Small Amount of Marijuana in Philadelphia

Possessing Small Amount of Marijuana now only a fine in Philadelphia

chester county criminal lawyer

Contact Criminal Defense Lawyer Mike DiCindio to discuss your case today

New legislation in Philadelphia has gone into effect today minimizing the penalties of being caught with a small amount of marijuana.   The goal behind the legislation is aimed at easing the punishment of offenders of this kind while also lowering the burden police officers and prosecutors have experienced in aggressively enforcing the crimes code when it comes to small amount of marijuana charges.

An offender who is found in possession of a small amount of marijuana will now face a minimal fine and one who is found using marijuana will be subject to a slightly higher, yet still minimal fine.   Once the identification of the individual is ascertained, by showing ID, the interaction between police and an accused is supposed to stop. Still, if no valid ID is found on the person, they can be held until their identity is determined and then must be released.  This new bill does not legalize marijuana, but instead decriminalizes certain levels of possession and use and minimalizes what law enforcement officers may do when faced with those circumstances.

This legislation is bound to raise questions in enforcement, prosecution and defense of cases that either involve a small amount of marijuana and/or cases that begin with marijuana as the inception of the contact between an individual and a police officer.

For one, many cases start with police officers locating a small amount of marijuana and using that as reasonable suspicion or probable cause to further investigate and detain an individual. This new bill may raise many challenges to the search and seizure of individuals in the coming months, causing the Courts in the county to interpret whether officers may still use this/these circumstances as reasonable suspicion or probable cause to further detain and search.

 It is too early to determine the true impact this change will have on the implementation of the laws in Philadelphia County. Still, it is something that criminal defense lawyers and law enforcement must be aware of when prosecuting or defending a case that involves a small amount of marijuana.

Contact Mike DiCindio today to discuss your case today.

***This blog is made available by the law firm publisher for educational purposes and to provide general information, not to provide specific legal advice.  By reading, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The blog should not be used, nor is it meant to be, as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney. This blog also does not discuss all aspects of the topics involved or the bill that has been placed into effect***

Prior Bad Acts, Crimes or Wrongs – Chester County Criminal Defense

chester county criminal lawyer

Contact Chester County Criminal Defense Lawyer Mike DiCindio today


         Often times in a criminal case in Chester County, or any of the surrounding counties, prosecutors will attempt to introduce evidence of an accused’s prior bad acts, or evidence or other crimes. This can be devastating to a successful defense in a criminal case. This may happen in a case where identity is at issue or where intent is an element that the Commonwealth must be prove – among others. One of the common times that this would happen would be in a case of violence where the charges are simple assault or aggravated assault and the Commonwealth must prove that the attack was intentional.

              By law, before the Commonwealth may introduce these “prior bad acts” they must first put the criminal defendant on notice. Typically, this required notice is accomplished by advising an accused’s criminal defense lawyer that they intend to do so. This evidence in a criminal case, if admitted, is not permitted to be used to show a criminal defendant’s “bad character”, or to say, “they have done it once, now they have done it again.” Because of the intricacies of this type of argument and the great potential impact having these “prior acts” introduced into evidence may have on a criminal case, it is crucial that an individual accused of a crime have an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer to analyze the case, the facts, the law and argue against allowing this type of evidence being admissible.

Your past should not be used to help prove new criminal accusations against you.

             Evidence of an accused’s other crimes, wrongs, or bad acts, is generally not admissible solely to show action in conformity therewith on a particular occasion in a criminal case. See Pa.R.E. 404. More specifically, this evidence is inadmissible to prove a defendant’s propensity to commit the crime for which he is being tried. Pa.R.E. 404(b)(1); see also Commonwealth v. Lockcuff, 813 A.2d 857, 860 (Pa. Super. 2002). Evidence of other crimes may however be admissible when the evidence serves a legitimate evidentiary purpose, and is not merely offered to prejudice the defendant. See Commonwealth v. Weakley, 972 A.2d 1182, 2009 Pa. Super 74 (2009). It is a skilled criminal defense attorneys job to argue against allowing this type of evidence into a criminal case.

              The Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence provide a non-exhaustive list of legitimate evidentiary purposes that past crimes may be admitted to prove. See Pa. R.Evid. 404(b). Of those listed, other crimes of an accused may be admitted to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident. Pa.R.E. 404(b)(2). Further, while one or more admissible purpose must be present before evidence of an accused’s prior bad acts can be admitted, even if a legitimate evidentiary purpose is found by a Court, the evidence still is admissible only if the probative value of the evidence outweighs its potential for unfair prejudice. Pa.R.E. 404(b)(2). Therefore, a criminal defense attorney must be prepared to know the law and argue effectively against one of the enumerated purposes, or other legitimate evidentiary purpose, and also be prepared to show the Court why the evidence a prosecutor is attempting to admit has a potential for unfair prejudice that outweighs the probative value.

            When the Commonwealth places a criminal defendant on notice that it intends to introduce evidence of “prior bad acts” often times a criminal defense attorney must file a motion in limine in order to ask the Court to address the argument and make a determination as to the admissibility of the evidence the Commonwealth seeks to introduce. A criminal defense lawyer is needed to effectively and aggressively defend against this type of evidence being ruled admissible.

If you have been accused of a crime in Chester County, Montgomery County or the greater Philadelphia area, and you believe your prior actions or crimes may, or have already, become an issue in your case – Contact Mike DiCindio directly today to schedule your free consultation.  

***This blog is made available by the law firm publisher for educational purposes and to provide general information, not to provide specific legal advice.  By reading, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The blog should not be used, nor is it meant to be, as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney.***

Best Evidence – Writings, Recordings and Video Evidence

diligentIn many Chester County criminal cases evidence against the accused comes in the form of writings, recordings or video evidence (surveillance videos). For example, a theft or retail theft case where the evidence of the theft was only observed on video. During a preliminary hearing or trial, when certain requirements are met, the prosecution in a case must produce the actual original (or genuine copy) of the writing, recording or video that shows an element of the crime when no witness observed the occurrence that is depicted in it. A skilled criminal defense attorney must be able to understand the rules of evidence and use them correctly in order to properly defend an individual accused of a crime. The following is a brief introduction into the “best evidence rule”, as it is known, and how it impacts a criminal case when evidence of an element of a crime is documents in writing, recording or on videotape.  If you believe your case involves anything discussed in this overview – Call Mike DiCindio directly for a free consultation to speak about your case.  

The general rule in Pennsylvania is that when the contents of a writing, recording, or photograph are attempted to be proven, the offering party is required to produce the original into evidence. The official comment to Rule 1002 states that this is not a rule that applies to every document, but instead only to those that have material terms. Comment Rule 1002. The this “requirement of the original” rule is synonymous to the common law “best evidence” rule. Best evidence rule is controlling only if the terms of writing must be proved to make a case or provide a defense.

While originally, the “best evidence” rule in Pennsylvania only applied to writings alone, the rules of evidence have expanded the application of the best evidence rule to encompass many more mediums. Now included in the expanded applicability of the rule are recordings (letters, words, or numbers or the equivalent whether handwritten, typed or copied) and photographs (x-rays, videotapes, and motion pictures)

The literal “original” need not be produced. The rules now provide that a duplicate may be entered to prove the original’s contents “to the same extent as the original” unless there is a genuine question as to the originality of the original, or if it would be unfair to introduce the copy in lieu of the original. Pa. R. Evid. 1003.

The Comment to Pa. R. Evid. 1003 provides insight into the history of not allowing copies of the original. The Comment states:

under the traditional best evidence rule, copies of documents were not routinely admissible. This view dated back to the time when copies were made by hand copying and were therefore subject to inaccuracy. On the other hand, Pennsylvania courts have admitted copies made by techniques that are more likely to produce accurate copies. For example, when a writing is produced in duplicate or multiplicate each of the copies is treated as admissible for purposes of the best evidence rule.

Comment Pa. R. Evid. 1003; see also, Brenner v. Lesher, 332 Pa. 522, 2 A.2d 731 (1938); see also, Pennsylvania Liquor Control Bd. v. Evolo, 203 A.2d 332 (Pa. Super. 1964).

Under Rule 1004 there are four times when other evidence may be entered in order to prove the contents of the original. (1)If the original is lost or destroyed unless proponent destroyed them in bad faith, (2) the original is not obtainable through any judicial process or procedure, (3) opponent has possession of the original and is put on notice of the intended introduction but still does not produce, and (4) if writing, photo or recording being entered is a collateral matter. Rule 1004(1)-(4) (emphasis added).

Of crucial importance in determining whether the best evidence rule applies is whether what is contained in the evidence is an element of the offense. In Fisher the Commonwealth’s proof of the elements of the offenses charged (assault, endangering the welfare of a child, and possession of an instrument of crime) depended on the victim’s testimony, not on the defendant’s messages left on his fiancés voicemail. Commonwealth v. Fisher, 764 A.2d 82 (Pa. Super. 2000). The voicemails were a mix of emotional conveyances left on a voicemail system, and subsequently recorded onto a hand-held tape recorder (the originals on the answering machine were subsequently deleted). The court found these recordings to be admissible because they did not provide evidence which established the fundamental components of any of these offenses and they were properly authenticated.

In Townsend, a confession was found to not be an element of a crime. In the prosecution for aggravated assault, admission of testimony from police officer, who was present and heard defendant’s confession, as to the contents of defendant’s written confession, and officer’s reading of portions of the confession verbatim; the contents of the confession were not elements of the crime, but rather were part of the evidence chosen to prove defendant committed the crime. Com. v. Townsend, 747 A.2d 376 (Pa. Super. 2000)

The best evidence rule is not implicated just because evidence is relevant; the rule applies where the writing itself is necessary to that which must be proved. “The best evidence rule is controlling only if the terms of a writing must be proved to make a case or provide a defense.” Warren v. Mosites Construction Co., 253 Pa.Super. 395, 402, 385 A.2d 397, 400 (1978); see also Commonwealth v. Harris, 719 A.2d 1049, 1051 (Pa.Super.1998). While the contents of the confession in Townsend made for compelling evidence for the Commonwealth, the court found that the Commonwealth did not need to prove those contents in order to establish the elements of its case. The contents were not an element of the crime; they were part of the evidence the Commonwealth chose to present to prove appellant did what was alleged in the charging documents. Com. v. Townsend, 747 A.2d 376 (Pa.Super. 2000).

In Lewis, two Commonwealth witnesses were called. One was a store employee, who testified to watching a shoplifting as it occurred; the other was a policeman called to the scene, who only watched the tape but testified to its contents. The latter’s testimony was held subject to the best evidence rule, as the contents of the tape were the very acts of the accused, the direct depiction of that which occurred. However, the employee’s testimony was not complained of-he had direct knowledge, and could not be rendered incapable of direct testimony simply because the things he saw were taped and the tape lost. Commonwealth v. Lewis, 424 Pa.Super. 531, 533-35, 623 A.2d 355, 357 (1993).

 

***This blog is made available by the law firm publisher for educational purposes and to provide general information, not to provide specific legal advice.  By reading, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The blog should not be used, nor is it meant to be, as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney.***