Recently in Criminal Law Non-DUI Category
Former High Profile Client Sentenced in Delaware County to 1-2 Years in State Prison for Attempted Main Line Kidnapping. Part 1 of 2
Please note that the information contained in the following article is taken from public sources such as court documents and newspapers in order to protect client confidentiality. No confidential information was used in writing this article.
You may recall in the news last November when an elderly man from Miami, Florida named John Felder attempted to kidnap and hold for ransom a wealthy resident of Villanova at the Montgomery Scott Mansion. My office represented Mr. Felder at his preliminary hearing last year and secured his pre-trial release. He was represented by his third attorney on the case at his most recent sentencing hearing. Although I represented Mr. Felder at the start of his case, I did want to highlight how my office had Mr. Felder released on bail.
This case was covered in all the major news networks and newspapers. The case was covered in media outlets as far as Miami and San Francisco. The headlines read that Mr. Felder went to the Montgomery Scott Mansion in Villanova posing as a flower delivery man. A member of the McNeil family of McNeil Pharmaceuticals (the inventors of Tylenol) lived in this mansion. When Mr. McNeil answered the door, Mr. Felder tased him in the chest where McNeil fell on his doorstep. The plot was unsuccessful and Mr. McNeil escaped the incident and Mr. Felder left the scene. A parking ticket in front of the flower shop led police to Mr. Felder up in the Poconos where he was attending a gun show. Mr. Felder was caught by Radnor Police with a ransom note, a list of other wealthy executives, 2 stun guns, a taser, a mask, .38 caliber revolver, night vision security equipment and the list goes on. The Radnor police cited financial difficulties as the motive for the kidnapping.
As I said in previous blogs, it is possible to have charges such as simple assault, harassment or disorderly conduct dropped or reduced to a summary charge. In order to achieve this goal, the DA's office or the court may want you to attend anger management classes. Anger management is typically ordered by the court in domestic violence situations. In Delaware County, Pennsylvania there are various anger management programs that are convenient and cost-effective. The following is a summary of the programs available in Delaware County.
Rose Tree Counseling Center
1033 N. Providence road
Media, Pennsylvania 19063
Rose Tree is a private counseling center. It offers individual counseling for your court ordered "anger management" requirement. Eight individual sessions will normally meet your obligation. The cost of each session is $75.00 each. Rose Tree Counseling may accept your insurance to help offset this cost.
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.
Always Plead NOT Guilty to Pennsylvania Underage Drinking. PA Supreme Court Case Makes Portable Breath Testing Devices Inadmissible in Court!
When I worked in the District Attorney's Office in Chester County, I prosecuted several underage drinking cases and they would usually go down as follows. A cop would bust a party at a frat house or apartment. Let's say it happened in West Chester. They would always line the kids up and make them stand against a wall. The cops would then id the kids and if they were under 21 they would administer what is called a portable breath test or "PBT" for short. This test is similar to a breathalyzer used in a DUI prosecution. The test requires the subject to blow into a mouth piece. Once the subject blows, it will immediately give the officer a digital blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reading. This test works similar to a breathalyzer but it is not nearly as accurate. The test is convenient for police because it is easy to administer and it saves the officers time. Unlike a breathalyzer or blood test in a DUI prosecution, there was no necessity to bring the underage drinker back to the station to administrate the test. All of the students at the party could be tested and cited on spot.
When I was a prosecutor it was easy for police to obtain underage drinking convictions in court. All the police had to prove was that you were under 21 and that the PBT showed a positive reading. Last October of 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Case of Commonwealth v. Brigidi came out and changed everything. In this case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court states that PBT's are NOT admissible in a judicial proceeding for evidentiary purposes. This means that PBT's should not be admitted into evidence in an underage drinking case.
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.
Felony Criminal Trespass Charges and Corruption of a Minor Charges Reduced in Darby, Pennsylvania District Court
I wanted to write about this case I had a few weeks back wherein my client was a young kid approximately 19 years old. He was watching his 9 year old cousin with a few of his friends. My client and his friends decided to go into an abandon building and his 9 year old cousin, along with a friend, decided to go into the building as well. Both minors followed my client to the abandoned building's basement and were messing around. Apparently this house is quite popular for kids to go in, steal stuff and mess around. To make a long story short, the 9 year old friend of my client's 9 year old cousin told his mother who in turn called the Police. She flipped her lid and even accused my client of molesting her son. These accusations are false because the child said my client did not molest him. Nonetheless, the police charged my client with felony trespass and corrupting the morals of a minor.
In every case, my goal is to have the charges either dropped completely or reduced down to what is fair. Really the only thing my client was guilty of was simple trespass, which is a summary offense that carries a fine. In order to get this disposition to preliminary hearing it is important to be reasonable with the prosecutors and have a good working relationship with them. I always treat police and prosecutors with respect and establish that relationship. You see these people day in and day out and sometimes it pays to be nice. Everyone thinks the role of a defense attorney is to be nasty all the time and I always tell my clients, I am like Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse when he said something to the effect to his fellow bouncers, "I want you to be nice until its time not to be nice." That is the same thing I tell my clients, "I am nice until it is time not to be nice"; until it is time to get nasty. Like in this case I had a good working relationship with the prosecutor and was easily able to drop this down to a summary trespass. My client had to pay a $200.00 fine plus court costs. The corrupting of morals of a minor was dropped and the felony trespass was dropped immediately.
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.
Reported by: Christiana Martin, Drexel University College of Law
Legal Intern for Jason R. Antoine, Attorney at Law PLLC, Pennsylvania Drug Charge Lawyer
I arrived at Marple Township District Court shadowing Jason for the first time. His client was on probation in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and faced new charges of possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and public drunkenness. Typically, if a probationer is found guilty of new charges, he or she will be violated by the adult probation department and incarcerated. However, if the attorney can have your case plead down to a summary offense, typically, the probation department will not violate. Pleading this case down to a summary seemed like a monumental task at the beginning. The client had a rap sheet of drug offenses a mile long. He was on probation for drugs and got caught passed out in his front yard with PCP laced cigarettes in his pocket. The client could have faced jail time for violating the terms of his probation -- particularly with lab tests in evidence that showed that the client possessed a controlled substance at the time he was arrested by a Marple Township police officer. It seemed the chances of reducing the sentencing grade were slim, and the client's record and conduct seemed to point towards an unfavorable outcome, but drawing from his experience defending clients for years in Delaware County courts, Jason Antoine negotiated with the Delaware County District Attorney's Office to make an amazing deal that kept his client out of jail. He had all of the drug charges dropped and the defendant plead guilty to two summary offenses: Disorderly Conduct and Public Drunkenness. All the defendant had to do was pay a fine and he didn't have to go to jail. How did Mr. Antoine get this deal? Answer = oral hygiene. No one expected the client's oral hygiene to come up in these discussions. Yet, a letter from the client's dentist saying he was a nice guy was among the materials introduced into evidence, prompting the District Attorney to jokingly ask if the defendant had good teeth. Though Mr. Antoine could not speak to the dental health of his client, he used the letter attesting to the client's great disposition.
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.
Pennsylvania is unique to other states because a preliminary hearing is required to take place in every felony or misdemeanor case. In other states the grand jury system is utilized more frequently.
At the preliminary hearing, many cases get continued or rescheduled. This results in innefficieny in our criminal system. I believe some Pennsylvania District Courts are very slow at moving cases. There are many legitimate reasons for continuances. Continuances may be granted for various reasons but the following are the most common reasons I see attorneys and defendants continue the preliminary hearing: the defendant needs to hire an attorney, the attorney is busy in another court or in DUI and drug cases the police are waiting for lab reports. However, in my practice I have noticed an ongoing problem of "no shows" by police officers in the high crime areas such as Coatesville in Chester County and the City of Chester in Delaware County. In other districts, "officer no shows" are typically legitimate. For instance, the officer may be on vacation or in training or on the street making an arrest. I belive these are legitimate reasons for the judge to grant a continuance. However, in the high crime areas, officers chronically fail to appear sometimes for unknown reasons. Nonetheless, the judges will still continue the case and give the officer a chance to appear.
There has been a lot of talk in the media regarding the inability of the Philadelphia court system to handle its caseload. After appearing in the Philadelphia court system for several criminal cases it is apparent to me why the system is failing. The Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas uses a horizontal model in hearing criminal cases. In the horizontal system the case is assigned to a different judge for each step in the criminal process. For example, the case will initially be given a status date with an initial judge. At this date the Assistant District Attorney will give the defense attorney discovery and a plea offer. The defense attorney and the defendant will then decide to take the plea bargain or proceed to trial. Typically, in serious cases that proceed to trial, the defense attorney will file a pre-trial motion. Once the defense attorney files this motion the case will then be kicked out to another judge to hear the pre-trial motion. Once this motion is heard the case will be kicked back to the status judge to schedule for trial date. If the defense attorney has any motions in limine or other pre-trial motions it will be kicked out to another judge before trial. Once the other pre-trial motions are heard it will again be kicked back to a status judge, which could be an entirely different judge. Then, the case will be kicked out to another judge for a jury trial.
Do you see the problem with this system? Do you see the inefficiency? There are way too many status dates that are a waste of time. Additionally, it compounds the problem when the Assistant District Attorney and defense attorney have to explain the case all over again to a different judge each time. This also increases the possibility of the judges making mistakes when they have to address a case they are not familiar with. I have made 6 or 7 trips to Philly on one particular case that should have taken 2-3 trips to the courthouse max.