Author Archives: Tom Beveridge, Esq.

Philadelphia City Council Moves to Decriminalize Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana !!!

By Tom Beveridge.

Apparently, Philadelphia City Council decided that the Commonwealth is moving too slow on the issue of decriminalization of marijuana.    City Council recently approved a bill – by 13 to 3 vote (split directly between Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed) – which was introduced by Councilman Jim Kenney earlier this year.   The new ordinance provides that individuals who are caught with 30 grams (up to an ounce) of marijuana will no longer be arrested, but rather simply fined $25.00.   Once paid, this entire situation could be erased from the individual’s criminal record.   Of course, it’s logical you will lose your weed too.

The timing of the passage of this new ordinance (#140377) is interesting.    City Council adjourned for the summer and will not reconvene till September.   However, based upon the passage of this ordinance by the majority vote, it is considered “veto-proof”, even if Mayor Nutter decides not to sign the ordinance.   The new ordinance will not take effect for at least 90 days.   In the meantime, Councilman Kenney has asked Mayor Nutter to issue an executive order directing the police to follow the new ordinance effective immediately.

Based upon the statistics, this new ordinance will save the City millions of dollars.   Currently, the City considers the offense as a mandatory arrest situation.    The ordinance does not require that the police to simply fine each individual.   Rather, the language simply provides police officers with more discretion regarding how they will charge an individual.   Remember, under Pennsylvania law, possession of this amount of marijuana (under 30 grams or an ounce) is still a misdemeanor offense, punishable by 30 days in jail and a $500 fine – not to mention time on parole and/or probation, court costs, etc.  If you have a gram over that (ie. 31 grams), you could be facing a misdemeanor punishable by up to a YEAR in prison and a $5,000 fine.   The police can also attach charges such as intent to distribute, likewise a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.   Also, possession of paraphernalia – (pipe, bat, bong, even the old school roach clips!) is still also a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine in addition to costs, parole/probation, etc.  Let me assure you, these potential charges are not all you could face under the current Commonwealth laws.

For a good summary of the new ordinance, see TJ Baker’s article on The Daily Chronic http://www.thedailychronic.net/2014/33707/philadelphia-city-council-votes-to-decriminalize-marijuana-possession/

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Pulled Over??? PAY ATTENTION !!! Pennsylvania Police DO NOT Need a Warrant to Search Your Vehicle !!!!

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By Tom Beveridge …..  The Pa Supreme Court has ruled that cops DO NOT need a warrant to search your vehicle during a traffic stop if they have “reasonable” probable cause!!!!   What does this mean?????

In the case of Commonwealth v. Gery, decided on April 29, 2014, Philly police pulled over a SUV because they believed the tint of the windows exceeded the permissible tint level for PA. They noticed the smell of weed coming from the vehicle and asked if there was anything in the vehicle which they “need to know about”. The driver says some weed, and the cops got a dog, searched the vehicle and found 2 pounds of marijuana under the hood.

Justice McCaffery wrote in his exceptionally long opinion:

“We adopt the federal automobile exception to the warrant requirement, which allows police officers to search a motor vehicle when there is probable cause to do so and does not require any exigency beyond the inherent mobility of a motor vehicle…..The consistent and firm requirement for probable cause is a strong and sufficient safeguard against illegal searches of motor vehicles, whose inherent mobility and the endless factual circumstances that such mobility engenders constitute a per se exigency allowing police officers to make the determination of probable cause in the first instance in the field.”

In English, this means that, if you are pulled over by a cop and he “reasonably” believes that enough facts “exist” to prove that you are committing a crime (ie. smells weed in your car, etc.), he or she now has the right to search your vehicle WITHOUT getting a warrant to do so.   This means that, cops can search your car before going to a judge to request issuance of a legal warrant because those officers simply believe you committed a crime in some fashion.   Tell me, doesn’t that raise the hair on the back of your neck?

I have had the distinct pleasure of being involved in a day-long vehicle search by some local police in my younger years when warrants were required.   My friend was driving with a blown headlight and was rightfully stopped.   After securing the warrant based upon the “reasonable” belief of the officer that we robbed a store, not to mention after several officers nearly stripped the car, nothing was found.   22 hours and a blown weekend later AND after intense questioning regarding issues we knew nothing about, my friend and I were released.   Ultimately, my friend received an apology letter indicating his vehicle was mistaken for the actual vehicle in question because the officer typed in some “incorrect information”.  But what if they DID find something?  A joint or a bowl?  What would have happened?  Would that search been “justified” even though the suspicion was based on a robbery?  Under this ruling, at least, you won’t have to wait for a judge to sign a warrant for the police to search your vehicle.

In my opinion, it opens the door to way too much potential abuse of power.  Imagine you get pulled over for a speeding violation and are smoking a clove cigarette, does that open the door to “reasonable” probable cause?   Or if you tell the officer you want your attorney present before a search occurs, what then?   Say an officer drives by your home and you are smoking a hooka (tobacco filled, of course), can he search your house?   Or if you have an unregistered ATV, does that open your camp up to a legal search?

Believe me, this ruling is VERY significant and will effect your privacy rights.    I strongly expect we will see a huge influx of civil rights violations as a result of unjustified searches.    Just be aware, you should always have your attorney present during any type of questioning – especially if your vehicle is being searched.   Tell the officer you are calling your attorney before you answer any questions or consent to any searches of your vehicle.   If you are subjected to a search and denied the right to call your attorney and have him or her present, immediately call our emergency line.   While I strongly believe the majority of our police officers will never abuse this new ruling, some will.   Be careful.   Call us if you need us.  610-845-3803.

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Pennsylvania’s Marijuana Legislation – How Many Bills Are Now Up in Smoke?

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By Tom Beveridge.         Recently, I found that nothing raises the hackles of Pennsylvanians like the discussion about the legalization of marijuana in the Commonwealth – be it for personal use or medical purposes.  Over the past two years, legislators in both the House and Senate introduced bills in support of each of these options.   However, like the wheels of justice, new legislation grinds slowly through committees and hearings before finally reaching the House and Senate floors for a vote by our legislators.   Even then, passage of the legislation is not a guarantee that it will become law.   Our Governor must also sign off on the bills.

Without detailing the intricacies of each of the bills related in someway to this subject, I believe the following five pieces of legislation to be of interest in this area:

Senate Bill 528 – Proposed by Senator Daylin Leach (D – Delaware and Montgomery counties) on April 3, 2013, this Bill seeks to provide for the personal use of marijuana, lawful operations of marijuana related facilities, and other regulations on the drug.   Referred to the Committee on Law and Justice on the same date, the Bill is simply collecting dust with no action anticipated.

Senate Bill 770 – Also proposed by Senator Leach on April 3, 2013, this Senate Bill provides for medical use of marijuana and seeks to repeal certain provisions of law prohibiting and penalizing the use of marijuana.   Unfortunately, like most of this type of legislation, it stalled in the Public Health and Welfare Committee with no vote in sight.

House Bill 1181 – Introduced on April 15, 2013 by Representative Mark Cohen (D – Philadelphia), this House Bill was described at the Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana and a precursor to Senate Bill 1182 described below.   Immediately referred to the Committee on Health, this Bill has rested quietly with no action in sight.

Senate Bill 1182 – Known as “The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act”, this Senate Bill was introduced on January 15, 2014 by Senator Mike Folmer (R – Dauphin, Lebanon and York counties) and immediately referred to the Committee on Law and Justice.    This is the Bill currently at the very forefront of debate in Pennsylvania.   While it remains in Committee at this point in time with no vote on the horizon, the Committee has held one public hearing in January and another is scheduled on June 10, 2014.   Since its introduction, Governor Corbett softened his stance against the drug by indicating that he would at least consider a program allowing the use of cannabis extract oil (cannabidiol) to treat children suffering from severe epilepsy.   Additionally, some Senators and Representatives are also reconsidering their positions on the legislation as more research comes to light regarding the beneficial effects of medicinal marijuana, as well as the opinions of the Commonwealth’s citizens who, apparently, overwhelmingly support medical marijuana (85% according to a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University on March 2, 2014) and are split regarding legalization of small amounts for personal use (48% for and 49% against according to the same poll).   Of all the legislation regarding marijuana use in Pennsylvania, this Bill seems to have the most momentum.  The link for the Bill can be found here:  http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billinfo/billinfo.cfm?sYear=2013&sInd=0&body=S&type=B&bn=1182.

House Bill 2137 – Introduced on March 31, 2014 by Representative Jake Wheatley (D – Allegheny County) and immediately referred to the Human Services Committee, this Bill would pose the referendum question to Pennsylvania voters in an upcoming election : Should the Pennsylvania General Assembly legalize marijuana?  Currently, this Bill sits quietly in Committee with no discussion or vote anticipated.

So where does this leave us?   Obviously, the issue of legalization – in whole or in part – should be determined by the majority vote of the citizens of Pennsylvania and not the personal opinions of those we elect to represent our interests.   If the overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians support some form of legalization, then let’s do it!  Stop wasting time and money on debates over nonsense like “gateway drug” or “zombie kids”.   This author has seen the horrendous effects of prescription medication use and abuse which far outweigh the potential damage allegedly caused by marijuana use or even abuse.   Yet, marijuana has been proven to be a beneficial alternative to pain medication and treatment of a variety of other diseases and maladies.   Stop trying to distort the real medical research here and let our citizens medicate themselves at the very least.

As to actual legalization and business aspects of weed, well, I will save that for another article.

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FINALLY !!! Pennsylvania Considers Permitting the Use of Semiautomatic Rifles to Hunt Predators!

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By Tom Beveridge.              Pennsylvania predator hunters may soon be able to use semiautomatic rifles to hunt fox, coyotes and woodchucks.  On May 1, 2014, House Bill 2230 was introduced by Representative Gregory Lucas (R-Crawford and Erie Counties) and referred to the Committee on Game and Fisheries.   The Bill – co-sponsored by sixteen other Representatives – would amend Section 2308 of Title 34 (Game and Wildlife Code) to allow hunting of fox, coyote and woodchucks with a semiautomatic rifle of a .223 caliber or less and a cartridge capacity of not more than six (6) rounds.   If and when approved, the Bill will be effective sixty (60) days thereafter.   The text of the Bill can be found here:  http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billInfo/billInfo.cfm?sYear=2013&sInd=0&body=H&type=B&bn=2230.

As an avid predator hunter, I have long awaited the day when we can finally use semiautomatic rifles in pursuit of coyotes.   Most of us have seen hunting shows such as Furtakers and Predator Nation where the hosts and hunters pursue western dogs with AR-15s or other semiautomatic rifles.   I see no reason why Pennsylvania hunters should not enjoy the same opportunities.

However, I believe there are some concerns which should also be considered.   For instance, many of us have experienced the rush of a bobcat racing into our calls while hunting coyotes.   When in season, why not allow the use of semiautomatic rifles to take that cat as well?   Also, I have had more than one raccoon waddle into a distress call.   I see no reason not to expand the option to permit hunting these animals with semiautomatic rifles.

Finally, while we are on the subject, I suggest adding an exception to Section 141.67 of Title 58 which regulates the hunting of furbearers with shot no larger than #4, to allow larger shot size for the sole purpose of hunting coyotes.   For those of you who have unloaded a 3″, 12 gauge magnum shell of #4 shot at a coyote running at 40 yards only to watch him disappear into the night, can you imagine if we could actually use the larger, Hevi-Shot “Dead Coyote!” load instead?   There might be one less deer-killer stalking about Penn’s Woods.

All in all, I commend Representative Lucas and his colleagues for opening the door to new hunting options and opportunities in the Commonwealth.   I urge all Pennsylvania sportsmen and women to support this Bill.

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Filed under Firearms Law, Hunting, Pennsylvania Firearms Law

UPDATE !! Body Art Establishment Regulation Act Passes the PA House of Representatives !

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By Tom Beveridge.      

Last year, I reviewed and outlined House Bill 1249 which seeks to regulate the tattoo and piercing industry in Pennsylvania.   See, https://blog.princelaw.com/2013/07/31/pennsylvania-legislature-seeking-to-regulate-the-tattoo-and-piercing-industry/ .   On Monday, May 5, 2014, the Bill passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming vote of 181-16.   The Bill will now move on to the Senate for consideration.

This Bill, as written, will have a substantial impact on the tattoo and piercing industry in Pennsylvania.    I urge industry professionals to contact your legislators to discuss this Bill.    The text of the bill itself can be found here:  http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billinfo/billinfo.cfm?syear=2013&sind=0&body=H&type=B&bn=1249.

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The Constitutional Right Against Self Incrimination Applies Even to the PA Game Commission

By Tom Beveridge

Jack Coble of Perry County believes in his constitutional rights.   In fact, he spent thousands of dollars to fight a citation he received from a Pennsylvania Game Commission officer – and he won!

On November 7, 2012, a Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer Steven Shaffer entered Mr. Coble’s farm to investigate a tip about “jacklighting” deer on his property.   Jacklighting is an illegal method of spotlighting and shooting deer at night.   Mr. Coble was home recuperating from serious hand injury when he was questioned by the deputy.   He denied any knowledge of such activities, but left his home to drive around his 120 acre farm followed by the deputy.   When they arrived at the barn, the deputy and Mr. Coble came upon his daughter and another man with the carcass of a deer.

As reported by the Associated Press, Deputy Shaffer testified that Mr. Coble became “irate” at this point and ordered him off of his land.   Apparently, the deputy did not leave as requested, but testified that, when things “calmed down, he [Mr. Coble] admitted to being present when the deer was shot.”   Thereafter, Deputy Shaffer apparently cited Mr. Coble with a summary charge of the fourth degree (the fine totaling $150) under section 2126(a)(6) of Title 34 of the Game and Wildlife Code.   This section states that it is unlawful for any person acting under the provisions for “destruction for agricultural protection” – an assumption apparently made by the deputy – to “refuse to answer, without evasion, upon request of any representative of the [PA Game] commission, any pertinent question pertaining to the killing or wounding of any game or wildlife killed or wounded, or the disposition of the entire carcass or any part thereof.”  Deputy Shaffer believed Mr. Coble was “being evasive” and, therefore, cited him under this section.

Mr. Coble hired Donald Zagurskie, Esquire, to defend him against this charge.   Attorney Zagurskie successfully argued that it is a violation of Mr. Coble’s Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination to cite him for not answering or evasively answering questions of the deputy.   In fact, this section of the Game Code effectively forced Mr. Coble to answer the deputy’s questions or be punished at the discretion of the officer.

In what this attorney calls a very commendable act, the Perry County Prosecutor handling the matter agreed with Attorney Zagurskie’s argument stating that it certainly had merit and did not contest Mr. Coble’s appeal.   Although the Prosecutor, believed to be Daniel Stern, Esquire, notified the Game Commission and Attorney General’s office of his decision not to contest the appeal, neither office initiated any actions to intervene in the matter or pursue the matter further.

So, what does this mean for Pennsylvania sportsmen?  While this section of the Game Code is very narrowly applied, it means that you should not be intimidated by Fish or Game Wardens who tell you that you must answer their questions or face a penalty.   It means that you have a Constitutional right against self incrimination and a right to consult an attorney.   I strongly suggest that anyone who is questioned by any such officers be very respectful to their authority, but never be intimidated or forced to answer questions.  Simply advise the officer that you wish to consult with your attorney before answering any further questions – regardless of the circumstances!   You should feel free to contact our office at any time – day or night – and use our emergency number to obtain legal advice, and, if necessary, legal representation to protect your rights.  Call us anytime, toll free, at 888-313-0416.  Not only are we devoted to protecting your Second Amendment rights, but ALL of YOUR Constitutional Rights!

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Filed under Firearms Law, Hunting, Pennsylvania Firearms Law, Uncategorized

Social Security Fraud

By Tom Beveridge.             On February 26, 2014, Carolyn W. Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, testified before Congress regarding the Social Security Administration’s efforts to investigate and stop disability fraud.  Commissioner Colvin indicated that fraud rate in the Administration’s disability programs is actually less than 1 percent; however, no amount of fraud is tolerable.  In fact, she issued this powerful warning to claimants and applicants:

“We have no tolerance for fraud, and I reiterate to those who would defraud Social Security: We will find you; we will prosecute you; we will seek the maximum punishment allowable under the law; and we will fight to restore the money you’ve stolen to the American people. “

In my practice, I am pleased to say that I have very rarely encountered actual cases of Social Security fraud.   However, I have exchanged stories with other practitioners who have been involved in such cases – most of which ended quite badly for the claimants.  Suffice it to say, fraud simply isn’t worth the risk.

Fraud occurs when an individual knowingly and intentionally makes false statements or conceals material facts in an attempt to obtain benefits.   Examples of such conduct include using false Social Security numbers, offering false information on applications, forging or falsifying Social Security documents, conspiring to present a false claim for benefits, etc.    From the initial application process and ongoing, Social Security personnel are on the lookout for fraudulent claims, statements or actions.

The penalties for Social Security fraud can be very significant.   Obviously, the SSA can reopen a claim or determination to eliminate any false information and reevaluate the claim.   Significant criminal and civil penalties also exist depending on the type of fraud involved.   For example, making false statements in an attempt to secure benefits is a misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to a $1,000.00 fine and up to 1 year in jail.   Even worse, an individual who presents a false claim under the guise that he or she is someone else who may be entitled to such benefits faces a felony punishable by a fine of up to $10,000.00 and imprisonment of up to 5 years.  42 U.S.C. §1307.  In addition to criminal penalties, an individual convicted of fraud will have to repay the SSA any amounts received.

As with any application for benefits, it is absolutely critical that a claimant provide truthful and complete information during the process.   When discovered, false information simply “red-flags” an application, and the denial of benefits is the likely end result.

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