The death penalty in Pennsylvania still exists, but no one has been executed in nearly 24 years.
In an announcement at Mosaic Community Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro called on the PA General Assembly to abolish the death penalty. He added he would not issue any execution warrants, extending the moratorium on the death penalty by his predecessor.
Governor Shapiro reiterated that the death penalty, as it currently stands in Pennsylvania, is only issued in guilty cases of first-degree murder, where there are also aggravating factors at the time of the crime. And even then, if someone is issued the death penalty, there are many appeals that can take years to process, all at the expense of taxpayers.
In the United States, 37 states have either abolished the death penalty completely or have not carried out executions in the last ten years. In 2022, there were fewer than 30 executions nationwide and fewer than 50 new death sentences, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
There is still a death penalty in Pennsylvania, but no one has been executed since 1999. That was nearly 24 years ago when Gary Heidnik was executed by lethal injection.
Attorney Shapiro mentioned the heinous killings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill (Pittsburgh, PA) and how the people he spoke with at the synagogue did not wish for the murderer to be sentenced to death, but rather pay the price by a lifelong prison sentence. “I listened to the members of the Tree of Life community and was blown away by their courage and their fortitude,” said Shapiro.
This definition expands the meaning to include that being in the driver’s seat of a running vehicle while intoxicated is reasonable cause for police to request chemical testing.
All judges of the appellate court heard the case and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court panel ruled against Thomas Bold, despite his vehicle being stationary at the time of the arrest and with no indication Bold had been driving the vehicle.
Officer Gelnett testified that he was on patrol at the Capital City Mall on January 25, 2020, at 6:14 p.m., when he was dispatched to check on “a vehicle in the parking lot that was running with a gentleman passed out behind the wheel.”
He located the vehicle, which was unlocked and running, with the headlights on. He opened the driver’s side door and shut off the engine. Officer Gelnett then woke Licensee, who was in the driver’s seat, smelled of alcohol, and appeared “obviously intoxicated.”
Officer Gelnett stated that the vehicle “was legally parked in a parking space” near the mall’s liquor store and a Primanti Brothers bar and restaurant. Licensee told Officer Gelnett that he had been in Primanti Brothers watching a game, “and [that] he just [went] out to his truck and was sleeping in his truck [until] he thought he was able to drive home.”
Licensee refused to submit to a preliminary breath test and insisted that he was not driving. Officer Gelnett responded that Licensee was sitting behind the wheel of a running vehicle and, thus, was in actual physical control of the vehicle.
Do you have a question concerning a DUI case? Call our team of Pittsburgh DUI lawyers for a free consultation.
Call Ketchel Law at 412-456-1221. We take your case seriously and are committed to providing quality legal advice.
Information and What You Should Know if You Are Stopped at a DUI Checkpoint
The holidays are here again – time for people to get together, celebrate, and drink their care away! It’s the time for merriment, although holidays can also be stressful.
One added stressor is that festivities could turn into a nightmare if you are pulled over for DUI, or worse, in an accident with a drunk driver. There are few greater buzz kills than a DUI arrest or car accident with injuries.
Most people don’t have to worry if they do not plan to drink and drive. But even a couple of beers can be the cause of a DUI charge, especially if you happen to pass through a DUI checkpoint while coming back from the company holiday party, restaurant, or a family gathering.
A DUI checkpoint is a roadblock that allows police to systematically pull over cars to deter driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
DUI checkpoints are perfectly legal and constitutional in Pennsylvania and if a person is charged with DUI from being pulled over at a DUI checkpoint, it can be very difficult (although not impossible) to prove innocence or fight the charges.
Where are DUI Checkpoints in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County?
In order for a DUI Checkpoint to be constitutional in Pennsylvania, the police are required by law to give adequate warning of a checkpoint. This could mean putting up signs and advertising in the media or newspaper.
Once the location has been advertised, the police cannot move the location without again giving the public notice.
A few common places for a DUI checkpoint in Allegheny County include: near the South Side or the Strip District, off the exit for the Sewickley bridge, or near Etna on Route 8.
There are also mapping apps, like Waze and Relaid, where users can pin DUI checkpoints and label them, so you can also see possible roadblocks and DUI checkpoints, as well as traffic updates.
Can I Turn Around if I See a DUI Checkpoint Ahead?
If you see signs for a DUI ahead, you do have the option to turn off to another street before you reach it and take a different route. Purposely avoiding a DUI checkpoint is not a reason to pull you over. However, making a U-turn in the middle of the street could be a traffic violation, so be wary.
What Typically Happens at a DUI Checkpoint?
Unlike being pulled over on suspicion of DUI – like swerving, speeding, or recklessness – the police do not need reasonable suspicion to pull someone over at a DUI checkpoint.
That said, they do not pull over cars at random either – they have strict guidelines to follow, such as stopping every fifth vehicle. These rules are decided upon ahead of time and cannot be changed during the course of the checkpoint. This is to enforce that they cannot stop on a whim by race, religion, sex, vehicle type, or if they simply don’t like the way someone looks.
Of the vehicles they do pull over, they are free to question the drivers or ask them to take a sobriety test as they enter through the roadblock.
The stops are supposed to be minimal and non-invasive. The police do not have a right to a physical search without probable cause.
They may start by asking simple questions such as where you were tonight, where you are headed now and if you had anything to drink. Any of your answers could be used in court as probable cause.
Law enforcement officers look for common behavioral signs of impairment at a DUI Checkpoint, such as:
The smell of alcohol;
A rosy-colored or flushed face;
Eyes that may be bloodshot, watery, or too relaxed;
Aggressive or defensive behavior;
Fatigue or slowness;
Dilated pupils, and;
If after noticing any of these types of behaviors, the police believe you may be under the influence, they could ask you to perform a field sobriety test or request a breathalyzer.
You are not required by law to comply with the field sobriety test or the breathalyzer that an officer may have on hand before an arrest.
If you refuse the breathalyzer, however, this may give them probable cause to arrest you, take you to the police station, and require a blood or breath test that is used as evidence. This test can determine your blood alcohol level and whether you are under the influence of drugs. Of course, you do not have to comply with this test either, but if you don’t, it is an automatic license suspension, and, if convicted, you face the most severe penalties of DUI under the highest tier, including a $5,000 fine and jail time.
Can I Get Charged with Drugs at a DUI Checkpoint?
The DUI stop is meant to be brief and non-invasive, but if police officers find probable cause that you may be under the influence of drugs, they may conduct a physical search. They may also place you under arrest and request you take a blood test.
If officers can smell marijuana or weed in your vehicle, they are not permitted to conduct a search from the smell of marijuana alone. However, if other suspected behavior is evident to police officers, they may still legally conduct a search when they also smell marijuana.
Remember, even if you are a medical marijuana card holder in Pennsylvania, it is still illegal for you to drive under the influence of marijuana. And if you are asked to take a blood test, your results could show you have cannabis in your system, even if you were not smoking at the time of driving. This is a contradiction, but as it currently stands, you could be charged with DUI drugs if you are found to have marijuana in your system, even trace amounts.
Best ways to avoid a DUI arrest?
Don’t drink and drive! Don’t do drugs and drive either! An Uber ride costs a lot less than a DUI conviction.
If you do happen to do drugs, make sure you get free fentanyl test strips – the test strips are now legal in Pennsylvania to help combat unintended deaths by overdose.
🎄🕎The attorneys at Ketchel Law hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season. Please use a ride share, cab, or designated driver when enjoying the festivities! 🎄🕎
Every day more people are becoming addicted to Fentanyl and more drug dealers are lacing pills and other drugs with Fentanyl (often without the user’s knowledge). These drugs could include illegal prescription medicine like Oxycontin or other drugs like heroin and cocaine. This has left dealers and drug users wondering if their product is safe or laced with Fentanyl. Test strips give them a quick answer.
In large cities like New York, bars, dance clubs, and restaurants offer Fentanyl testing strips to their patrons.
But several states have outlawed the test strips, seeing them as condoning illegal drugs or as a way to build a criminal case against drug dealers. But other states and jurisdictions see them as a way to save lives.
Pennsylvania now falls into the latter category, making test strips legal, as of November 3, 2022, when Governor Tom Wolf signed House Bill 1393 which legalizes Fentanyl test strips.
The bill amends the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act of 1972 to no longer define fentanyl test strips as drug paraphernalia.
It is now legal in Pennsylvania to possess Fentanyl strips. Before this law was signed into law, two of the biggest cities with the biggest drug crime problems had already decriminalized the testing strips: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Do you have a criminal record in Pennsylvania for a minor marijuana offense?
If you are one of thousands of people who were charged and convicted of simple marijuana charges in Pennsylvania – a drug that in many states is perfectly legal – you now have the chance to get those criminal charges off your permanent record.
There is no charge for the online application. But hurry – the deadline to apply for the Marijuana Pardon Project is September 30, 2022.
Having a criminal record can permanently affect your chances of gaining employment, finding housing, getting into college and getting financing for automobiles and homes. If you want a second chance, the time is now.
According to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s website, if you had one or both of these convictions in Pennsylvania, you are eligible to apply:
If you are currently facing marijuana charges or other controlled substance abuse charges, contact our Pittsburgh Drug Lawyers today for a free consultation about your case. We are here to help fight your case with our number one goal being a full case dismissal.
Call Ketchel Law at 412-456-1221. We take your case seriously and are committed to providing quality legal advice.
What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing in Pennsylvania?
If you or a loved one were charged with a crime recently and are scheduled for a preliminary hearing, you may be wondering what could happen at the hearing.
A preliminary hearing is not a trial, but rather a first step in a case used to determine if there is enough evidence against the defendant to move forward with the case. It also gives a first chance for the accused to defend themselves and exercise their rights. If there is not sufficient evidence, the charges could be dismissed at the hearing.
If there is sufficient evidence to move the case forward, it will move from the Magistrate to the Court of Common Pleas for trial. This gives the defendant time to further prepare their defense.
Could I go to Jail at a Preliminary Hearing?
While it is unlikely a person would go to jail at a preliminary hearing, they could be taken into custody at the preliminary hearing if bail is increased or revoked. If bail is increased, the defendant would remain in jail until the amount is paid.
A defendant will not be found guilty or sentenced at the preliminary hearing; the hearing is only to determine whether to move the case forward or not. The “or not” is very important, because it is possible that the charges could be dismissed altogether.
The Preliminary Hearing is Very Important
If you were charged with a crime, the preliminary hearing gives you a first chance to make a defense and tell your side of the story. The preliminary hearing is crucial to your defense. Make sure you have an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent you at the preliminary hearing who already understands your situation and explains beforehand what you can expect. An aggressive defense attorney with a thorough understanding of the law and the prosecutors is going to fight for your case to be dismissed and argue evidence to proceed is lacking.
Witnesses may be presented and testimony heard, but briefly, and only for the purpose of determining if there is enough evidence to move forward with your case, not to make a verdict.
Your attorney will be able to cross-examine any witnesses and/or argue that the evidence is not sufficient. Your attorney can also challenge evidence, requesting that it be thrown out. Your attorney may also request that your case be dismissed, if they feel the prosecution has not gathered enough evidence.
Unlike a full trial, the prosecution does not need evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a preliminary hearing. They need only have “prima facie”, which means they need proof it is more likely than not that you committed the crime in question.
If you have been charged with a crime in Pittsburgh or Southwest Pennsylvania, Ketchel Law can provide a free legal consultation. Our criminal attorneys are top-rated and located in downtown Pittsburgh. We have been successfully representing clients for nearly a decade and are here to help you fight your charges and win your case.
Call Ketchel Law at 412-456-1221. We take your case seriously and are committed to providing quality legal advice.
Learn More about Defending Your Rights in Pennsylvania:
Court Rules You Can be Charged and Convicted of DUI of Drugs for using Medical Marijuana
Many medical marijuana users in Pennsylvania are in shock over the recent ruling in early May 2022 that says the legal medicine they have been prescribed could mean they are at risk for being charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in Pennsylvania.
If a person is charged with DUI drugs in PA and have no other controlled substance or alcohol in their blood, they could still face the maximum penalties as a person with the highest rate of blood alcohol content (BAC) level. Penalties include a one year license suspension, up to six months in jail and a heavy fine (first offense).
Many people say they are not impaired at the time of their arrest. However, trace amounts of marijuana and metabolites can stay in the blood stream for days after use, long after a person is considered “impaired” or “high”.
Even though Schedule I drugs are defined by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”, medical marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, as is heroin, meth and ecstasy.
The ruling made by the Pennsylvania Superior Court was in rejection to an appeal of a DUI case, in which the defendant was charged with DUI after initially being pulled over for illegally speeding.
In the ruling (Commonwealth v. Dabney) May 5 ruling, Judge D. Kunselman wrote a 17 page opinion which says “medical marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance,” and that “no conflict exists between the Medical Marijuana Act and the Vehicle Code.”
She also added that the Medical Marijuana Act “did not remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I controlled substances.”
This ruling holds precedence and will have an effect on other similar DUI cases involving medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. There are over 400,000 legal registered users of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.
Is there anything that can be done if you are charged with DUI of Medical Marijuana in PA?
First, anyone charged with a crime has the right to fight against the charges – DUI cases are fought and won every day in court. Having an experienced attorney who has successfully taken on and won hundreds of DUI cases can help.
Second, you could be eligible to apply for a pardon. In late 2020, lawmakers in the Pennsylvania House voted to amend the DUI law to decriminalize trace amounts of marijuana for legal medical marijuana users. However, the Pennsylvania State Senate has yet to take measures to vote on it and move it to the Governor’s desk. Until then, there is a possibility of being charged with DUI.
Let’s face the facts: a lot of people use drugs. Nearly 12% of people over 12 years of age used drugs or misused prescription drugs in the United States in the last year, according to the CDC.
More than a million people are arrested for drug possession in the United States every year, and Pennsylvania is no exception to a high amount of drug use and offenses.
While the majority of people being charged with drug crimes are buying drugs and have addiction problems, another portion is involved with the selling, transporting, manufacturing and distribution of illegal drugs. These are two very different crimes and the penalties usually fall into two categories, depending on the amount of drugs involved in the crime: Simple drug possession and PWID or Possession with Intent to Deliver or Distribute. The latter comes with much higher penalties, but both can send you to prison.
Other indirect penalties could include driver’s license suspension, being prohibited from owning a firearm, loss of employment, difficulty getting car insurance and/or high insurance premiums, mandatory treatment programs, loss of parental rights and inability to obtain student loans.
For PWID, a first offense for Schedule I or II drugs, the penalty is:
Two years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000 (2-10 grams)
Three years in prison and a maximum fine of $15,000 (11-99 grams)
Five years in prison and a maximum fine of $25,000 (100 or more grams)
If you have been charged with a drug crime in Pennsylvania, call Attorney Ketchel for a free legal consultation. It is important to remember that being charged with a crime does not necessarily mean you will be convicted or face full charges. An attorney can help you understand your options and fight for the best possible outcome for you and your family.
Our number one goal is to have your charges dismissed and your record clean.
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We offer free legal consultations to anyone charged with a crime. Call us today to find out how we can help defend your rights.
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has ruled against making a warrantless search based solely on the smell of cannabis.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that a state police search of a vehicle in 2018 occurred only due to the smell of marijuana. In Commonwealth v. Barr II, the defendant was charged with illegally owning a firearm after police searched his vehicle because they initially smelled marijuana coming from the vehicle.
Medical marijuana is legal in Pennsylvania and many people are authorized to use cannabis. With this ruling, people using cannabis legally can no longer be subject to a search from the smell of weed alone. However, if other suspected behavior is evident to police officers, they may still legally conduct a search when they also smell marijuana.
As the court says, ” “We hold that the odor of marijuana alone does not amount to probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle but, rather, may be considered as a factor in examining the totality of the circumstances.”
The ruling also clarifies the ruling further:
“We conclude that the MMA [Medical Marijuana Act] makes abundantly clear that marijuana no longer is per se illegal in this Commonwealth,” the majority opined. “Accordingly, the enactment of the MMA eliminated this main pillar supporting the ‘plain smell’ doctrine as applied to the possession or use of marijuana. Indeed, so long as a patient complies with the dictates of the MMA, that person can legally possess and consume various forms of medical marijuana, including the plant itself. Accordingly, the smell of marijuana alone cannot create probable cause to justify a search under the state and federal constitutions.”
If you have a pending marijuana case or were recently charged with marijuana possession or marijuana PWID, contact the Pittsburgh Marijuana Attorneys at Ketchel Law to get more information on your rights and Pennsylvania’s marijuana laws.
Attorney Ketchel can provide a free phone consultation.
What Happens to Your License if you Refuse to Take a Breath or Blood Test in PA?
It may go without saying that many people who are charged with DUI are not thinking clearly when they are pulled over by the police. This sometimes results in a refusal to take a breathalyzer or a blood test after the DUI arrest, which can further complicate life down the road. The biggest complication for many is the loss of a driver’s license.
Refusing a breathalyzer or chemical blood test after a DUI arrest is not the same as refusing a portable breath test that police may carry in their car and ask you to take BEFORE your arrest. These tests are often to determine if you have alcohol on your breath and are not accurate or admissible in court.
If you refuse a breathalyzer or a blood test after a DUI arrest in PA, your license can be suspended both for the refusal and for the DUI. This means you could face two separate license suspensions: one suspension for the refusal, and the other for the DUI conviction.
Even if you end up getting accepted into the ARD program for your DUI charge, or receive a Not Guilty verdict, you can still face a license suspension for refusing chemical testing after the arrest.
If this has happened to you or your loved one, the first thing you can do is contact a DUI Attorney in Pennsylvania. Ketchel Law offers free consultations for anyone charged with DUI in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania.
Call 412-456-4221 for a free legal consultation about your DUI case.
What is the difference between refusing a breathalyzer and refusing a blood test?
The reason for the highest tier grading is because a warrant is not necessary for police to test your breath. On the other hand, the police must have a warrant to get a blood sample. If you refuse to give a blood sample and the police do not get a warrant, then your DUI will likely be graded as a lowest tier DUI, general impairment. However, you will still face a license suspension for the refusal.
In either case, a refusal will mean an automatic license suspension from PennDOT. If you refuse, or the police say you refused, you will receive a letter from PennDot stating that your license will be suspended. This is true even if you are never charged criminally for DUI or if you win your DUI case. You will have thirty days from the date of the suspension letter to file an appeal of your suspension.
When you are issued a license by PennDOT, you have already signed an agreement to consent to taking a breath or blood test. By violating that agreement, you face the penalties of a license suspension, as the bare minimum.
Can a DUI Lawyer Help If I Refused a Chemical Test or Breathalyzer?
The stakes for a DUI conviction are high if you refused a breathalyzer or chemical test, but an attorney can help you better understand your options. No situation is ever hopeless – there is always a chance you could get the penalties reduced and filing a license suspension appeal may help delay a license suspension.
An Arrest is NOT a Conviction.
It is very helpful to have an experienced PA DUI Lawyer explain the charges, your rights and help walk you through the process. A DUI Lawyer can also help explain when you will be eligible for Ignition Interlock suspension process, so you can begin driving again.
If you were charged with DUI in Western Pennsylvania, call Ketchel Law at 412-456-1221 for a free consultation.