The Thanksgiving holiday is this Thursday and as always I try to keep my blog focused on providing value to clients and their families through information. Thanksgiving is the biggest travel holiday and travel is often how many criminal cases start. Remember that some of the most serious criminal charges involving drugs, illegal guns, and DUI, don’t begin with a long police investigation but rather a simple vehicle stop on a road or street in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
After more than a decade of defending individuals and organizations I have identified some common behaviors that people should avoid which can eliminate or minimize potential criminal charges. It’s important to keep in mind that there will be increased police presence this holiday as local police and state troopers know that many individuals have the propensity to consume more alcohol than normal or engage in other activities which could present a threat to public safety. If you are stopped by police this Thanksgiving or during the holiday season, I recommend not doing the following:
- DO NOT refuse a breathalyzer or blood test.
- While the United States Supreme Court case of Birchfield v. North Dakota has called into question the admissibility of blood evidence without a subpoena, I do not recommend refusing a blood draw or breathalyzer. Remember the Birchfield decision does not affect the breathalyzer and if you refuse a blood test, PennDot can and will suspend your driver’s license as the result of a criminal prosecution is irrelevant. Submitting to a chemical test after an arrest for DUI still allows your attorney to contest the admissibility of that evidence through a Motion to Suppress Evidence. This means that if the blood or breath test was taken against your Constitutional Right under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution or the applicable Pennsylvania or New Jersey sections (Article 1, Section 8 and Article 1, Paragraph 7), a judge will not permit the prosecution (DA) to use the evidence against you at trial.
- DO NOT consent to the search of your car or property
- Every person has a right against illegal search and seizure pursuant to the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and United States Constitutions. This is one of the strongest rights that anyone possesses and consenting to a search will never help your criminal case. When a person consents to a search they waive all constitutional rights and so an attorney cannot argue at a motion to suppress the infringement on these rights.
- DO NOT argue with police
- Arguing with police will never help your criminal case and if anything will make it worse. There are additional criminal charges which a prosecutor can bring for resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and none of this will help your case. Not arguing with police does not mean consenting to a search or volunteering information to the officer. It’s important to remain silent, stay calm, and be polite to the officer. Please don’t make the mistake of believing any officer or member of law enforcement who claims to “go easy on you” if you simply cooperate. This is an inaccurate statement and a police officer simply has no control over how a criminal case proceeds and if certain charges are brought against an individual.
- DO NOT carry your Pennsylvania gun into New Jersey
- Pennsylvania and New Jersey have very different laws regarding the possession of firearms. While Pennsylvania does issue permits to carry, it is unusual for an individual to have a permit or license to carry a firearm in the state of New Jersey. I can’t stress enough the importance of obeying this principal as New Jersey maintains mandatory minimum sentencing for the illegal possession of a firearm. While having a license in a separate jurisdiction like Pennsylvania will certainly help if a person is convicted or pleads guilty to an illegal possession charge in New Jersey, illegal possession is still a felony in New Jersey and will severely hinder a person’s ability to obtain employment or certain government benefits.
- DO NOT consume prescription drugs or any drug if you plan on driving in Pennsylvania or New Jersey
- Most people believe that DUI/DWI is limited to driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs. It’s important to keep in mind that these criminal offenses focus on impairment and not the substance which caused that impairment. This means that if you ingest a drug which impairs your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely, you are guilty of DUI/DWI in both of these jurisdictions. A conviction for driving under the influence of any combination of drugs in Pennsylvania subjects a person to a mandatory minimum of a 72 hour jail sentence and a 12 month license suspension. The prosecution doesn’t need to establish a specific amount of illegal substances in your blood, only that there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that you consumed it. This means that the prosecution can meet its burden through an admission or some other proof that a person has consumed a drug which has impaired their ability to drive.