Gun Charges

What is the penalty for getting arrested for drugs or guns while on state parole in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania State Parole Violations

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

The impact of new criminal charges for a person who is on state parole in Pennsylvania can be very confusing for the defendant and his or her loved ones. In general, a new arrest while under state parole is going to result in at least some amount of jail time because the parole board almost always lodges a parole detainer following a new arrest for a misdemeanor or felony criminal charge. Additionally, once the parole board lodges the detainer, it is usually not possible to get the detainer lifted because the judge who sentenced the defendant to prison time does not have the authority to have a state detainer lifted. Instead, only the parole board can lift the detainer, and the board usually does not do this unless the defendant has served the maximum sentence (“maxed out”). 

The parole board can impose severe consequences for a conviction for a new offense. This can include both taking away the parolee’s “street time,” meaning the time served on parole would not count towards the sentence, and requiring the parolee to serve a state parole hit or additional time in state prison. Therefore, if you or a loved one are facing new criminal charges while on state parole, it is important to retain a defense attorney who has the skill and expertise to resolve the case in a timely manner and in a way that minimizes the parole consequences. It is important to retain a defense attorney who is well-versed in what those potential consequences could be. In some cases, a defendant on state parole may simply need to do everything possible to win the case in order to avoid a set back, and in others, it may be possible to negotiate a plea deal that does not result in a significant amount of additional jail time or that reduces the amount of time that the parole board is likely to impose. 

Pennsylvania State Parole Set Backs for New Drug Charges

Deciding whether to go to trial or accept a plea deal is an extremely important decision for every criminal defendant. This decision can be even more difficult for a defendant who is on state parole because the defendant has to consider both the sentence that he or she would be facing on the new case as well as the sentence that the state parole board would be likely to impose. Fortunately, the parole board provides guidelines as to what kind of sentence a parolee can expect to serve in the event of a parole violation so that the system is not totally arbitrary.  

With respect to a new drug charge, the length of potential jail time for the parole violation depends on the type of the drug charge and the gradation of the offense. 

The regulations provide that a drug felony with a maximum of 15 years, such as the sale of heroin, could lead to a 24 to 36 month sentence for the parole violation. 

A drug felony with a maximum of ten years in prison, such as the sale of cocaine or crack, has a presumptive range of 18 months to 24 months in prison for the violation.

A drug felony with a maximum of five years, such as the sale of marijuana, has a shorter presumptive range of 9 to 15 months in state prison.

Misdemeanor narcotics offenses are punished less severely. A misdemeanor with a maximum of 2 or 3 years is likely to lead to a 6 to 12 month hit, while a misdemeanor with a maximum of one year is likely to lead to a 3 to 6 month hit.

It is important to note that these presumptive ranges are simply advisory. It is always possible that the parole board could impose a longer or shorter sentence for a direct violation of state supervision. 

Pennsylvania State Parole Hits for Gun Charges

The parole board also provides a presumptive setback for a Violation of the Uniform Firearms Act (“VUFA charge” or gun charge). According to the regulations, any defendant who is on state parole and is convicted of illegally possessing a firearm is likely to face an additional 18 months to 24 months in state prison in addition to whatever sentence the defendant receives on the new case. Therefore, a new gun charge arrest can be an extremely serious situation for a parolee.  

Can I get a state parole detainer lifted?

In general, you cannot get a state parole detainer lifted. In most cases, the defendant will remain in jail until the new case is resolved. If the defendant serves the maximum sentence, then the parole board would likely lift the detainer because the defendant would no longer be on parole. 

Can I get a county probation detainer lifted?

It is important to note that this discussion applies only to state parole detainers. County probation and state-supervised probation is very different. These presumptive ranges do not apply to potential probation violations. Instead, the judge which sentenced the defendant to probation would decide what sentence to impose in the result of a direct violation, and that sentence is not limited by any guidelines. At the same time, the judge may lift a probation detainer if the defendant’s lawyer files a motion to have the detainer lifted. 

Can I get a county probation detainer lifted if I am being supervised by the state? 

In some cases where a defendant receives a state sentence followed by a period of county probation, the judge may order that the state parole board supervise the defendant once the defendant is released and on probation. In that case, the defendant would be supervised by a state agent, but the judge would still retain jurisdiction to decide the penalty for a violation. The judge would also still have the authority to lift a detainer.  

What should I do if I’m arrested for a new charge and am on state parole?

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers

You should retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can give you the best possible chance to win your case at trial, preliminary hearing, or through a motion to suppress, or reduce the potential parole consequences through negotiations. If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals and dismissals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, PWID, Rape, and Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today. 

Attorney Mehta Wins New Trial For PCRA Client Serving 20-Year Illegal Gun Sentence

Criminal Defense Lawyer Demetra Mehta

Criminal Defense Lawyer Demetra Mehta

Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Demetra P. Mehta, Esquire recently won a new trial for her client in the case of Commonwealth v. C.F.

C.F. had been sentenced to 10 to 20 years of incarceration following a jury trial for gun possession charges. However he will now be given a new trial following a successful challenge of his conviction through the Post-Conviction Relief Act. 

PENNSYLVANIA’S POST-CONVICTION RELIEF ACT

Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act allows petitioners to challenge their conviction for a number of reasons. Generally, PCRAs take place at the conclusion of a direct appeal if the direct appeal has been unsuccessful and addresses trial counsel’s ineffective assistance. Petitioners may also use the PCRA when the law has changed retroactively, for the discovery of new evidence which would have changed the outcome at trial or the decision to enter into a plea deal, and to test DNA evidence that was previously untested. The rules governing the PCRA are not simple, the statute is complicated and there are a number of procedural hurdles that often condemn a petition to failure with no regard as to the merits of the claim. 

In this case, C.F. had gone to trial on a gun possession charge while represented by different counsel. The facts at trial were as follows:

While at home, he and his wife got into an argument that was loud enough that it attracted the attention of neighbors. A neighbor actually came over to the house to investigate and would later testify that she saw C.F. with a gun. Once the fight was over, C.F. left his home and was confronted by the police a short time later out in the street.

At trial, the neighbor testified that she had seen C.F. with a firearm. This witness also had her own Federal drug possession case at the time of C.F.’s arrest, but it had been resolved by time of trial. A gun had been recovered in the general area at the time of C.F.’s arrest, but there was no forensic evidence to link C.F. to that firearm.

C.F.’s wife testified that C.F. did not have a gun the day of their argument and his arrest. There was an additional witness that was not called because the trial attorney did not reach out to that witness. This witness was also present on the day of the argument, but between C.F.’s arrest and trial, the witness had joined the military and was out of the state of Pennsylvania.

C.F.’s trial attorney testified at the PCRA hearing that he did not subpoena this witness because he did not think she could come to court because she was out of state and in the military. At that same hearing, the witness testified that she had made her command aware of the situation and only needed a subpoena to get leave to come to the trial.  

In its ruling, the PCRA court concluded that the witness was available and credible and, had she been subpoenaed, that her testimony may have changed the course of the trial. The court additionally ruled that the trial attorney had been ineffective for not subpoenaing the witness.

PCRAs are highly technically and require an experienced attorney who will look at the record and put forward your best chance to overturn a conviction. To do, this you need someone who has filed PCRAs in the past and had success with them. 

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers Zak Goldstein and Demetra Mehta

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers Zak Goldstein and Demetra Mehta

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey at trial and on appeal. We have successfully obtained full acquittals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, VUFA, PWID, Rape, and Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.

PA Supreme Court: Police Cannot Legally Stop You Just For Carrying A Gun

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Hicks, holding that the police cannot stop someone just because they believe the person has a gun. This decision could affect hundreds of cases, especially in Philadelphia, where the police routinely stop people for carrying guns without any actual knowledge of whether that person may be carrying lawfully.

Commonwealth v. Hicks

On June 28, 2014, at approximately 2:30 A.M., a remote camera operator conducting live surveillance of a gas station and convenience store in Allentown, Pennsylvania notified police officers that a patron of the establishment was in possession of a firearm. The camera operator advised officers that the individual showed the firearm to another patron, put the firearm in his waistband, covered it with his shirt, and walked inside the convenience store. This individual eventually became the defendant. Notably, the defendant possessed a valid license to carry a concealed firearm, and he was not statutorily prohibited from possessing a firearm. Accordingly, on the morning in question and at the observed location, there was nothing unlawful about the defendant’s possession of the handgun nor the manner in which he carried it. It is also not illegal to show a gun to someone else (so long as you do not point it at them).

While responding officers were en route, the defendant entered and exited the convenience store and then reentered his vehicle. Before the defendant could exit the parking lot, numerous police officers in marked vehicles intercepted and stopped his vehicle. Believing that the defendant had moved his hands around inside the vehicle, one of the officers drew his service weapon as he approached the defendant’s vehicle and ordered him to keep his hands up. Other officers came and restrained the defendant and removed the firearm. The officers stated that there was an odor of alcohol emanating from the defendant. They then searched him and recovered a small amount of marijuana.

Because the defendant had a license to carry a firearm, he was not charged with any crimes relating to the firearm. However, he was charged with DUI, possession of a small amount of marijuana, and disorderly conduct. The defendant filed an omnibus pre-trial motion seeking suppression of the evidence. He also filed a writ of habeas corpus alleging that there was not sufficient evidence to hold him for trial on the charge of disorderly conduct. The trial court agreed and dismissed the disorderly conduct charge. However, the court denied his motion to suppress.

In denying his motion, the trial court stated that possession of a concealed weapon in public creates the reasonable suspicion justifying an investigatory stop in order to investigate whether the person is properly licensed. This was based on the Pennsylvania Superior Court decision in Commonwealth v. Robinson (this is also referred to as “The Robinson Rule”). After the motion, the defendant proceeded to a non-jury trial where the court found him guilty of one count of DUI and acquitted him of the remaining charges. He was sentenced to a term of incarceration of thirty days to six months and was assessed a monetary fine. The defendant subsequently filed an appeal. The Superior Court affirmed his decision. Like the trial court, the Superior Court focused mainly on The Robinson Rule and held that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant. The defendant then filed an allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which was granted.

What is the Robinson Rule?

The Robinson Rule was a rule that provided that carrying a concealed firearm constituted per se reasonable suspicion authorizing the use of official force to seize an individual in order to investigate whether the person is properly licensed. In other words, if the police received information that you were in possession of a firearm you could be stopped, by force if necessary and without a warrant, and subjected to an investigation to determine whether or not you were lawfully allowed to possess the firearm.

For those of you familiar with the Terry doctrine, this seems out of place with it because possessing a firearm is often not illegal. The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution allows for individuals to possess firearms. Because a Terry stop is only warranted when the officer has a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot (or in other words an objectively reasonable belief based on all of the facts known to the officer that the person stopped is, or is about to be, engaged in criminal activity). With Terry in mind, it seems peculiar that The Robinson Rule would be constitutional. This is what the defendant argued in his appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Carrying A Gun Does Not Give Police Reasonable Suspicion

In its decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court first analyzed several of its prior decisions and decisions from other jurisdictions that addressed the issue of whether the police can stop someone for possession of a firearm. For instance, the Court analyzed the decisions in Commonwealth v. Hawkins and Commonwealth v. Jackson, two cases that are routinely cited when litigating a motion to suppress a gun. In these decisions, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court highlighted how its predecessors routinely dismissed the Commonwealth’s argument that the police can stop someone simply because they have information that they have a gun.

The Court also applied the Terry and its progeny of cases to the facts in the defendant’s case. Based on its analysis, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that The Robinson Rule subverts the fundamental principles of Terry. The Court stated “[w]e find no justification for the notion that a police officer may infer criminal activity merely from an individual’s possession of a concealed firearm in public…it is not a criminal offense for a license holder…to carry a concealed firearm in public.” The Court further stated “[u]nless a police officer has prior knowledge that a specific individual is not permitted to carry a concealed firearm, and absent articulable facts supporting reasonable suspicion that a firearm is being used or intended to be used in a criminal manner, there is simply no justification for the conclusion that the mere possession of a firearm, where it lawfully may be carried, is alone suggestive of criminal activity.”

Finally, the Court analogized this to driving a car. It is obviously a requirement for someone to have a driver’s license to operate a motor vehicle, however the police cannot stop every single person to ascertain this information. Because possessing a gun is legal, police are not allowed to stop every person to see if they have a license. Consequently, the Supreme Court found that the lower courts erred when denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. Therefore, the Court remanded the case for the trial court to rule on whether police had any basis for stopping the defendant beyond his mere possession of a concealed weapon.

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

Criminal Defense Attorneys Demetra Mehta and Zak Goldstein

Criminal Defense Attorneys Demetra Mehta and Zak Goldstein

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, Rape, and Attempted Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.

PA Superior Court: Police Justified in Stopping Car That Left Travel Lane Four Times

Zak Goldstein Criminal Defense Lawyer

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Cephus. The court held that the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress because state troopers had probable cause to stop the defendant for motor vehicle code violations after they observed the defendant’s car crossing into another lane of travel three or four times.

Can Police Stop You For Briefly Crossing Into Another Lane of Travel?

In short, the law is not totally clear in Pennsylvania. It depends on all of the circumstances and how many times you cross the line, and courts have reached conflicting opinions when confronted with different sets of facts.

In Cephus, Pennsylvania State Troopers were traveling westbound on Route 422 in Montgomery County, PA when they saw a silver Cadillac cross the center dotted line dividing the two westbound lanes of travel. After seeing this happen at least once, they activated the dash cam on their police car. The dash cam showed that the Cadillac traveled approximately a couple hundred yards and crossed over the center line three times during that period. The officer could not remember exactly how many times he had seen the Cadillac cross the line in total. Due to the failure of the Cadillac to maintain its lane, the troopers activated their lights and sirens and pulled the car over.

After approaching the vehicle, the troopers smelled the odor of marijuana coming from the car and observed numerous air fresheners. They also claimed that the defendant, who was in the driver’s seat, was sweating and seemed nervous. Therefore, they ordered him out of the car. They then asked if they could search the car, and the defendant told them that they could. One of the troopers found a gun in the center console as well as other drug paraphernalia in the vehicle. The defendant passed out.

Gun Charges 

The troopers charged the defendant with various firearms and drug offenses, including Persons Not to Possess a Firearm (VUFA 6105), Firearms not to be Carried Without a License (VUFA 6106), Drug Paraphernalia, and Roadways Laned for Traffic.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the police officers did not have probable cause to stop him and therefore the search was the fruit of the poisonous tree from the unlawful stop. The trial court denied the  motion to suppress, finding that police had probable cause to stop the defendant for a potential violation of 75 Pa.C.S. Sec. 3309(1) of the Motor Vehicle Code.

That section provides that “A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane of travel and shall not be moved from the lane until the driver has first ascertained that the movement can be made safely.”

Because a violation of this section requires no further investigation, police must have probable cause to make a stop instead of mere reasonable suspicion. The trial court, however, held that the officers had probable cause because the vehicle had crossed the line at least four times in a relatively short period of time without any obvious explanation such as objects in the road or other hazards.

The Superior Court Appeal

After denying the motion to suppress, the court found the defendant guilty and sentenced him to 5-10 years’ incarceration. The defendant appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, and the Superior Court affirmed the conviction. The court recognized that there have been inconsistent rulings on how police officers should interpret the statute relating to remaining in one lane of travel. For example, in Commonwealth v. Gleason, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that police did not have probable cause for a stop after seeing a motorist’s tire cross the line two times on only two occasions over a distance of approximately one quarter mile. At the same time, in Commonwealth v. Anderson, the Superior Court upheld the denial of a motion to suppress where the defendant’s vehicle straddled a double yellow line for two blocks and then stopped for an inordinate and inexplicable amount of time without being prompted to do so by traffic signs.

Despite this case seeming to be more like Commonwealth v. Gleason, the Superior Court concluded that crossing the line on at least four occasions over a short period of time provided the officers with probable cause and justified the stop. Therefore, the court upheld the denial of the motion to suppress and the defendant’s conviction. At the same time, it urged the legislature to clarify the statute so that police have additional guidance on what exactly the somewhat-vague statute requires prior to a stop. Even after this case, it likely remains the law in Pennsylvania that briefly crossing into the adjoining lane for a moment or two on one or two occasions will not support a stop, but more than that could provide police with probable cause. This statute, unfortunately, is ripe for abuse because it is very easy for a police officer to claim that a defendant left the lane of travel a couple of times, and it is almost impossible for a defendant to prove otherwise. Fortunately, many officers are now wearing body cameras or have vehicles equipped with dash cams, and this makes it more difficult for officers to fabricate the reasons for a stop.

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

Criminal Defense Attorneys

Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals and successful outcomes in cases involving charges such as Possession with the Intent to Deliver, Violations of the Uniform Firearms Act, Aggravated Assault, Rape, and Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.