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State College Legal Blog

Magic mushrooms still transport you to Pennsylvania prisons

Americans everywhere are wondering how psilocybin mushrooms legality may change across the country after Denver, Colorado became the first and only city in the United States to decriminalize the drug.

But, here's why it's important to remember the consequences of using, growing, possessing, buying or selling these drugs in Pennsylvania.

Driving while hungover can be just as dangerous

Just about everyone has been there at some point: you spent the night partying at a friend’s place and decided to crash there. Now the sun is up, and you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus. You drink some water, maybe take some painkillers to dull your hangover, and prepare to drive home. Stop there, because driving hungover can be just as bad as driving drunk.

It may seem hard to believe, but there are several reasons driving the morning after having a few too many can be just as bad as driving in the hours after drinking them. These are a few of those reasons and what you can do to avoid getting on the wrong side of the law.

4 common college student offenses

If you’ve recently sent your son or daughter off to college, it’s important to advise they use their new-found freedoms responsibly.

After all, college is meant to help them become more employable — not less. Remind your child to be caution of the law by staying aware of these common college student offenses.

PA’s new ‘Clean Slate’ bill makes record sealing easier

We’ve written extensively on this blog about how mistakes that lead to an arrest or conviction can haunt a person for life. It can make it harder to find an apartment, get a job or enroll in college. That is why helping people who’ve served their sentences remain productive members of society is one of the biggest components of the criminal justice reform conversation happening nationally.

Pennsylvania currently allows certain people to expunge criminal convictions. However, this law is quite restrictive. If you have a prior conviction on your record, you likely already know that seeking and receiving an expungement can cost precious time and money that can be hard to come by when trying to make ends meet.

Supreme Court: Police need a warrant to track cellphone locations

Citing "the seismic shifts in digital technology" since the last time it considered the issue, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that people have a reasonable expectation that their cellphone's location data will be private. A reasonable expectation of privacy means that the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures applies. Therefore, law enforcement must obtain a warrant before seeking cellphone location data except in emergency situations.

The case involved a man who was convicted of participating in a string of robberies. Law enforcement had bolstered its case by obtaining cellphone location data on the defendant. However, they obtained the records using a mere court order instead of a warrant. Warrants are to be issued only when police can show "probable cause" that a crime has been committed or is in progress. Court orders can be issued using a lower standard.

Running from the police just makes things worse in most cases

When a confidential police informant said that a certain State College man was selling drugs from his residence on Carnegie Drive, the police still had work to do to make their case against him. Tipsters and police informants don't always provide accurate information and sometimes may be motivated by bias, self-interest or other questionable factors.

For some reason, the police did not obtain a warrant to search the residence. Instead, officers initiated a traffic stop after the man left his home. Based on the report in the Centre Daily Times, it is unclear what prompted that traffic stop. The man continued on for three or four blocks before stopping and asking an officer what he had been stopped for.

Drug dealers can be charged with homicide in overdose cases

Although illicit drugs are dangerous, some college students nevertheless choose to experiment with them. Sometimes, this involves supplying friends with illegal drugs or prescription medications. Few of these young people anticipate that their friends may suffer a fatal overdose. But if this does happen, the dealer may have to cope with far more than grief and survivor's guilt. Due to a once-obscure Pennsylvania law that is making a resurgence, the person who supplies the drugs used in a fatal overdose may be charged with the victim's murder.

Does your freedom from warrantless search extend to rental cars?

Unfortunately, far too many people in Pennsylvania and across the country are unaware of their right to deny police entry to their home or vehicle without a search warrant signed by a judge. Even if someone asks police to see a warrant, officers respond with questions like, “If you don’t have anything to hide, why don’t you just let us in?”

Allowing police to search your home or vehicle without a warrant sets a dangerous precedent, even if you have “nothing to hide.” But what about property that isn’t yours, but you have permission to use?

Honesty may be nice, but exercise your right to remain silent

You were probably taught as a child that honesty is the best policy. A criminal defense attorney's take might be that you should never lie to the police but you should always exercise your right to remain silent. Being forthcoming with officers about what laws you have broken might seem like it will help them understand your point of view, but it will only get you charged.

Consider the case of a Harrisburg man who was recently arrested by State College police. A hotel employee called police after the 32-year-old man was allegedly disorderly in the lobby. Upon being contacted by officers, the men went ahead and made their case for them.

How do we know if breath testing machines are accurate?

When someone is arrested for DUI, one thing a defense attorney might look into is whether the breath test was accurate. These tests can be performed incorrectly, and the machines may be uncalibrated or calibrated improperly. Just as important, the machines are manufactured and marketed for profit, with source codes that are proprietary. That means that there could be hidden issues that lead to inaccurate test results.

Recently, the website ZDNet published an investigation into the Alcotest 9510, a commonly used breath testing machine. (The Alcotest 9510 is not the only breath testing machine to be challenged for potential inaccuracy.) The investigation found good reason to suspect the Alcotest 9510, as configured and used by the Washington State Patrol, may be capable of inflating breath-alcohol test results under certain circumstances. The Washington State Patrol's configuration and options are probably relatively common among police agencies.