The holiday season is upon us and there is nothing that can ruin this great time like a criminal charge! While most of my readers won’t run into any trouble this season, they may have a friend or a family member who doesn’t read my blog, my books, or watch my videos. As I have discussed in the past in my articles and books, individuals who fail to understand their constitution rights and limitations are usually in the worst position if and when they find themselves charged with a crime in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, where our firm defends accused individuals on a regular basis in Philadelphia, Camden, and the surrounding counties. While obviously there are a number of crimes that a person could be charged with, the majority of offenses that we see during the holiday season involve the illegal possession of drugs, narcotics, guns, firearms, and driving under the influence (DUI/DWI).
All of these offenses typically do not involve violence but rather occur because a person failed to understand the limitation of their conduct in relation to the law in question. For example, people believe that many offenses occur because individuals intentionally choose to commit a crime. While this does happen, our criminal defense law firm based in Philadelphia and Moorestown, New Jersey, represents a number of individuals who truly believe that their conduct wasn’t illegal and well within their rights under the law in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. These 5 mistakes are areas that we often see as the most troublesome, especially during the holiday season.
- Taking Prescription Medication Before Getting on the Road to Visit Family and Friends
Most people believe that driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) only occurs when an individual has imbibed or consumed too much alcohol or an illegal narcotic or drug, like marijuana, heroin, PCP, or crack cocaine. This however, is not the law in any jurisdiction and the purpose of the DUI/DWI statutes is to protect the public from impaired drivers who aren’t able to safely operate a motor vehicle on the road. Prescription medications, which your doctor prescribes legally to you, can sometimes cause impairment. This impairment warning is always indicated on the label of the drug. When a person operates a motor vehicle under the influence of any substance that causes impairment, they commit a crime under the DUI/DWI statute.
Pennsylvania, like New Jersey, imposes mandatory minimum sentencing for these crimes and the law doesn’t distinguish between crack cocaine and Benadryl for the purposes of the mandatory minimum sentencing laws. While obviously the ingestion an illegal substance like crack cocaine, marijuana, or heroin, as opposed to a legally prescribed or over the counter drug, like Benadryl, will likely help an individual from receiving a harsher sentence than the mandatory minimum penalty, it isn’t a legal defense.
- Driving Through New Jersey with a Handgun
I’ve written a number of articles on New Jersey’s Graves Act and the Garden State’s strict firearms laws, which exposed even, first time offenders to a mandatory minimum sentence. Unlike Pennsylvania, New Jersey doesn’t often issue permits to carry and an individual must satisfy a number of special criteria in order to carry outside of their home or place of business in the state. Please read my article on carrying in New Jersey for more information on this topic. New Jersey does not honor a Pennsylvania license to carry and any individual who enters the Garden State, even if it’s to drive through the state to reach their ultimate destination, commits a felony level offense under the Graves Act in New Jersey.
If you must travel through New Jersey with a weapon, it must be unloaded and secured in a separate lock box or container with the ammunition in a separate compartment. While you are never obligated to give consent to a police officer or state trooper to search your vehicle, carrying the weapon in this manner will prevent you from committing a crime in the Garden State. Like DUI/DWI in New Jersey, a person who commits a crime under the Graves Act is exposed to mandatory minimum sentencing. Recently New Jersey enacted safety valve provisions which prevent a person from serving time in state prison following a conviction under this act; all of these programs are at the discretion of the prosecutor in that particular county.
It’s also important to understand that in many of these cases the prosecutors won’t offer pre-trial intervention (PTI), but rather a plea to a felony level offense, which simply allows a person to serve a probation sentence but still results in a criminal conviction that could seriously impact a person’s professional and educational opportunities.
- Hosting Parties where Alcohol is Served to Minors
During the holiday season it is common for people to host parties at their homes for friends and family. While these are often casual events, the law doesn’t distinguish between a black tie affair held at your home and one where persons are sitting around a fire pit in your backyard wearing jeans and sweatshirts. In Pennsylvania, social host liability applies to adults who serve alcohol to minors. Adults are responsible for the consequences of their own drinking but minors are the exception. New Jersey however doesn’t limit lawsuits to minors, but also allows adults to bring claims against social hosts if these individuals leave an event clearly intoxicated.
Violations of the social host law are not only civil matters but also criminal as well. I'll get into this and my last 2 points in Part 2 of this article, so stayed tuned!
Our firm wishes you and your family a great holiday season! For more information on how we can assist you, a friend, or family member, please contact our office and visit our free download section for more information.