Criminal Fines vs. Restitution

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When it comes to sentencing a convicted defendant, judges have many choices other than incarceration. Fines, community services, and restitution are also common options. Learn about the difference between fines and restitution below:

Fines

Less serious offenses (especially committed by first-time offenders) are often punished with fines. These “less serious” offenses include a small amount of marijuana, shoplifting, and traffic violations. In most places throughout the country, laws will specify the maximum amount an offender may be fined for an offense. The judge will then impose a fine he or she sees fit up to (but not exceeding) that amount.

Restitution

Although fines and restitution are often confused, they are not the same. Fines will go to the state/federal/local government. Restitution money is an amount the defendant pays to the victim/state restitution fund. In fraud schemes, the defendant may have to pay the state back for the money that was fraudulently taken. In other cases, the offender may be required to return/place stolen/damaged property or compensate victims for injuries, medical treatment, or funeral costs. Restitution can be just one part of the sentence or added to a punishment such as probation, prison time, or even community service.

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Back to School Time

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Another summer has flown by and many parents are preparing for their kids for a new school year. It can be a difficult time for parents and children in divorced families. One of the best ways to prepare for a smooth transition is to plan ahead with your co-parent. There are a variety of ways (and even apps) to prepare together so both you and your child can have a successful and stress-free year.

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Many schools have their academic calendars online. Make sure all important events (ex: field trips, doctor appointments, sports practices, school closings, parent-teacher conferences, etc.) are written down and shared with your co-parent. One of the best methods is a shared cyber calendar. The most popular one available is Our Family Wizard. This will easily allow you and your former spouse to be on the same page. Less time spent arguing over the chaotic year ahead means more time with your children.

Here’s to a successful and stress-free school year!

Types of Personal Injury

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A personal injury lawyer can provide legal representation to those who claim to have been injured, physically or psychologically, as a result of the negligence or wrongdoing of another person, company, government agency, or other entity. Here are a few of the common types of personal injury:

1. Car Accidents

What to do at the scene of the accident:

  • Make sure everyone is okay or receives immediate medical care.
  • Call the police and request an officer at the scene, even if the accident seems small. A police report from the scene can help determine which driver is at fault.
  • Gather information. Get the names and phone numbers of everyone involved, including witnesses. Also take photographs of the accident before moving vehicles if you can.
  • Try not to make statements that indicate fault. Apologies can be interpreted as guilt rather than a polite gesture.

After the accident:

  • Receive any needed medical treatment as soon as possible. Tell your doctor that you were in an accident.
  • Be sure that you complete all of the treatments prescribed by your healthcare professional.
  • Keep a journal of your bills, medications, treatments, and other medical expenses.

You must also contact your insurance company and the insurance companies of those involved. Keep all records of your expenses and needs, such as a rental car or bus fare. Be careful when you speak to someone else’s insurance company. Other insurance companies must protect their clients first, and your statements can be recorded and misinterpreted.

2. Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice means that a health-care provider did not give you the standard of care that other medical professionals would provide under similar circumstances. You must also prove that the health-care provider’s negligence caused damage to you. Most medical malpractice attorneys do not pursue such cases unless injuries and and damages are documented in your records. Your case must also be reviewed and supported by a physician, who will serve as an expert witness.

3. Slip and Fall

Personal injury resulting from a slip and fall case]must meet one of these criteria:

  • The owner or employee must have caused the dangerous surface.
  • The owner or employee must have known about the dangerous surface and not done anything to try and fix it.
  • The owner or employee should have known about the dangerous surface because reasonable person would have known about it and tried to fix it.

Judges and juries will determine if the owner or employee of the place where you fell took steps to fix the dangerous spot or warn you about it. However, they will also try to find out if you had a good reason to be in that dangerous spot. They will also want to know if you were distracted or if a reasonable person would have avoided the dangerous spot.

4. Defamation

There are two types of defamation:

Libel: the defamation of a person, group, organization, product, government, or country that was made in written or printed words or in pictures.

Slander: the same thing as libel but the defamation is in the form of spoken words, sounds, sign language, or gestures.

You may have a defamation case if the false statement was said as if it was a true statement and caused damages. Remember that it is important to document both the false statement and the damages that occurred, such as lost income and mental health care.

5. Dog Bites

The laws for dog bites vary by state. Some states place strict liability laws on dog owners, meaning the owner is responsible for the bite or attack even if they tried to protect you. Some states require that you must provide proof that the the owner knew the animal had the potential to be dangerous. As with all personal injuries, it is important to document your injury and the damages, like any lost wages and hospital bills. To better understand your state’s laws, contact a lawyer.

6. Assault and Battery

The legal system often links these two terms. However, they have slightly different criteria, and the exact definitions of the two terms vary by state. Contact a lawyer or the police in your area if you’ve experienced an assault or battery.

Assault- Physical contact is not necessary for an assault to occur. Spoken words must also be accompanied with an action that makes you or a group of people afraid of being injured. You must also prove that the other person intended to harm you or your group. In other words, you can’t be accidentally assaulted.

Battery- Like assault, the definition of battery also varies in each state. Generally, a person must intentionally and harmfully touch you without your consent. As with assault, a person cannot accidentally batter you. If you are bumped in a crowd, no matter how offensive it may seem to you, you usually cannot press battery charges.

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What is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

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Felony and misdemeanor are legal terms describing the seriousness of a crime.

A felony is a very serious crime. Felonies generally carry long prison sentences of a year or more. Examples of a felony are attempted murder and cocaine trafficking.

In Pennsylvania, there are 3 classes of Felonies (Felony 1, Felony 2, Felony 3), for which the maximum penalties are:

  • Felony 1:  Up to 20 years in prison
  • Felony 2: Up to 10 years in prison
  • Felony 3: Up to 7 years in prison.

A misdemeanor is a less serious crime. Misdemeanors carry shorter prison sentences. Examples of misdemeanor crimes include simple possession of marijuana, simple assault and battery, and tampering with an electric meter.

There are also 3 classes of Misdemeanors (Misdemeanor 1, Misdemeanor 2, Misdemeanor 3), for which the maximum penalties under Pennsylvania law if found guilty, are:

  • Misdemeanor 1: Up to 5 years in prison
  • Misdemeanor 2: Up to 3 years in prison
  • Misdemeanor 3: Up to 1 year in prison

You may also face a summary offense where you could face up to thirty days in jail.

Have a question? Call us today!

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Who Determines How Assets are Divided in a Divorce?

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Spouses are generally free to divide their property as they see fit. That is called a “marital settlement agreement,” which is a contract between the husband and the wife that divides property and debts and resolves other issues of the divorce.

Surprisingly, a majority of divorces are settled without the need for a judge to decide property or other issues. However, if the division of property cannot be settled, then the court must make the determination. Laws vary from state to state.

I Am Getting Divorced. Do I Need An Attorney?

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It is usually a good idea to consult with a lawyer about major events/changes. Attorneys will be able to discuss your rights (and your children’s rights.) They will be able to advise you on the current laws in your state concerning marriage, divorce, marital property, child custody, and visitation.

What Are The Legal Grounds For Obtaining A Divorce?

It depends on what state. It may be based on no-fault or fault.

No-Fault: Available in some form in all 50 states (many states also have fault-based grounds as an additional option). A no-fault divorce is one in which neither the husband nor the wife officially blames the other for the breakdown of the marriage.

Fault: Reasons for divorce may include: adultery, physical cruelty, mental cruelty, attempted murder, desertion, habitual drunkenness, use of addictive drugs, insanity, impotency, and infection of one’s spouse with venereal disease.

Contact us today to talk to an experienced family law attorney! We can help you through this tough time. -DDS

Emergency Custody

Question: Can you file for emergency custody if the other parent left with the kids?

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Attorney MacKenzie Grills’ Answer: Yes, you can file for emergency custody, though you may have problems with getting proper service on the other parent. A private investigator can be used if you cannot locate the individual and do not have a correct address for that person. Additionally, depending on where the other parent relocated to with the children there may be a relocation issue. Under the law, if the move substantially interferes with the custody rights of the other parent the moving party is required to file for relocation and must receive court approval prior to said move. It is important that you meet with an attorney who specializes in these types of situations and who can assist you with moving forward in court.

MacKenzie Grills’ practice focuses primarily on criminal and family law. She has extensive experience in handling a variety of criminal matters. Her experience ranges from summary offenses to serious and complex felony charges. MacKenzie has handled an array of cases from the preliminary hearing all the way to the final disposition, whether the end result is a plea deal, non-jury or jury trial. Notably, she has second chair experience in several homicide trials including a recent death penalty case.  While in law school, MacKenzie interned for DeRiso, DeRiso and Suher, Attorneys at Law as a certified legal intern. She was also involved in several law journals at Duquesne University. She served as the Articles Editor for the Duquesne University Business Law Journal and as the Executive Managing Editor for the Duquesne University Criminal Law Journal. Additionally, she was given the Outstanding Oral Advocate Award for her work in a Mock Appellate Argument.

To contact her, call  (412) 452-9712.  

Halloween Safety Tips

Halloween can be a fun time for all to dress up in costumes, enjoy parties and eat yummy treats.  Here are some tips to stay safe this weekend:

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STAY HEALTHY

⦁ A good meal prior to parties and trick-or-treating will discourage youngsters from filling up on Halloween treats.
⦁ Wait until children are home to sort and check treats where a responsible adult should closely examine all treats and throw away any spoiled, unwrapped or suspicious items.
⦁ Try to ration treats for the days following Halloween.

BUDDY SYSTEM

⦁ Trick-or-treat in groups or with a responsible adult
⦁ If older children are going trick-or-treating alone, plan and review an acceptable route beforehand
⦁ Put reflective tape on costumes/bags to help drives see you when it’s dark out

BRIGHTER THE BETTER

⦁ Bring a flashlight to help you see and to make sure others can see you!
⦁ Only go to homes with a porch light on and NEVER enter a home or car for a treat
⦁ Remain on well lit streets and always use the sidewalk
⦁ Look both ways before crossing the street

ALL DRESSED UP

⦁ Stay away from decorative contact lenses! They can cause a serious eye injury
⦁ Make sure that shoes fit well and that costumes are short enough to prevent tripping
⦁ Keep small children away when carving pumpkins.  Encourage them instead to draw a face with markers and then parents can do the cutting
⦁ Consider using a glow stick or flashlight instead of a candle to light your pumpkin
⦁ Candlelit pumpkins should never be left unattended

WATCH THE PETS
⦁ Remember chocolate can kill dogs so keep them in places that your pets can’t reach!
⦁ Consider keeping out treats to reward your pets with good behavior throughout the evening (especially if they are being bothered by trick-or-treaters!)
⦁ A dog’s instinct is to protect you so strangers dressed in weird clothes showing up at your doorstep can be scary! Keep your pet on a leash or a place in the home where they feel comfortable and where they can’t accidently run out the front door
⦁ You might want to dress your pet up, but if your pet seems stressed out it might be best to just ditch the costume. If they don’t seem to care about being dressed up, then make sure there is nothing that can be considered a choking hazard

Frequently Asked Questions: Criminal Law

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If you have been accused of a serious crime, your chances in court not only depend on your lawyer’s knowledge of the justice system, but also yours.

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Here are some frequently asked questions that may help you understand the process better:

Should I talk to the police?

In most cases it is in your best interest to avoid making a statement without an attorney.  Sometimes you are unaware if the police are investigating you and might make a statement when called into the station.  Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney can talk to detectives and get valuable information that can result in charges not being filed.  

Can police arrest me without evidence of my guilt?

Police can only arrest you if they have probably cause. Depending on the potential causes they will either arrest you, submit your case to a District Attorney who will then ask you to appear for an arraignment or will ask you to voluntarily surrender yourself at the police station.

What happens at an arraignment?

Your arrignment will be your first appearance in court.  It is where your attorney will receive the charges that have been filed against you.  At this time, your attorney can usually argue bail.  

What is a preliminary hearing? 

If you were charged with a felony a preliminary hearing will be your next appearance in court.  The judge will then determine whether or not there’s probably cause to believe that a crime was committed and if you have probable cause to commit the crime.  Your defense attorney will then use the hearing to dispute the evidence, find testimony of witnesses and look for inconsistences in the DA’s case. 

What happens after the preliminary trial?

The judge will then determine whether or not there are enough facts to believe you committed the crime. If so, he/she will send your trial to the appropriate court.  The DA is free to file any charges that they believe were proven at the preliminary trial.

What happens at trial?

If no disposition is reached, the case will be send to trial.  There are various things that can occur at this time including selecting a jury, presenting evidence and cross-examination of witnesses.  The jury will then deliberate and reach a verdict. 

Check back soon for the next in our series of FAQ!  As always, feel free to give us a call for a free consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions: Divorces

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There’s no such thing as a stupid question!  Here are some of the most common questions we are asked. This week we will focus on divorces. Check back next week for another subject!

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What are the grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania?

In the state of PA divorce is divided into two categories: fault and no fault.  A divorce on fault grounds requires that the plaintiff prove that he/she is innocent and that the other is guilty of one of the six categories of martial misconduct (adultery, desertion, cruel treatment, bigamy, imprisonment for a crime and indignities).

If a divorce is no-fault then the marriage is irretrievably broken.

My spouse and I both want a divorce.  What should we do first? 

Before you file for divorce in the state of Pennsylvania, consider if you think you are amicable enough to mediate your divorce.  In this case, you both agree to draft your own terms of your marital settlement with the help of a mediator.  In the state of Pennsylvania divorce mediation is filed under the no fault divorce statue meaning that one does not need to show fault which caused a divorce to be filed (adultery, abuse, etc.)

What do I do if my spouse serves me with divorce papers?

From the date the divorce papers are filed, you have up to two years to consent to it.  Do not delay.  Consult a divorce attorney as soon as possible to assist you and help with your legal options.  You then have the option of completing the divorce through lawyers or a divorce mediator.  An experienced attorney can help you through this emotional process so you can thoroughly understand the legal process.

What is the difference between separation and divorce?

In a separation agreement, both spouses have a legally-binding agreement that settles all of the affairs.  They may choose not to file a divorce decree with the court and can remain obligated under the separation agreement for an indefinite period of time. In a divorce, spouses have signed the agreement and file it in the appropriate county.  A judge will then issue a final divorce decree.  Many couples decide to remain separated without actually divorce for emotional, tax and financial reasons.