who has been. Yet our country is a safer place to live than most of us think. In fact, Pittsburgh may even be safer than most of its citizens realize. Gallup and Pew surveys reaching back two decades consistently show that at least 60 percent of Americans believe that crime rates are increasing. However, reliable authorities consistently report that crime rates have steadily been decreasing.

If you or a loved one have been investigated for or charged with a crime, contact the criminal defense lawyers at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys right away. We will stand by your side and protect your rights. Call us at (412) 281-2146.

National Crime Rates Are Much Lower than in the Nineties

There are two primary sources for national crimes rates. One is provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which every year counts all instances of serious crimes reported to the police in 18,000 jurisdictions across America. The other source is the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), which calculates crime rates by surveying 90,000 households and asking all residents over the age of 12 whether they have been a crime victim.

The crime rates reported by the BJS are much higher than those reported by the FBI. In 2016, for example, the BJS rate of 21 crimes per 1,000 people was more than five-and-a-half times higher than the FBI rate of 386 violent crimes per 100,000 people. Not all crimes get reported to the police, which means that the FBI fails to count a substantial number of crimes. But the BJS crime rates, which are based on the recollections of random individuals, might be less reliable than the FBI’s, which are informed by objective government records.

Despite these methodological differences, the BJS and FBI’s measurements of crime rates both show that violent crime has declined since 1993. The FBI numbers show that violent crime decreased by almost half between 1993 and 2016. The BJS data shows that violent crime rates fell by 75 percent during the same time. Following a similar pattern, property crime rates fell by half according to the FBI and by 66 percent according to BJS.

Pittsburgh Murder Rates Are High, but Violent Crime Is Generally Low

In Pittsburgh, the violent crime rate according to the FBI is approximately 270 per 100,000 residents, which is well below the national average of 386 per 100,000. The city’s murder rate, however, is significantly higher than the national average. The murder rate in Pittsburgh was 18 per 100,000 residents in 2016, but only 5 per 100,000 nationally. Yet Pittsburgh murder rate is lower than Chicago (28 murders per 100,000), Baltimore (51 per 100,000), and St. Louis (60 per 100,000).

This means that in Pittsburgh, you have a higher than average chance of being murdered. On the other hand, your chances of being the victim of violent crime in general is lower than average. There are many different offenses that get counted in the category “violent crime,” from murders to simple assault and battery. Furthermore, different types of violent crimes tend to occur in different areas. Pittsburgh, like many other cities, has a persistent gang and gun violence problem–even though other types of crime have generally subsided in the long term.

Because of the ongoing gang and firearm-related violence in the city, Pittsburgh and Allegheny authorities vigorously prosecute all cases involving guns or an alleged gang affiliation. If you get accused of one of these crimes, the best way to avoid the devastating penalties of a criminal conviction is to retain the services of an experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Contact Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC today at (412) 281-2146 for a free consultation with your defense team.

Violent Crime Rates Drop in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has announced that the city has seen a drop in violent crimes over the last year. While the mayor recognizes that this decrease is a result of the hard work of many, the city does attribute much of its success to the efforts of an organization known as the Group Violence Intervention (GVI).

If you have been charged with a violent crime, our Pittsburgh violent crimes lawyers at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC can give your case a thorough review and help you build a strong defense. Contact us today at (412) 281-2146 for a free and confidential consultation.

Crime Numbers at a Glance

In 2016, Pittsburgh experienced a total of 180 shootings, both fatal and non-fatal. However, in 2017 that figure fell to 140, marking a 26 percent decrease in just a year. In fact, the year 2017 shows an eight percent decline in the past five years and a 12-year low for the city.

The figures for this year are looking even better. By March 2017, the city had recorded 31 non-fatal shootings, while this year the number has only reached 14.

What is The GVI?

While the police force has been praised for their efforts to keep violent crimes down, they aren’t doing it alone. The Group Violence Intervention (GVI) has offered their services as well. The GVI aims efforts on reforming violent offenders, gang members, and anyone else who they believe deserves a second chance.

The GVI was first introduced in 2010, but they were quickly disbanded – despite their best efforts, they were unable to work well with officers to make a positive impact on violent criminal activity. But, the group was revived in 2015 and given full support by police.

GVI uses the term “group” instead of “gang” to allow influential gang leaders to see the police as an ally rather than the enemy. Headed by prison minister Cornell Jones, the organization focuses on the most violent group members to reduce gun violence and homicides by street groups. Jones refers to it as a “carrot and stick” endeavor – on the one hand, they want group members to know they support them and care about their future. But on the other hand, group members who are not interested in turning their lives around need to know that the city does not plan to tolerate violence.

Have You Been Charged With a Violent Crime in Pittsburgh?

If you are facing violent crime charges, understand that you could suffer severe consequences. Don’t hesitate to call a violent crimes lawyer at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC right away. Not only will we immediately begin to work on your defense, but we will also ensure your rights are protected. Contact us today at (412) 281-2146 to schedule a free consultation.

Violent Crimes on the Rise in Pittsburgh

Statistics from the United States Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) show that violent crime has been increasing in Pittsburgh. Acts of violent crime can cause devastation for a community, and local law enforcement officials are very concerned about this upward trend that has a wide impact on Pittsburgh residents. While incidents of violence must be reported and fully investigated by police in order to reduce their occurrence, a heightened state of alert among law enforcement has shown to cause more arrests and false accusations against innocent parties.

Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC has years of experience handling violent crime cases in Pittsburgh courts, and we can help you clear your name if you have been falsely accused of serious criminal charges. To speak with a skilled violent crimes attorney, call our office today at (412) 281-2146.

Why Are Specific Violent Crimes Are On The Rise

Between 2015 and 2016, violent crime rose over nine percent in Pittsburgh and has seen an increase in all of the southwestern Pennsylvania counties that constitute the greater Pittsburgh area. Violent crimes include murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery. While the number of murders in Pittsburgh remained the exact same in 2016 as in 2015 with 57 deaths, the other types of violent crimes increased by the following rates:

  • Aggravated assault rose by 3.3 percent
  • Robbery rose by 16.6 percent
  • Rape rose by 22 percent

While it is clear that certain crimes – especially violent acts where people are often serious injured – are on the rise, there remains huge doubt as to why. This has resulted in extensive debate as to what must be done in order to reduce crime. Reasons for an increase in violent crime could range from conflict between criminal groups to a failure of officials to apprehend and convict serious repeat offenders.

Defending Against Violent Criminal Charges

Police and state prosecutors are under increased pressure to arrest and convict violent criminals due to the noteworthy increase in the crime rate in Pittsburgh. As criminal defense attorneys, we understand that this can sometimes result in the police jumping to conclusions, and innocent people being investigated and charged with a crime. If you have been arrested for a violent crime, you face years in prison and a felony charge on your permanent record. For this reason, it is important to seek a skilled and experienced violent crimes attorney to protect your rights and freedom.

Among the many different reasons that you could be falsely charged with a crime, some would include:

  • You were acting in self defense
  • A case of mistaken identity has caused you to be arrested
  • You did not have the required intent to commit the crime with which you are charged
  • An accuser has falsely made a claim against you

A Lawyer Can Help You If You Have Been Charged With A Serious Crime

Police have been very concerned with the rise of violent crime in the Pittsburgh area, and they are looking to crack down on offenders. While the causes behind the increase remain uncertain, some believe that an increase in gang activity or opioid consumption may be to blame. Our office understands what families go through when someone is arrested for a serious crime, and we are ready to help you protect your rights and clear your name.

If you or a loved one have been charged with a violent crime, the consequences can be very severe. The attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC know how to help you. Call our office today at (412) 281-2146, or contact us online for a free consultation.

Teen Who Urged Suicide of Boyfriend Found Guilty of Manslaughter

A Massachusetts woman who sent her distraught boyfriend a series of text messages that urged him to take his own life was recently convicted of involuntary manslaughter. The young woman, Michelle Carter, and her boyfriend Conrad Roy III were both teenagers at the time of Roy’s death. This case of a teen who urged the suicide of her boyfriend and was found guilty of manslaughter has raised legal questions as to the modern definition of manslaughter and whether words can truly kill.

It is thought that the decision by Bristol Juvenile Judge Lawrence Moniz of Massachusetts to find Carter guilty in the death of her 18-year-old boyfriend could have future consequences for similar criminal cases involving assisted suicide and the speech (via texting or other online means) of those connected to these events.

If you are currently facing a manslaughter charge, it’s important to take action to hire a skilled and experienced Pittsburgh manslaughter attorney to defend your rights and fight for the most favorable outcome in your case. Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC today at (412) 281-2146 or contact us online to request a free, no-obligation consultation.

The Case Evidence

On July 13, 2014, Conrad Roy III was found deceased in the cab of his pickup truck in a Kmart parking lot. Present at the scene was a tube from a generator that was filling the vehicle with carbon monoxide.

This unique case involved over 1,000 text and Facebook messages sent between Michelle Carter and her boyfriend Conrad Roy, in addition to other messages Carter sent to her friends after Roy’s death in which she revealed her communications with him leading up to the suicide.

Carter, who was 17 years old at the time of the incident, later indicated to friends that she was on the phone with Roy up until the very moment he passed out from the carbon monoxide fumes. When Roy expressed reservations about staying in the vehicle and climbed out of the cab, she told him to go back in.

In his ruling on the case, Judge Moniz stated that Carter’s instructions to Roy to go back inside the truck amounted to “wanton and reckless conduct by Ms. Carter, creating a situation where there is a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm would result to Mr. Roy.”

Even though Roy himself carried out all of the actions that led to his death, such as researching how to perform the act, obtaining the generator, and rigging it to the vehicle, he clearly expressed doubts and second thoughts about what he was doing. This had also happened in the past when he would call a parent or friend at the last moment before carrying out a previous suicide attempt.

Carter’s advice to her friend was considerable regarding his threats and intention to commit suicide. In the text messages that led up to his death, she seemingly belittled him for not making good on his past threats to commit suicide. She encouraged him to follow through and sought from him a promise that he would do so. In addition, she sent him information about different methods of suicide, including jumping off a building and hanging himself. Another point of advice she gave was that Roy should perform the act away from his home so that no one would prevent him from following through.


At the time of the trial, the decision was made by Michelle Carter (now 20 years old) along with her lawyer that she would waive her right to a jury trial. The reasoning provided by her lawyer was that a judge would follow the law more closely in determining her legal liability in the matter.

As it turns out, the judge did find her legally responsible for Roy’s death of the level of a manslaughter conviction.

Sentencing, in this case, is scheduled for August 3. The maximum prison sentence faced by Carter is 20 years. However, it is somewhat unlikely that such a lengthy sentence would be imposed. The judge has allowed Carter to continue free on bail until the date of her sentencing.

Possible Impact on Future Cases

Prosecutors have not been successful in the past at obtaining convictions against individuals who allegedly bullied others into committing suicide. In this case, the decision to convict Carter was handed down by a juvenile court judge. As such, it may not establish a legal precedent for future cases.

However, some legal scholars believe it could have a significant effect on how courts deal with suicide cases of this nature in the future. As well, prosecutors may have more confidence bringing similar cases like this to trial in the future if, in fact, the conviction, in this case, is not eventually overturned on appeal.

Contact a Skilled Pittsburgh Criminal Manslaughter Attorney

Regardless of the nature of your manslaughter charge, it is important for you to get the legal representation you need from an experienced and skilled attorney who knows how to intelligently and vigorously defend you. Our experienced team at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC can provide a strong defense on your behalf.

Contact us today at (412) 281-2146 to request a free case evaluation.

Violence in the City of Pittsburgh

Until very recently, violent crime rates in America had been steadily falling since their peak in the early 1990s. When the FBI released its Uniform Crime Report in early 2017, it revealed an increase in violent crime in many of the country’s major cities over the past two years. As is the case with any big city in America, violence in Pittsburgh is still a real threat.

If you or a loved one have been charged with a violent crime, the stakes could not be higher. At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, our Pittsburgh violent crime lawyers can answer any questions you may have, explain your legal options, and build a defense strategy that is designed to help you obtain the best outcome possible in your case. Call us today at (412) 281-2146.

What Is a Violent Crime?

In Pennsylvania, a violent crime occurred once every 13 minutes in 2015. Violent crimes are committed against persons rather than property and typically involve the threat or use of physical force. Examples include, but are not limited to:

These and other violent crimes are serious offenses and carry some of the harshest punishments under Pennsylvania law. If you are accused of committing a violent crime that resulted in serious bodily injury to another or were in possession of a firearm during the commission of such an offense, you could be facing a mandatory minimum sentence if convicted.

Statistics for Violence in the City of Pittsburgh

Nationally, the number of violent crimes has increased over the last few years, but they have actually been down in Pittsburgh. According to data submitted by local police departments to the FBI, there were 2,455 violent crimes reported in 2014 and 2,252 in 2015.

While crimes such as aggravated assault, robbery, and rape are far more common than homicide, Pittsburgh had a murder rate above the national average in 2014. There were 29 homicides in the first six months of 2016, which is 45 percent higher than over that same time period in 2015.

A report issued by the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police reviewed trends in violence between 2010 and 2015 (January through June). For purposes of the report, violence means homicides, shootings, aggravated assaults with a gun, and calls for shots fired. Over that time period there were, on average:

  • 22 homicides per year
  • 80 shootings per year
  • 108 aggravated assaults with a gun
  • 1,330 calls to police for shots fired

How an Experienced Pittsburgh Violent Crimes Attorney Can Help

Being convicted of a violent crime can result in life-changing consequences. If you have been accused of committing a violent crime, it is critical that you consult with a Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney right away. Working with an attorney who has a successful track record of defending clients against violent crime charges can make all the difference in the outcome of your case.

The Pittsburgh violent crime lawyers at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC can evaluate the evidence in your case to help you determine the best course of action, vigorously defend your rights, and do everything possible to achieve a favorable resolution. Our attorneys have over 15 years of combined experience and are ready to assist you today.

Contact us today at (412) 281-2146 for a free consultation.

Strangulation Now a Standalone Offense

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Pennsylvania legislatures proved that they are not only aware of the problem, but they are trying to protect victims from further abuse. On October 26, 2016, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law an act that makes strangulation its own crime. Originally introduced as House Bill 1581, the new law makes strangulation a misdemeanor offense unless additional circumstances are present, such as if the victim is a relative, spouse or romantic partner. In a domestic violence situation, prosecutors can charge strangulation as a first or second-degree felony.

If you are facing charges for strangulation or domestic violence, contact an experienced Pittsburgh assault lawyer at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC at (412) 281-2146 to learn about this new law and how you can best defend yourself in court. False accusations of domestic violence are incredibly damaging to your reputation in the community and at work. They can also weaken your relationship with your family and children. Now with this new law, you could face additional charges and potential penalties based on false allegations or rumors.

More on HB 1581

The act amends Title 18, Pennsylvania’s crimes and offenses, and creates Section 2718, which defines strangulation as an independent crime. You can now be charged with strangulation without being charged with any other offense. However, you can also be charged with strangulation in addition to other crimes such as assault or domestic violence. Under the new law, strangulations is defined as any individual knowingly or intentionally impeding the breathing or circulation of blood of another person by:

  • Applying pressure to the neck or throat, or
  • Blocking the nose and mouth of the person.

Limited Defenses to the Crime

The law specifically states that the offense does not require the victim to suffer a physical injury. The victim does not have to have bruises or any physical signs that the strangulation occurred. This was a key component of the law. Advocates for domestic abuse victims find strangulation and choking are often overlooked or cannot lead to criminal charges because they occur without leaving any marks.

“…Choking a victim is a red flag for extreme violence,” stated Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan. “However, such cases historically were difficult to prosecute because the conduct often does not leave visible injuries, despite both the life-threatening result and the psychological harm inflicted on the victim. This legislation closes that loophole,” The Mercury News reported.

If you have been falsely accused of strangulation, you will not be able to use a lack of physical evidence as a defense. You need a skilled Pittsburgh assault lawyer to build you a strong defense that does not rely on this stance.

Penalties for Strangulation

A violation of Section 2718 can result in a second-degree misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to 2 years in prison. However, strangulation will be charged as a second-degree felony if it is committed:

  • Against a family or household member,
  • By a caretaker and against a defendant individual, or
  • In conjunction with sexual violence, related to stalking, or related to human trafficking.

A second-degree felony can result in up to 10 years of imprisonment. Additionally, prosecutors can charge strangulation as a first degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, if:

  • At the time of the incident, the offender was subject to an active protection from abuse order or a sexual violence or intimidation protection order,
  • The offender used an instrument of crime, or
  • The offender has previously been convicted of a felony offense under this law or a substantially similar offense in another jurisdiction.

In addition to imprisonment, you will have a permanent criminal record have to pay hefty fines. Once you complete your sentence, you may be required to live within the confines of probation. Both the terms of your probation and the presence of a criminal record on a background check can make it difficult to go to school, obtain a professional license, get a good job, rent affordable housing, or even obtain loans.

Battling Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania

The purpose behind the new law is to provide prosecutors with another way to protect domestic abuse victims and to bring perpetrators of domestic violence to court. Studies and domestic violence organizations have found choking or strangulation is a common violent act in domestic abuse situations and is often a precursor to domestic violence homicide. Pennsylvania legislators hope that offenders can be caught and prosecuted instead of being allowed to continue or escalate a violent situation.

Defending Against This New Offense

If you have been charged with strangulation, assault or an act of domestic violence, contact Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC today at (412) 281-2146. Whether the charges arose from false claims or due to a misunderstanding, we are ready to take on your case and develop the strongest defense possible under the law. We understand how difficult this situation is for you and your family, which is why we offer compassionate yet aggressive legal representation. We will always fight for the best possible outcome for you.

Drive-By Shootings

Drive-by shootings are a common scenario often associated with gang violence in Pittsburgh. It might seem like legislators would have written some kind of law that addresses this type of shooting. However, despite the prevalence of drive-by shootings, there is no specific “drive-by shooting” offense in Pennsylvania law.

Instead, a prosecutor can charge you with one or more of the several offenses that apply to the act of shooting a weapon at others from a vehicle. Under some circumstances, a conviction could mean that you end up spending the rest of your life in jail. Even if you get away with a lenient prison sentence, you would have serious charges on your permanent criminal record that can make you ineligible for some if not most jobs.

If you’ve been accused of committing a drive-by shooting, the best thing you can do is to call a firm of experienced Pittsburgh weapons lawyers who can work to get your charge reduced or dismissed. Until then, do not talk to the police or the prosecutors. It can only hurt your case.

At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, we are passionate about helping our clients get the best outcome possible when confronting the criminal justice system. With our experience defending all kinds of criminal cases, we know how the case against you will be built — and how it can be defeated.

Carrying a Firearm in an Automobile

In most cases, if you’re suspected of committing a drive-by shooting you may be charged with unlawfully carrying a firearm in a vehicle. Pennsylvania Statutes Title 18, Chapter 16, §1606 provides that anyone who carries a firearm in a vehicle without a proper license may be guilty of a third-degree felony. This can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.

The offense is a first-degree misdemeanor if you were otherwise eligible for a license, and you didn’t commit any criminal violations while carrying the firearm. The penalty for a first-degree misdemeanor is up to 5 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Assault With a Deadly Weapon

Another charge you may face for a non-fatal drive-by shooting is aggravated assault. Pennsylvania Statutes Title 18, Chapter 27, §2702 provides that a person commits aggravated assault when he or she:

  • Knowingly and intentionally causes or attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another, or causes such injury intentionally
  • Intentionally or knowingly attempts to cause or causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon

Aggravated assault is a first-degree felony in Pennsylvania punishable by up to 20 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.

If the bullets reach an occupied building, Pennsylvania Statutes Title 18, Chapter 27, §2707.1 comes into play. This statute states that a person who knowingly, intentionally or recklessly discharges a firearm from any location into an occupied structure may be guilty of a third-degree felony, which can result in up to 7 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.

Murder and Manslaughter

When the shooting is fatal, the charges become much more serious and you may face a murder or manslaughter allegation. Whether you’re charged with murder or manslaughter comes down to whether the prosecutor can prove premeditation and intent to kill.

When you are believed to have had a premeditated intent to kill, Pennsylvania Statutes Title 18, Chapter 25, §2502 defines three grades of murder:

  • First-Degree Murder — when the suspect commits an intentional killing
  • Second-Degree Murder — when defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony
  • Third-Degree Murder — for all other kinds of murder

First-degree and second-degree murder are non-categorized felonies, which means that the judge can order a sentence of any number of years — or even the death penalty. Third-degree murder is a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.

In cases where the prosecutor does not have evidence of your premeditated intent to kill, you may be charged with voluntary manslaughter under Pennsylvania Statutes Title 18, Chapter 25, §2503. The statute provides that a person who kills an individual without lawful justification commits voluntary manslaughter if at the time of the killing he or she was acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation by:

  • The individual killed; or
  • Another whom the suspect tries to kill, but negligently or accidentally causes the death of another person

Voluntary manslaughter is a first-degree felony carrying a penalty of 20 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.

Finally, a prosecutor may charge you with involuntary manslaughter where there is no evidence of the suspect’s intent to kill. Pennsylvania Statutes Title 18, Chapter 25, §2504 states that a person is guilty of involuntary manslaughter when as a direct result of acting in a reckless or grossly negligent manner he or she causes the death of another person.

Involuntary manslaughter is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and no more than $10,000 in fines.

How Pittsburgh Weapons Lawyers Can Helps

If you’ve been charged with any of the crimes described above, you could face severe penalties — including up to life in prison or the death penalty. Your team of Pittsburgh weapons lawyers can help you by using some of the strategies below:

  • Having the evidence against you thrown out because it was obtained illegally or without a proper warrant
  • Objecting to crucial evidence of the prosecution’s case based on the rules of evidence and procedure
  • Showing that your arrest and subsequent detention and interrogation were unconstitutional
  • Proving that you did not commit the actions of which you are accused
  • Claiming that you did not act with criminal intent
  • Advocating for a lenient sentence by highlighting mitigating factors for the judge at the sentencing hearing

If you want to learn more about how we can help, you can call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC today at (412) 281-2146 for a free and confidential consultation regarding your case.

Self Defense and Violent Crimes Charges

You always have the right to defend yourself from harm. This is a universally acknowledged principle. Sometimes defending yourself requires hurting another, using violence, or performing an action that would otherwise be considered a crime. That’s why people are often shocked to find that they have been charged with a crime after only trying to defend themselves.

This happens for a number of reasons. Many times the attacker will claim that you instigated the violence. Sometimes, someone who was trying to hurt you and your family may even be seriously injured or even killed. When this happens, police have to investigate. Despite this, though, you should not have to suffer the legal consequences of actions that were genuinely self-defense. A Pittsburgh violent crimes attorney can help you distinguish between self defense and a violent crime.

What Is Considered Self-Defense?

So what is really considered legally justified self-defense? Under U.S. law, self-defense is generally considered to be the right to prevent yourself or someone else from suffering force or violence through the use of a sufficient level of counteracting force or violence. This may seem simple enough, but there are a few factors that play into this definition.

First, you must only use “sufficient force.” This means that you are supposed to only use enough force to prevent an attack, but not to be unnecessarily violent. That means that you have to stop a violent defense if the other person retreats or is no longer a threat. For example, if the assailant passes out and then you continue to beat them, your actions change from self-defense to retaliatory assault, even if they started it.

Also, actions of self-defense are only justified under an immediate threat that is reasonable. That means a preemptive strike is only ok if you reasonably believe that you are being attacked. Simply yelling isn’t enough to warrant an escalation, either, unless they have said that they will kill you or otherwise act violently.

Because of the vagueness of these factors, usually, it is up to the jury to decide whether or not an action is really self-defense or not. When you are accused of a violent crime committed in self-defense, it is important that you build an effective defense demonstrating why you acted the way that you did and that it was fully justified. Often, an experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer can help ensure that your case is presented fairly and that your side of the story is heard.

If you are accused of a violent crime in Pittsburgh that was an act of self-defense, let the dedicated Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyers at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC help you fight the charges. Call them at (412) 281-2146 today for a free consultation on your case. Learn how we may be able to help you show the justification of your actions and help get you free.

Does TV Make Us Perceive More Crime?

It seems like every season there is a new crime-solving show on television. With so much fictionalized violence on TV and even more crime reported in the news, it is not difficult to imagine that the depiction of violence may affect our own perceptions of crime. A new study done by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania sought to find out just how much our viewing habits affect our perceptions of crime.

The study was testing the idea of “cultivation theory,” that is the idea that prolonged exposure to a reality on TV that differs from the true reality of our real lives may impact what we believe about the true reality we live in. Specifically, many researchers worry that by viewing so much crime on TV that we would overestimate the amount of crime occurring in the country. The results of the study, however, supported many other studies that showed that on average, watching fictional crime shows does not cause people to overstate the chances of becoming a victim of a crime; however, the study revealed that there is some truth to cultivation theory. Even when people do not believe that crime is more prevalent than it is in reality, there is a correlation between exposure to crime dramas and fear of crime.

Just because we know it isn’t real, doesn’t mean it does not scare us

Although we may understand logically that these crime dramas are not real, we do feel a connection with the victims and characters on the show, causing us to internalize some of the fear of that crime. These crime dramas play on our emotions in order to create more compelling and exciting television. This can mean that on some level we are stimulating the part of our brains that react to crime with fear. By continually exposing ourselves to these crimes that scare us, the fear increases, even if we know on a conscious level that the crimes are not real.

Over the past 40 years, the fear people have of crime and the amount of crime on television has increased in tandem, despite actual crime crates consistently dropping during that time. People have become more and more afraid of becoming victims of crimes and have enacted more precautions against crimes as the fears internalize. The study noted that perhaps the prevalence of female victims on TV may be a part of the reason that women have a greater fear of murder, despite the fact than men are the more frequent victims. The researchers hope that this study will open doors to do more research on the effects of television crimes on our actual lives. In the meantime, we would all do well to remind ourselves that while precautions are never harmful, we are probably safer than we feel.

What Does Pennsylvania’s Rape Shield Law Mean If You Are Charged?

In criminal cases, most testimony that could put the accuser’s testimony in doubt is allowed, but this is limited by law by relevance and factuality. In sexual assault cases, the Rape Shield Law is designed to exclude certain evidence from being elicited by the defense, specifically testimony of the victim or accuser’s sexual history.

The Rape Shield Law prohibits the alleged victim from being questioned regarding their past sexual conduct. Any testimony or evidence intended to demonstrate the promiscuity of the victim is not allowed in court it. This includes any past consensual acts with third parties or histories of partners. Even evidence of a conviction for prostitution in the victim’s past is barred from the courtroom. Pennsylvania courts have deemed it to have no probative value.

There are, however, some exceptions to this rule. Any evidence of the victim’s prior sexual contact with the defendant is admissible to put into evidence a history of consent. Furthermore, any testimony directly related to issues of consent are permitted. Finally, any evidence tangential to an alleged victim’s sexual history that would otherwise be admitted in court is also allowed by the Rape Shield Law.

What does the Rape Shield Law mean for defendants?

Sex crimes accusations are very complicated, because a lot of issues must be dealt with in a delicate way. Furthermore, a conviction for a sexual assault can seriously damage a person’s life. Defendants need to make sure to hire a criminal attorney experienced in defending cases related to sex crimes, because it takes extensive knowledge of the Rape Shield Law and other related acts in order to successfully find admissible facts and evidence that will support the defense of the client.

The Rape Shield Law does not prevent an attorney from questioning a witness’ credibility using evidence of a sexual nature provided that the questioning sticks to relevant facts and is done in a way that does not badger the witness. They also will do a thorough investigation for prior sexual conduct that would provide an alternative explanation for evidence of sexual contact with the defendant.

While rape is a horrible crime, no one deserves to be convicted of a crime they did not commit based on circumstantial evidence that could not be refuted due to Rape Shield Law provisions. If you have been accused of a sexual assault or another sex crime, contact Pittsburgh criminal lawyers Mike Worgul and Samir Sarna at (412) 281-2146 to discuss your specific case immediately. You should never speak to the police alone, and you can trust the years of experience offered by Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC.