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Lehighton Legal Issues Blog

DUI blood-draw refusal may be trial evidence

Police possess a legal arsenal, including blood-alcohol testing, in their prosecution of suspected drunk drivers. In a recent decision, the State Supreme Court ruled that a driver's refusal to submit to a warrantless blood test could be used as evidence in a drunk driving trial.

In this case, prosecutors introduced evidence of the driver's blood test refusal. However, police did not conduct a warrantless search after his refusal or obtain any evidence of the driver's blood alcohol content level. The driver was not punished for simply refusing the blood test.

Equal parenting time may be coming

Under Pennsylvania law, there is a presumption that custody should not be awarded to one of the parents. But, a recently introduced bill could dramatically change child custody by creating a presumption that equal parenting time is in the best interests of the child.

If adopted, the new bill would eliminate the use of primary and partial physical custody in favor of the presumption for shared physical and legal custody and equal parenting time. Equal parenting time would be defined as close as 50 percent of time that a child spends with each parent. But, the child would not be able to send more than 60 percent of their time with either parent.

Is your ex an unfit parent?

It's no secret that many Pennsylvania divorces involve less than amicable situations between spouses. In fact, you may be among those who have reason to believe that your ex's presence in your children's lives is detrimental to their well-being. Like all good parents, your kids' best interests are and always have been your highest priority.

It's one thing to feel that way, however, and quite another to have to prove parental unfitness in court, which is what you'll have to do if you request sole custody on those grounds. The judge overseeing your case is going to want to see strong evidence that supports your claim that you believe your children are better off in your sole care. Such situations are often highly stressful, so it helps to build a strong support network right from the start.

Cellphone evidence hangs up heroin conviction

Cellphone evidence can be important in drug prosecution. But, police must comply with constitutional rights when using this evidence. Recently, a state appeals court vacated the conviction of a defendant convicted of drug charges related to transporting heroin in retrofitted car batteries because law enforcement officials illegally tracked his cellphone without having a search warrant.

Prosecutors charged that the defendant transported almost 60 pounds of heroin, with a street value of $6 million, in retrofitted car batteries from Atlanta to New York City through Montgomery County. It was estimated that this could have been divided into 891,000 heroin doses. He was arrested at the Turnpike King of Prussia toll plaza with three kilos of uncut heroin. According to police, this had a total street value of $1 million.

The basics about Chapter 13 bankruptcy

Bankruptcy can help lessen the financial challenges faced by debtors. Chapter 7, for example, allows liquidation of assets. But, Chapter 13 allows debtors to hold on to assets and pay off debts through a repayment plan.

A repayment plan is the main feature of Chapter 13 bankruptcy. A debtor must attend credit counseling. In these sessions, a counselor will help create a repayment plan that is practicable and reflects the amount of disposable income held by the debtor. A court must find that this plan is acceptable, because plans usually allow debtors to pay less than the amount they owe. Creditors have the opportunity, however, to object to this plan. An unacceptable plan may be modified. The debtor is responsible for making payments to a trustee if the court accepts the plan.

Some positive news on 2018 traffic fatality estimates

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates on traffic deaths in 2018 contains some promising news and some bad news. The NHTSA projects a small drop in deaths from car accidents and other vehicle crashes, even as the number of miles driven rose slightly. But, over 100 Americans still die each day in vehicle accidents.

The NHTSA's statistical projection shows that an estimated 36,750 people were killed in vehicle traffic accidents last year. This is a 1% decrease from the 37,133 deaths reported for 2017 and the 37,806 fatalities in 2016. Crash deaths dropped 8% from 2016 to 2018.

Bill would address custody violations

Violations of child visitation orders usually require litigation and often have insignificant consequences. A bill pending in the Pennsylvania legislature, however, would help provide relief for parents who lose time with their children when the other parent violated a child custody order.

Currently, a parent who loses time with their children when the other parent unlawfully withheld custody has few meaningful options. That parent must file a petition for contempt and go to court. The range of penalties for the parent who withheld custody include a fine, probation, an order to pay that parent's and, in very rare cases, imprisonment.

Supreme Court overturns sobriety checkpoint arrest

Police in Pennsylvania use sobriety checkpoints to conduct random stops of motorists and determine whether they are driving while impaired. Last month, however, the state Supreme Court suppressed evidence in a drunk driving prosecution of a New York motorist because the police departments from 16 different jurisdictions did not comply with laws governing inter-governmental operation of sobriety checkpoints.

The checkpoint was implemented in Robinson to catch drunk and impaired drivers leaving concerts in Burgettstown. The driver was stopped at the checkpoint on Sept. 29, 2013 and admitted to a Moon Township officer that she drank a shot and a beer. Her blood alcohol content level was 0.152 which is twice the legal limit.

Bicycling: Your safety is on the line

After a cold, dreary winter, you may be among the many in Pennsylvania who are eager to get back on your bicycle. Whether you bike to work, for exercise or for pleasure, by yourself or in a group, riding a bike is one of those childhood joys that carries over into adulthood without apologies. Unfortunately, along with the joy comes the danger.

Each year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other agencies track and evaluate the statistics related to bicycle accidents and injuries. While statistics may seem impersonal, they may help you and others realize how important it is to use caution and be defensive when you are biking among traffic.

Summer presents custody challenges

Instead of being a time of vacation, summer can present stress and challenges to separated or divorced parents and their children, with negative aftereffects that can last for years. Organization and communication, however, can help prevent child custody problems over the summer.

First, parents and children should communicate about their needs and wishes as soon as possible. Mediators or counselors can help parents overcome more difficult disagreements. Respect is also essential. At the very least, parents should not speak negatively about each other. Any actions and comments have an impact on children and, ultimately, a parent's relationship with them.

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