Comments Off on Geography’s role in Criminal Justice
Whether a person is charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI), Simple Assault, Burglary, Theft, Firearms or Drug Offenses, they ultimately want to know how the charges they are facing will affect their life. The answer to that question depends on multiple factors, but none more important than the geographic location the crime occurred.
Most people are aware and accept that laws vary from state to state, but what most people don’t realize is that within each state, the laws can be enforced in drastically different ways. This is particularly true in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania where there are 67 counties headed by 67 District Attorneys, each of whom have wide latitude to enforce the laws in a way they see fit. One particular District Attorney’s Office may seek harsher penalties for crimes committed in their county then a neighboring county’s District Attorney may seek.
ARD (Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition) is a diversionary program offered for first time offenders throughout Pennsylvania that allows a person to do community service and other programs in exchange for a dismissal of the charges. While ARD is allowed by state statute, each District Attorney is allowed to set the parameters for what crimes they will accept for the ARD program and dictate what conditions must be met before the charges are dismissed. Some DAs may allow a person who has committed a crime of violence ( Assault, Burglary etc.) entry into a program while other DA’s may limit entry to first time Driving Under the Influence (DUI) offenses.
In some cases, the county where the arrest occurred may have certain rules and procedures in place that could be a benefit or a detriment to someone arrested for a crime. For instance, someone arrested for a 2nd DUI with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that is .16 or higher is facing a state mandated minimum sentence of 90 days of incarceration. Each county is allowed to set criteria for how that 90 days will be served. For example, in Chester County it is possible to have the 90 day sentence broken down into 15 days of actual jail time and 75 days of house arrest with permission to leave the house for work or school. If a person’s arrest occurred in neighboring Lancaster County, it would only be possible to have the 90 days broken down to 45 days of actual jail and 45 days of house arrest. Bucks County may even allow a person to do the entire 90 days on house arrest. The same crime netting a person 45 more days of jail in one county compared to another. This additional 45 days could mean the difference in keeping their job or losing their job and having to start all over.
Does this lack of uniformity in the Pennsylvania Justice System seem fair and appropriate? Should two people charged with the same crime who happen to be in different counties get drastically different sentences? As with most issues, it is open to debate.
Comments Off on DUI Penalties in Pennsylvania: Too Harsh or Just Right?
In Pennsylvania, DUIs are classified as a misdemeanor offense, but the consequences and penalties of a DUI conviction are more severe than most other misdemeanor offenses and some felony offenses. A DUI arrest and conviction has an effect on a individual that could effect every aspect of that person’s life. The two primary reasons for this are mandatory jail sentences and mandatory license suspensions.
A person with no prior record who gets convicted of a DUI will likely face at least 3 days of incarceration and a one year loss of license. Both of these factors would play a significant role in a person’s ability to continue to work at their job and provide for their families. Even if a person were fortunate enough to have a job that would allow them to have time off to serve their jail sentence, not having a license for a year would be a hurdle that most people, especially those who live in the suburbs, would not be able to overcome. A one year loss of license for most people would certainly put their jobs in jeopardy if they rely on their car to get back and forth to work. There are also family concerns associated with a loss of license. Not being able to drive your kids to doctor’s appointments or pick them up from school certainly would cause hardships for a family.
To put this in perspective, a person with no prior record who is charged with misdemeanor Simple Assault on their spouse, which many would agree is amore egregious offense, would not face nearly the same consequences. If convicted, that person may only receive a probationary sentence. In some situations, the District Attorney may agree to drop the charge altogether in exchange for the person participating in a domestic violence class. Aside from participating in some programs, the charged individual is often times allowed to continue on with their life and career with little interruptions.
The reality is that the criminal justice system punishes DUI offenders based not on what they did but based on what they are trying to prevent, which is the unfortunate deaths of many innocent people at the hands of drunk drivers. Most people would agree that someone who gets behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated and kills someone should be dealt with severely by the criminal justice system, but the real dilemma that deserves considerable thought is what to do with the individual who consumed more than they should at the office Christmas party or dinner out with friends who happens to get stopped at a checkpoint or pulled over for speeding. Do they deserve the consequences they will likely have to endure? Consequences that people who have committed more egregious offenses will likely avoid. Only the public can decide this through their elected representatives. For now, the public has decided that the answer is yes.
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