Understanding the Difference between a Felony and a Misdemeanor

In Pennsylvania, as in most states, criminal offenses are either categorized as misdemeanors or as felonies. The difference between these types of crimes centers generally on the seriousness of the offense. In addition, felonies generally involve more substantial penalties than misdemeanors. Some crimes may be charged as felonies or as misdemeanors, giving prosecutors latitude based on the desired punishment.

As a general rule in Pennsylvania, misdemeanors are violations of the law that carry a penalty of less than a year in jail or prison. All other offenses are considered felonies. Felonies typically carry significantly higher fines as well.

The types of crimes that are typically charged as felonies include certain repeat offenses, as well as first time offenders who commit serious crimes. Acts that are always treated as felonies include murder or homicide, terrorist acts, kidnapping, robbery, arson and most sex crimes. Theft offenses can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors based on the value of goods or cash stolen.

Misdemeanors in Pennsylvania fall into three categories:
• Petty misdemeanors, where the sentence is less than six months in jail or a fine of $500 or less
• Ordinary misdemeanors
• High or gross misdemeanors

Some infractions punishable only by a fine, such as certain traffic offenses, are typically not considered crimes at all.
In Pennsylvania, all criminal violations are violations of statutes. This means that the legislature has enacted a specific law that makes certain conduct punishable as a criminal offense. In all instances, the legislature will define whether the criminal act is a misdemeanor or a felony, or whether the prosecutor has some leeway.

When you have been charged with a crime, or are under investigation for criminal activity, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Your attorney will protect your rights in all dealings with prosecutors or police, so that you don’t say or do anything that tends to incriminate you, or that can be used against you at trial. You should also exercise your constitutional right to remain silent. Don’t give the state any additional ammunition against you. Let your attorney do your talking for you.

At Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLP, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. For an appointment, contact us by e-mail or call us at 717-233-5292. We speak Spanish and understand the impact a criminal charge can have on your efforts to become or remain a permanent citizen.

Felony DUI in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, most DUI charges, even if you are a multiple offender, are treated as misdemeanors. Even if you are arrested for a third DUI offense with the highest blood alcohol content penalties, you will only be charged with a first degree misdemeanor, with a possible prison sentence of one to five years, the suspension of your license for up to 18 months and a potential fine of $10,000. To be charged with a felony DUI in Pennsylvania, you must be charged with drinking and driving, and it must be shown that, while driving intoxicated, you caused bodily injury (including death) to another person.

Though felony DUI cases are rare, they are high profile cases that prosecutors love to exploit. If you have been charged with felony driving under the influence, you need to take appropriate steps to protect your interests.

• Hire an experienced lawyer — Just because you failed a breathalyzer or blood alcohol content (BAC) test does not mean that you have no defenses, and should plead guilty and throw yourself on the mercy of the court. Police and prosecutors make mistakes all the time. In their haste to accumulate arrests and convictions, they may violate your most basic rights. Police may pull you over without establishing probable cause. They may take you into custody without properly advising you of your Miranda rights. They may use illegal or incorrect field sobriety tests, or may take steps that compromise the integrity or validity of breathalyzer or blood alcohol tests.

• Say as little as possible — You have a constitutional right to remain silent. Exercise it. The police may use a variety of tactics to get you to talk, telling you that they are simply trying to help, or threatening you with greater sanctions if you don’t cooperate. Don’t talk to police until you have your lawyer present.

• Don’t help the police do their job — Don’t mistakenly believe that you can clear everything up, if the police will just listen to you. In almost every situation, you will end up making things worse. Your lawyer is trained to protect your rights, and won’t inadvertently make statements that tend to incriminate you.

At Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLP, all prospective clients are entitled to a free initial consultation. Contact us by e-mail or call us at 717-233-5292 to schedule a meeting with one of our attorneys. We speak Spanish and understand the impact a criminal charge can have on your efforts to become or remain a permanent citizen.

When You Have Been Stopped for or Charged with DUI for the First Time

It can happen to just about anyone. You go out to dinner or stop at a friend’s house. You have a couple of beers or a glass or two of wine. On the way home, you get stopped by police, who ask if you have had anything to drink. When you answer honestly, they ask you to submit to field sobriety tests, or may immediately request that you take a breathalyzer or blood alcohol. If you haven’t been charged yet, what can you do? If you agree to take the test and your blood alcohol exceeds the legal limit, what are your options?

If you haven’t been arrested yet, but have just been pulled over, the first question you should ask is why the police officer made the traffic stop. Law enforcement officers must have probable cause to pull you over. You must have committed a traffic violation or the officer must have reasonable belief that you have violated the law. You don’t need to get into a debate with the officer over whether or not there was good cause to pull you over, but your attorney will want this information.

If the police officer requests a field sobriety or blood alcohol test, can you legally refuse? The answer is yes. Pennsylvania has an implied consent law, which states that anyone who operates a motor vehicle on the roadways in the state impliedly consents to chemical testing to determine blood alcohol content. Even so, you still have the right to refuse to take the test. However, the consequences of refusal can be significant. You will lose your driving privileges for a minimum of one year, and your charge will be placed in a higher tier for purposes of sentencing, which means your punishment will likely be more severe.

If you take a breathalyzer or blood alcohol test and fail, you still have rights. Don’t think that you should just plead guilty and throw yourself on the mercy of the court. Your lawyer can still examine the facts and circumstances of your arrest, to determine whether your constitutional rights were violated. If the police lacked probable cause to stop you, or failed to advise you of your rights when taking you into custody, some or all evidence obtained may be inadmissible in court. Furthermore, field sobriety and BAC tests may have been improperly conducted, or the test results may have been compromised.

At Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLP, we prove a free initial consultation to every client. Contact us by e-mail or call us at 717-233-5292 to schedule a meeting with one of our attorneys. We speak Spanish and understand the impact a criminal charge can have on your efforts to become or remain a permanent citizen.

What to Do When You Have Been Charged with a Drug Crime

If you are under investigation for a drug offense, or have been arrested for or charged with a state or federal drug crime, you may be uncertain what you should do to protect your rights and your future. Police and prosecutors can be very aggressive in drug prosecutions. You can feel like the rules are all in favor of the state, and that the language they use is intentionally designed to confuse and intimidate you.

In Pennsylvania, you can be charged with a wide range of criminal acts involving controlled substances, including simple possession, possession with intent to sell, sale or trafficking, manufacturing or cultivation, and drug conspiracy. If you are charged under a federal law, you may risk the forfeiture of your property, if prosecutors can convince the court that you obtained the property with profits from the sale of drugs.

Here are the most important steps to follow when involved in a drug investigation or prosecution:

Hire an attorney as soon as possible—You may view the arrest as a mistake and believe that, if you just carefully explain the facts, everything will be cleared up and you can walk away. This rarely (if ever) happens. Even though you are innocent until proven guilty, police and prosecutors will be looking for anything they can to use against you. They know the law a whole lot better than you, and can easily turn what seems completely innocent into damaging evidence. An attorney will know what to do and what to say (or what not to say).
• Exercise your right to remain silent—The U.S. Constitution guarantees you the right to remain silent. You don’t have to talk to police or prosecutors if you don’t want to. Don’t try to talk your way out of trouble. In most instances, you will only make things worse.
• Don’t help the police do their job—To conduct a search or seizure, police must have probable cause, or must have a valid warrant. If the police come to your home, you do not have to let them in, unless they have a warrant. If they don’t have one, politely decline their request to come in.

At Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLP, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. For an appointment, contact us by e-mail or call us at 717-233-5292. We speak Spanish and understand the impact a criminal charge can have on your efforts to become or remain a permanent citizen.

White Collar Crime in Pennsylvania

The term “white collar crime” was first coined by Edwin Hardin Sutherland in 1939 to describe illegal acts committed by individuals within the scope of their employment. Professor Sutherland also considered white collar crimes to be committed only by persons “of high social status and respectability.” Today, the term is used to refer to a wide range of wrongful acts, most of which are related to the alleged perpetrator’s access to money or property due to their occupation. Certain types of corporate offenses, including violation of environmental laws, are often categorized as white collar crimes.

White collar crimes can be state or federal offenses. For example, violations of federal statutes, such as price fixing or creating monopolies as prohibited by the Sherman Act or the Clayton Act, can result in prosecution for a white collar crime. The bulk of white collar crimes fall under the category of fraud, including:

• Bank fraud
• Credit card fraud
• Computer or Internet fraud
• Wire fraud
• Insurance fraud
• Healthcare fraud
• Bankruptcy fraud
• Securities fraud

To convict you of fraud, a prosecutor must show that you intentionally made a misrepresentation of material fact. In other words, it must be shown that you knew or had reason to know that the statements you made were false. It must also be shown that the misrepresentation was with respect to an essential element of a transaction. Furthermore, fraud requires that the person injured reasonably relied on what you told them. If a reasonable person would not have believed it, there cannot be fraud. Finally, the injured party must show that they actually lost something.

Other types of conduct that fall under white collar crime include embezzlement, forgery, bribery, extortion and money laundering.
If you are under investigation for or have been charged with a white collar crime, the two most important things you should do are:

Hire an attorney
• Exercise your right to remain silent

At Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLP, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. For an appointment, contact us by e-mail or call us at 717-233-5292. We speak Spanish and understand the impact a criminal charge can have on your efforts to become or remain a permanent citizen.

Hit and Run – Charged with Leaving the Scene of an Accident?

Harrisburg Vehicular Manslaughter Attorneys

Under §3742 of Chapter 37 of Pennsylvania state law, if you’re involved in a collision you’re required to stop and stay at the scene of the accident. If it is an injury accident, you’re also required to render aid to the best of your ability. You are also required to exchange information. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor and a felony if bodily injury or death is involved.

In certain situations, however, a driver may hit a pedestrian, bicyclist, or even another car and not realize what has happened. For example, if a larger vehicle like a SUV or pick-up truck hits a bicyclist or someone changing a tire, they may not even be aware someone has been hit. As a result, they may find themselves facing serious criminal charges on hit and run or worse if injuries or fatalities are involved.

Alcohol and Charges of Hit and Run

A large number of hit and run accidents – especially at night – involve drivers who have been drinking. Typically, a driver who has been drinking (but may not be drunk) flees the scene of an accident hoping to sober up before being reported by others who witnessed the crash. This is different from a case where a driver is drunk and doesn’t realize he or she has hit or injured someone. Here, the difference is important since what is at stake is the intent of the driver – did he or she knowingly and intentionally leave the scene of an accident?

In these kinds of cases, the prosecution may take a closer look at what you were doing prior to your hit and run accident. They may look at credit card activity to see if you were drinking; they may interview people who were with you shortly before you left in your car; they may even ask you to provide a sample of blood if they find you fairly quickly after your hit and run accident was reported. What you say to investigators and how you handle their requests for information can determine the strength of the case against you later.

Criminal and Civil Penalties – Additional Considerations

A good criminal defense attorney can often convince the court to reduce the charges or sentence against you depending on your driving and criminal record. There may also be important extenuating circumstances your defense lawyer can bring to the attention of the court during trial or the sentence phase if you are found guilty. For example, if you take medication that makes you drowsy, work a late shift, or suffer from certain psychological conditions, the court may be moved to reduce the sentence against you.

However, regardless of how the criminal charges against you are resolved, the person you hit (or injured) may decide to pursue monetary damages against you in civil court. As such, it’s important to begin building your defense for both possibilities.

Contact Harrisburg Hit and Run Defense Attorneys

A conviction for hit and run is a serious matter leading to the loss of your driver’s license, heavy fines, even jail. If you’ve been involved in or arrested for a hit and run accident, contact Harrisburg hit and run defense attorneys at Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLC today.

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