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This case was a major victory for the Antoine firm in 2011. Donna Crowe's case was a TV movie in the making, full of drama, anger, and heartache, local news coverage on 6abc.com and even the arrest and removal of the Assistant District Attorney on this case, Mike Donahue, on unrelated charges, see my blog dated November 16, 2011.
When this firm began its representation of Ms. Crowe in early February 2010, she was incarcerated at George W. Hill Correctional Facility and held on $25,000.00 cash bail. Ms. Crowe was arrested on charges of Identity Theft, Theft by Unlawful Taking, Receiving Stolen Property by Upper Providence Police Department. She was released from prison on 10% of the $25,000 cash bail. I then started the process of filing various motions on her behalf to which the Commonwealth kept requesting continuances and delaying the case. After almost a year of continuances and motions, I was able to plead Ms. Crowe out to a Disorderly Conduct citation with a $100.00 fine.
According to the police criminal complaint filed by Upper Providence Police Department, Donna Crowe was hired as a nanny by the Aitken family to care for their younger daughter, in October of 2009. Ms. Crowe had answered an ad posted on the website, Sittercity.com by Michelle Aitken. The two met for an interview where a background check was performed and subsequently Ms. Crowe was hired. By mid-November, Ms. Aitken noticed the memory card was missed from the family camera that was kept in her daughter's stroller. Ms. Aitken questioned Ms. Crowe about the missing camera card, to which Ms. Crowe told her she "had no idea." In the next couple weeks, Ms. Aitken noticed a change in Ms. Crowe's mood. When Ms. Crowe did not show for work one day, Ms. Aitken called to ask why and received different answers to the question. It was then the Aitken's family decided to end their working relationship with Ms. Crowe.
Disorderly Conduct Citation Dismissed by Oxford District Court Judge: The Importance of the "Cooling Off Period" or the "60-90 Day Continuance" in Pennsylvania Preliminary Hearings and Summary District Court Hearings Involving Fights, Assaults, Harassment
Last week, I had a Disorderly conduct citation dismissed by Judge Farmer in Oxford District Court in Chester County. I wanted to write about the strategy used to get this citation thrown out. This same strategy can be applied to Pennsylvania Simple Assault cases at preliminary hearings. The facts are as follows*: my client, a prevalent executive at a marketing firm, was cited for Disorderly conduct stemming from an incident that occurred while he was picking up his daughter from her boyfriend's house. The short version of the story is that the boyfriend's father was drunk and shouting obscenities at my client's wife who was sitting in the car. My client approached the boyfriend's father, pushed the father, the two shouted obscenities back-and-forth and eventually got the boyfriend's father in a choke hold before being jumped by other members of the family. The boyfriend's father and my client were cited for disorderly conduct. I was prepared to take this case to trial based on the premise that my client was defending his wife. Just as you are allowed to defend yourself in a self-defense case, you are allowed to use the same force to defend 3rd parties from harm. My client stated that the boyfriend's father was pointing at his wife and "going after her." His daughter and her boyfriend told police that this was not true. The attorney representing the boyfriend's father approached me in the hallway and we decided to request a cooling off period to have the charges dismissed. I spoke to the Pennsylvania State Police Trooper and he was alright with this disposition to the case. My client was obviously happy that the charge would be dismissed. Rather than going through a trial, my client agreed to this disposition.
Section 1543(a) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code penalizes driving on a suspended driver's license. Section 1543(b) penalizes driving on a suspended license because of a DUI conviction or ARD admission. Driving on a DUI suspended license carries a mandatory jail sentence of 60 to 90 days. If you get caught driving on a DUI suspended license and you are lucky, the police will cut you a break and write you a citation for a §1543(a) which carries no mandatory jail time, but an additional license suspension of one year. Many people are ecstatic about this because they avoid the jail time. However, when the novelty wears off and they begin serving their one year license suspension, they are not as ecstatic. My advice is to always plead not guilty to these citations. The goal of a criminal lawyer in these type of cases is to have the case plead to 75 Pa.C.S. §1501 Driver's required to be licensed. My firm has had a lot of success having §1543(a) cases plead down to §1501. §1501 carries no license suspension and no points. If convicted of §1501, you will merely be required to pay a fine. Some of my clients get nervous when I tell them it is possible for the officer to amend his citation to a §1543(b) from a §1543(a) if they plead NOT guilty and request a hearing. Some clients do not want to go forward because of the risk involved. My advice is still the same: plead NOT guilty and do not worry about it. In my experience as a prosecutor and defense attorney, the police have never amended to a §1543(b) and even if they did, at that point you could probably back down and plead guilty to a §1543(a). Earlier this year I had a §1543(b) case plead down to §1501 and my client was driving on a DUI suspended license for a third offense DUI. If you use finesse with police officers, they can be very accommodating. It is important to have an attorney that is good with people and has experience dealing with police officers. I worked with police officers on both sides of the aisle: as a defense attorney and as an Assistant District Attorney. I know it pays to be polite and appreciative.
Antoine Firm has Theft Charges and Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle Charges Tossed Out by Linwood District Judge
I wanted to write about a preliminary hearing in Linwood, Pennsylvania that was held last week that is worth noting.
A lady from Camden, New Jersey dropped her 1999 Kia Sephia off at a Leonard's Body Shop in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania in March of 2010. She paid $1500 to have her car repaired. My client who was the shop owner's girlfriend, worked the front end of the business. She took the customer's cash and wrote out a receipt for the$1500. Her boyfriend owned the shop and performed all body work. After she dropped the car off months went by and no work was ever performed on the car. Subsequently, the owner was forced out of the shop and was forced to put the building up for sale. The customer could not locate her car. The police found out that the owner/boyfriend moved the car to his residential garage, never gave the car back and never contacted the customer. The shop owner basically kept the woman's car and never told her where it was. The Marcus Hook Police charged the boyfriend/owner and my client with Theft by Unlawful Taking, Theft by Deception, Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle and Disorderly Conduct.
The headlines read "Cops: She was prisoner in her own home; U.D. man charged with abusing grandmother". This man was represented by our criminal defense firm at a guilty plea proceeding that occurred last week in the Delaware County Courthouse. Although the police did not have the evidence to go forward with the false imprisonment allegations on the grandmom, Mr. Malm did plead guilty to the charge of Simple assault. The police alleged that Mr. Malm grabbed his grandmom by her arms and pushed her wheelchair into the wall of her basement apartment. The injuries documented were bruising to the arms and stomach injuries from the impact of the chair hitting the wall.
On this case, the sentencing guidelines called for a sentence in the standard range of anywhere between 6 - 14 months incarceration. Minutes before a jury was to be impaneled, Assistant District Attorney, Robert Manzi offered Mr. Malm a plea deal to time served - 23 months along with the provisions that he get a psychological/drug and alcohol evaluation and that he refrain from living at or visiting his grandmother's residence on the 200 block of Westpark lane. It was a decent deal for Mr. Malm. He was housed in Delaware County Prison on $20,000 cash bail for approximately 4 months.
Sneaking Prescription Drugs into Delaware County Prison: Case Dismissed in Glenn Mills District Court
Last week I represented a client charged with contraband, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. She decided to gamble and exercise her right to a preliminary hearing. She took the stand before the Honorable Richard Cappelli in the Delaware County Magisterial District Court. Defendants often waive their right to preliminary because the Commonwealth's burden is low. The burden on the Commonwealth at the preliminary hearing is not beyond a reasonable doubt. The Commonwealth must merely establish prima facia evidence. An easy way to understand prima facia evidence is that the Commonwealth must have some evidence on each element of the crime no matter how good the evidence is. Even if the evidence is false. This is not the legal definition but it is the way that I explain the term "prima facia" to clients. As you can imagine, this is a very low burden for the Commonwealth. The traditional thought pattern of many defense attorneys is to NEVER have your client take the stand at the prelim. No defenses are allowed and in Delaware County everything is recorded. Therefore, your client runs the possibility of incriminating themselves or saying something that will be used against them at trial. However, I have had a lot of success having client's take the stand at prelims. This year, I have had two cases dismissed this way. District judges have been receptive to defendant testimony. In this case, it paid off for my client to roll the dice. All of the drug charges were dismissed.
I recently took a second offense DUI case out of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, Union County. I was reluctant at first, because I couldn't point to Mifflinburg on the map or Union County. I knew it must be somewhere in the middle of the state. However, I wanted to help this guy out and get his charges dismissed. As the saying goes, "if you buy, I'll fly."
The case all hinged on the officers observations of my client and the field sobriety tests (link to pennduidefense.com field sobriety test page) since my client refused any chemical testing of his blood. When I arrived at the prelim., I didn't think I had a chance of getting the charges dismissed at the prelim. level. I thought "big city attorney in a small town, not a chance with the local politics." However, I was pleasantly surprised. I cross-examined the police officer and used a few helpful techniques I picked up along the way that helped me get the case dismissed.
When I read the police report (at the prelim. Known as the affidavit of probable cause) I noticed my client was charged with speeding but no other traffic offenses. I cross-examined the officer and established that my client traveled 3-4 miles without crossing the double yellow or fog line. This is significant. Most drivers cross these lines inadvertently on a day to day basis without being drunk. Heck, I cross the lines everyday when I go to work. It's pretty hard for a guy to be too intoxicated behind the wheel and drive the car as straight as an arrow.
Next, police officers usually put standard boilerplate language in every affidavit of probable cause. I've done hundreds of DUI cases in Pennsylvania and they all say just about the same thing: "I noticed an odor of alcohol emanating from the vehicle, and the suspect exhibited bloodshot glass eyes and slurred speech which are consistent with intoxication. The suspect then fumbled for his license and registration." Like clockwork the police will put these items in their report. In this particular case, the officer left a few of these things out.
Mondays are always busy at my office. Not only do we get a lot of new clients calling that
got in trouble over the weekend, Mondays are the day for pre-trial conferences in Delaware County. We are usually double and triple booked for Mondays in Delco. In addition, my secretary is usually texting me all the new clients that called over the weekend. I try to get back to everyone on my cell phone in the courtroom hallway in between cases. I have to hustle between courtrooms to get to everyone. It can be stressful at times, but it is well worth it at the end of the day when you provide a good service for your clients and make a good living at it. To me, being a criminal defense lawyer in Pennsylvania is not work. I love what I do, and will never work a day in my life as long as I am doing this.
Today, I started out in Media, District Court. I was scheduled in front of District Judge Klein at 8:30 for a delco possession of marijuana case. My client was charged with
Possession of Marijuana, and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. I called the police officer the week prior, and asked him if we could drop the case down to a Disorderly Conduct. Disorderly conduct is a summary offense and is a great disposition for a possession of marijuana/paraphernalia cases. It allows you to pay a fine and move on with your life. No probation, no community service, no more court dates, nor more nonsense - it's that simple, just pay the fine and move on. The officer explained to me that Judge Klein does not like to accept guilty pleas for Disorderly Conduct when drug charges are dropped. The judge does have the power to reject the plea agreement. After negotiating with the officer, he said his department doesn't normally do this, but he would speak with his sergeant about dropping this down to a Disorderly Conduct. I also called the DA that would be prosecuting the case, and got her on board with the D.C. plea. When I arrived in the courtroom, the place was packed with defendants, police and attorneys. Everything went smoothly. In court, the cop and the DA both agreed to the D.C. plea. Now we just had to get in with the judge. We slipped it in fast before she could even blink.
Today, my client, a 20 year old man from Darby, Pennsylvania, pled guilty to one count Possession With Intent to Deliver Cocaine before the Honorable Gregory M. Mallon in the Media courthouse. My client faced a mandatory sentence of two (2) years incarceration for this charge. He recieved an intermediate punishment sentence of three (3) months incarceration to be served on 45 consecutive weekends and 3 months of electronic home monitoring followed by 17 months probation. The original offer from the Delaware County District Attorney's Office in this case was 6-23 months incarceration. However, once my office filed a suppression motion, this opened up negotiations with the district attorney's office for a more lenient sentence.
This case arose when the Yeadon Police Department initiated a pedestrian stop on my client. My client fled police officers and entered a Darby residence. The police surrounded the home and requested consent from the owner to search the premises. The owner allegedly allowed the police to search the residence. Police found my client baracaded in the basement bathroom with 9.9 grams of cocaine, along with hundreds of baggies, $82.00 cash and two (2) cell phones.
Today, I went to District Court in Radnor, PA, Delaware County for a preliminary hearing to defend a domestic assault case at the preliminary hearing that occurred between husband and wife at the Radnor Hotel. My client had been accussed of assaulting his wife, spitting on her and pulling her hair.
This was our second court appearance. At the first listing of this case back in June, I noticed the Commonwealth did not subpeona the victim or the 3rd party witness to the alleged assault. I found this out by going to the front desk at the Radnor courthouse and speaking to court staff. Though no subpeonas were sent out, the Delaware County District Attorney's Office requested a continuance on the basis that the witness didn't show. I strongly objected to this continuance request. I argued to the Radnor judge that the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure state that continuances should only be granted for "good cause." I didn't feel that the Radnor Police forgetting to subpeona its witnesses constituted "good cause." I explained my position ot the judge. Nonetheless, the District Judge granted the Commonwealth's continuance request. I expected this. It is normal for judges to grant a continuance at the first listing of the case, especially in domestic cases. Typically, the judge's will play it safe in these situations and give the victim an opportunity to appear at court. Judges take domestic violence seriously and want to protect victims and give them the opportunity to testify against defendants.