Pennsylvania Attorneys and their Disciplinary Process

My licensure defense practice includes representing attorneys facing disciplinary process in Pennsylvania. Attorneys licensed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court – whether practicing in Pennsylvania or not – are subject to discipline the same as other Pennsylvania licensees. Criminal conduct and egregious unethical conduct expose attorneys to prosecution for violating the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Attorney discipline in Pennsylvania’s attorney regulatory system is more complex that other licensees. The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the court in the Supreme Court in which disciplinary actions are filed. The Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct govern the practice of law in the Commonwealth. These Rules set forth the minimum ethical standards for the practice of law and constitute a set of Rules that all attorneys must follow. These Rules were originally promulgated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on April 1, 1988.

The Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement is the administrative process through which Supreme Court disciplinary actions are filed, hearings, held and appeals prosecuted. These Rules establish the attorney disciplinary system in Pennsylvania and set forth a broad set of procedural Rules governing attorney discipline. These rules were originally adopted by the Supreme Court in November 1972.

Disciplinary Board Rules and Procedures supplement and implement the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, and govern proceedings before the Disciplinary Board. These Rules are promulgated by the Disciplinary Board. This is the main difference between attorney disciplinary matters and other licensed professionals. Where the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (BPOA) handles all other licensee discipline, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court supervises and disciplines attorneys.

Almost all other aspects of attorney disciplinary matters are similar to that of other licensees. The supreme court issues orders of prosecution to which attorneys must respond to the Prothonotary with all official filings. Disciplinary board council must be copied on all pleadings filed with the court.

Criminal convictions, not arrests, trigger Supreme court investigations and disciplinary action. Routinely Board prosecutors emergently file Orders to Show Cause to suspend attorneys license to practice law. There are much shorter time periods for attorneys to respond to disciplinary filings.

Orders to show cause why in attorney’s license should not be suspended for a criminal conviction in either of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, federal court, or any other jurisdiction must be immediately addressed. Lack of extra jurisdiction disciplinary prosecutions will not forestall the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from commencing it’s own independent disciplinary action.

Learning about and cooperating with prosecutors from the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board is important. Typically these attorneys are former prosecutors and, as attorneys themselves, seek to protect the profession from attorneys who engage in unethical and illegal conduct.
Theft of client funds and improper use of attorney trust account money will always trigger emergent prosecutions. Impairment prosecutions against attorneys caught using drugs, driving under the influence, or even showing up in court impaired are real, frequent, and as rampant as other professionals. Attorneys also suffer from mental health issues, diagnosed or not, that may begin to greatly affect their practice, bleed over into their practice of law. Untreated mental health issues, illnesses, drug abuse, or alcoholism always translate into client complaints.

If you are an attorney in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania please call me to discuss your potential or pending attorney disciplinary action.

Disclosing a Criminal Conviction on a Licensure Application — Part 2

In my last blog I wrote about real estate applicant who failed to disclose on his Real Estate Commission application a criminal conviction. Upon discovery the Commission revoked his license and the Commonwealth Court approved of the action. Today’s blog involves the exact opposite result for one of my physician clients.

On October 14, 2014 Dr. Christopher Elder, a Texas licensed physician, submitted an application to Pennsylvania’s Medical Board for a license to practice medicine and surgery. Unlike Hawes, Elder disclosed a 2010 federal conviction for aiding in abetting and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846. On April 2, 2015 the Pennsylvania Medical Board provisionally denied Elder’s application. The Board maintained the Criminal History Record Information Act, 18 Pa. C.S. § 9124(c)(1) (CHIRA), authorized licensure denial because of Elder’s felony conviction. The Board also denied licensure, maintaining Elder lacked good moral character and did not possess the requisite training and experience.

Elder appealed the conditional denial of licensure. At the hearing before a the Hearing Officer Elder presented his credentials, training and experience, the facts of the criminal case, and character evidence. Consistent with prior Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent, Elder maintained the criminal conviction was too remote for the Board to determine such affected his current ability to do his job lawfully. Elder’s mitigating evidence established his minor role in the criminal case and his rehabilitation since release from prison.

The Hearing Officer weighed Elder’s witness’ credibility and Elder’s mitigating evidence. He ruled in Elder’s favor, stating that while Elder’s criminal conduct demonstrated moral turpitude at the time of its commission, Elder presented persuasive evidence of his rehabilitation and present moral fitness to practice medicine. A period of probation was required to allow Elder the ability to secure appropriate supplemental educational classes for competency.

The Medical Board rejected the Hearing Officer’s proposed adjudication. The Board determined Elder’s explanation of his crime displayed a lack of remorse and acceptance of responsibility, that Elder still lacked the moral turpitude to be a doctor in Pennsylvania, and lacked the educational qualifications. Elder appealed, maintaining the Board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious in light of the competent, uncontested character evidence and age of the criminal act.

Commonwealth Court agreed with Elder. For the second time in as many months, the Court took a Pennsylvania licensing board out to the wood shed and gave it a stern whipping. The Court emphasized that Boards must look at the age of the crime as it related to current fitness. Remote, past dereliction, must be considered where an agency seeks to revoke a professional license on the basis of a criminal conviction. Secretary of Revenue v. John’s Vending Corporation, 453 Pa. 488, 309 A.2d 358 (1973).

The Court explained that “where the prior convictions do not in anyway reflect upon the [applicant’s] present ability to properly discharge the responsibilities required by the position, we hold that the convictions cannot provide a basis for the revocation of a … license.”

For Elder I determined he must present a clear explanation of the criminal enterprise accompanied by extensive mitigating evidence. The Board was dismissive of Elder’s mitigating evidence, stating that “[r]ather than to take responsibility and express remorse for his criminal misconduct during his testimony, [Elder] attempted to minimize his role.” Elder responded that such did not minimize his criminal conduct but explained his role in the underlying conspiracy, which the Board misconstrued as a collateral attack on his conviction. Elder directs the Court to Nguyen v. Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, State Board of Cosmetology, 53 A.3d 100 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2012).

The Commonwealth Court reviewed the entire record, the Federal Court sentencing transcript, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, and each witness’ testimony of Elder’s character and rehabilitation. The Court emphatically states:

The record does not support the Board’s assertion that Elder failed to express remorse or to take responsibility for his criminal conduct. At the hearing, Elder stated that he was “really” and “deeply” remorseful and he “absolutely accept[s]” responsibility.” He presented witnesses to attest to his remorse. The Board did not explain how this testimony was inadequate or what else Elder could have said. Elder’s attempt to place his criminal conduct into context and explain his role in the conspiracy does not demonstrate a lack of remorse or rehabilitation, as the Board presumed. The Board simply made a subjective determination that was contrary to that of the Hearing Examiner, who directly observed Elder and his witnesses, and accepted his evidence on remorse.

We hold that the Board erred and abused its discretion in reaching the conclusion that Elder does not have the present moral character required for a license. Elder’s crimes were committed over 14 years ago and were isolated to a single episode in his life. He has served his sentence. The Board erred by categorizing Elder’s evidence as not accepting responsibility when he was simply explaining his role in the conspiracy. The Board’s conclusion on Elder’s moral character cannot be reconciled with John’s Vending, 453 Pa. 488, 309 A.2d 358, or Nguyen, 53 A.3d 100. It did not take into account its own findings that Elder’s conduct since 2004 has been not only free of criminal conduct but dedicated to significant volunteer and public service activities.

In reversing the Board and instructing it to grant licensure, the Commonwealth Court determined the Medical Board sanction was a “manifest and flagrant abuse of discretion and purely an arbitrary execution of the agency’s duties or functions.” This is an amazing Commonwealth Court conclusion. Elder disclosed his federal criminal conviction for conspiracy to illegally distribute drugs. Elder set forth his long road to redemption, of rehabilitation, and his true character. The Court, a court of law, not the quasi-legal self-protecting Medical Board, looked at the facts – which mattered — and granted licensure.

Long hard preparation of this case won the day. My methodical approach to making a clear record of personal character recovery, redemption, and rehabilitation, could not be ignored. This cases reveals that proper presentation, preservation of the record, and coordination of witness is paramount to success. Call me to discuss your case.

Immediate Temporary Suspension — Are Temporary for 180 Days Only

Board prosecutors file a petition called an Immediate Temporary Suspension (“ITS”) petition that allows licensing boards to temporarily and immediately suspend licensees’ ability to practice their profession.  These petitions are typically reserved against licensee involved in a Drug Act investigation or sexual assault case.  The ITS suspension lasts, at the most, for 180 days.
The ITS petition must be followed up with a preliminary hearing to address the probable cause alleged in the petition.  A hearing must be scheduled and conducted within 30 days from the date of issuance of the suspension order. These preliminary hearings are limited to evidence on the issue of whether it is more likely than not a licensee engaged in any type of inappropriate criminal behavior supporting a temporary but emergent, suspension. Licensees are entitled to be present at the preliminary hearing, with or without an attorney, cross-examine witnesses, inspect evidence, call witnesses, and offer evidence and testimony.
If the hearing examiner does not find the prosecutor met their burden of proof, the licensee’s license and other authorizations to practice are immediately restored. If the prosecutor met their burden of proof, the temporary suspension remains in effect until vacated, but in no event longer than 180 days, unless otherwise ordered or agreed.
Orders for temporary suspension cases still require prosecutors to commence a separate disciplinary action seeking to suspend, revoke or otherwise restrict a licensee.  This separate action is filed through of a charging document known as an Order to Show Cause (“OSC”). In the OSC, facts are not limited to those alleged in the ITS petition.  The order to show cause is typically filed within the 180 day time, while the immediate temporary suspension is pending.
If a prosecutor does not file any disciplinary action after 180 days, the licensee is able to file a petition for the administrative reinstatement of the license. There is no hearing required and the board shall reinstate the licensee’s license. License reinstatement will issue even if there is a pending disciplinary action.

The post-180 day period is the time after which licenses can get their license back pending disciplinary action. I am currently handling several ITS cases with disciplinary action pending and not pending.  In one case disciplinary action was not filed for over a year. The licensee did not file a petition to reinstate her license and did not engage in the practice of her profession. This was a foolish mistake because absent disciplinary action, her license was subject to reinstatement without restriction after 180 days.  A little bit of research and hiring counsel would have properly notified the licensee of the lack of basis to continue her suspension.

License reinstatement is independent of any criminal prosecution or terms of a criminal sentence. Criminal prosecution can not include in a guilty plea agreement provisions that preclude a licensee from practicing your profession.  Call me to discuss your case.

Last Shore Ride of the Summer Season

 

Summer is almost gone.  Almost is a relative word.  Summer is gone.  Ok, I understand it better now.  This is why I am getting up at the same time, but the sun has yet to rise.  As seasons change, so should we.

My clients and friends alike know I email, text, and get much worthy work done before or at sunrise.  This is regardless of when such occurs.  When riding my bike at these early times, I learned – almost the hard way – to make sure the light leading the way – sun or man made – was bright enough.

The weekend before 2017 Labor Day found me up early with a  fellow early riser enjoying the sunrise from a concrete perch between Longport, Ocean City, and Somer’s Point, NJ.  The majesty that happens each day, clear or cloudy, brings awe and surprise.  Views and scenery are what get me up on the bike so early.

Three clear, sunny, and increasingly windy mornings made each ride different.  Alternate and longer long routes also mixed it up.  Each day’s returning home trek brought me to the 9th Street Bridge entering Ocean City, NJ.  Gazing upon Ferris’ wheel, the mere slivers of land between the water ways, and 360 degree views takes my breadth away.

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As with life, the important things are the small ones.  Smell the coffee, take that break or picture, and soak up life.  Throughout these long 40-60 mile rides we always stop when coming across nature’s wonders. (Not for the road kill.  It smells so bad.)  Appreciate daily the bikers, joggers, landscapes, or just family that are around you.

See them. Understand them. Embrace them.  They are always orbiting your existence.  Don’t always change their trajectory to mirror yours. Let them continue on their course with you a follower of them.  The Boy Scout principle “Leave No Trace” comes to mind. Appreciate what is there, but do not disturb.  Evaluate, investigate, and gain knowledge.  But, leave it undisturbed for others to do the same.

Ending my ride brings me back towards Longport, NJ with the sun streaking towards its daily zenith. Tired, worn out, but loving each pedal stroke, I am ready for the remainder of the day.  But mostly, I just need a cup of coffee.

New Registration Requirement Rules

I write  frequently about the Pennsylvania General Assembly routinely adding criminal and civil consequences to convicted sex offenders ‘s sentences after judicial pronouncement of the sentence. Modifying Megan’s Law registration requirements for convicted sex offenders is the most prominent of these tough-on-crime fighting, constituent-appeasing measures. Megan’s Law V is called the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. (SORNA), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9799.10-9799.41.
 
The Pennsylvania General Assembly has modified and/or extended Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law so many times that our Commonwealth now has five different Megan’s Law registration statutes. Parts of Megan’s Law, II-IV were declared unconstitutional. Megan’s Law V’s December 20, 2012 reclassification and extension of registration scheme for sex offenders – whether under supervision or not as of December 20, 2012- is now being attacked.  Defendants who complied with all terms and conditions of their criminal sentences and originally imposed registration requirements object to their reclassification. Successful legal arguments have focused on this provision.

On September 28, 2016 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court finally decided several consolidated cases addressing this issue.  In Commonwealth v. Martinez,  2016 Pa. LEXIS 2183 (Sep. 28, 2016), the Court resolved the legality of the 2012 reclassification scheme against otherwise compliant registrants. Three combined cases present the question of whether the state police can extend or re-enroll in the sexual registry defendants who satisfied all terms and conditions of an original guilty plea agreement and were not under probation or parole supervision as of December 20, 2012. The individuals may still have had to register under Megan’s law I-V.  These cases do not apply to open plea agreements or sentences handed down after a jury or bench trial.

Factually, after December 20, 2012 the state police sent letters out to Megan’s Law registrants compelling re-enrollment or extension of their registration requirements.  Registration requirements were extended from 10 to 25 years and 25 years to life depending on the criminal conviction. If registration had been completed but the convicted offense registration was changed to 25 years instead of 10 years, re-enrollment was demanded.  Martinez and other individuals around the Commonwealth contested reclassification because they complied with all aspects of their criminal plea agreement, may have concluded probation/parole supervision before December 2012, and may have even completed their registration responsibilities.

Some Cases were filed against the state police as injunctions, writs of mandamus, or a petitions to enforce guilty plea agreements. Many of these cases failed for any number of reasons. Case rulings allow reclassification against defendants who violated any term or condition of their guilty plea agreement.  Another basis for allowing reclassification is being charged with violating the registration requirements of their original sentence.  Even being charged for a reporting violation after 2012 became a reason for further reclassification.

The Martinez defendants (as well as several of my clients) satisfied their terms of incarceration with no violations or write ups, honored all probation or parole obligations, and were fully compliant with (or completed) all registration requirements. The state police still contacted them to either re-initiate or extend registration under Megan’s Law V.
 
I, like Martinez’ counsel, filed motions to enforce their guilty plea in various Common Pleas courts around the state.  I sought, like Martinez, to enforce the terms of their pre-2012 plea agreements.  Martinez focuses exclusively on the sanctity pleas agreement as a contract into which the government entered with these defendant.  Focusing defendants’ compliance with their side of the bargain, Martinez, and one other case, Commonwealth v. Hainesworth, 2013 PA Super 318, 82 A.3d 444 (Pa. Super. 2013),  present similar situated defendants.  In those cases the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that the Contract Clauses of the Pennsylvania, Pa. Const. art. I, § 17, and United States Constitutions, U.S. Const. art. I, § 10, cl. 1, prohibit the Pennsylvania Legislature from enacting laws that retroactively impair contract rights.
The Martinez case question was whether Hainesworth’s ruling, baring reclassification for defendants who complete the terms of the guilty plea contract before December 20, 2012, is proper.  The court said yes and affirms Hainesworth.  The court states “convicted criminals must fulfill the promises they make in connection with plea agreements. See Commonwealth v. Wallace, 582 Pa. 234, 870 A.2d 838, 843 n.6 (Pa. 2005) (“The defendant, on the other hand, accepts this benefit with the implicit promise that he will abide by the terms of the agreement and behave in accordance with the legal punishment imposed by the court.”).  For these defendants, the Court rules, the legislature must  honor the guilty plea agreement/contract its District Attorneys entered and the court approved. 
The issue now is does the guilty plea colloquy adequately set forth with particularity the registration requirements that are part of the guilty plea agreement.  Martinez may not apply to a cases in which the Megan’s Law terms are not stated in the record or were not negotiated.  If there is an open plea, these cases may not apply.  In the late 1990 and early 2000’s in many cases the Commonwealth simply did not negotiate terms of Megan’s Law in the guilty plea agreement or state it was negotiated on the record. 
Some experienced counsel tried to have the record reflect the plea negotiations to lower criminal charges were engaged to reduce the registration time (from a Tier II – 25 year offense to a Tier I – 10 year offense).  In those cases registration terms were reduced in guilty plea agreement by pleas to lower criminal charges.  Martinez find such stipulations in the three consolidated cases.  In Philadelphia and the local counties,  registration notification provisions were always placed in the plea agreement, with a separate signed Megan’s Law Registration form, and in colloquy at a sentencing. 
In the less sophisticated courts sometimes registration terms were not discussed in either the plea or sentencing hearings.  Importantly, counsel must secure both of these transcripts to determine in Martinez applies to the case.  Also, Martinez only applies to guilty pleas (not open pleas) for which a defendant was not under any jail, parole, or probation supervision as of December 2012.   Call me to discuss your case.
 
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Professional Licensing Board’s Discretion and Appellate Case Review

The discretionary decision making process of Pennsylvania’s twenty six professional boards is a huge appellate issue many cases confront.  In a recent case, board discretion is discussed in the context of non-criminal conduct and the Medical Board’s authority to police its own licensees.  The case is Mosuro v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, 2016 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 717 (Commw. Ct. Oct. 13, 2016).

Dr. Mosuro was disciplined in the state of Texas as a result of a medical relationship with a pain management clinic.  Dr. Mosuro was compensated by the owner of the clinic, an Advanced Practical Nurse (“APN”) licensed under Texas law, with a flat fee for each prescription he wrote for a clinic patient. In turn, the APN referred patients to Dr. Mosuro for other treatment.  Upon being investigated by the Texas Medical Board, but with no criminal charges being filed, the doctor enter into a consent agreement acknowledging violations State of Texas  Medical Board laws, rules, codes, and regulations due to his failure to supervise the APN and allowed her to prescribe medications that were non-therapeutic while acting under his prescriptive delegation. Charts were also not adequately documented and prescriptions were not supported by objective medical findings and data.  In sum, he allow his prescriptions to be used in a pill mill.

The Texas Board of Medicine issue the public reprimand and a $10,000 fine. He was also given a prescription prohibition on ordering, prescribing, or dispensing scheduled medication services.  The licensing authorities of Maryland, Tennessee, Alabama, and Virginia imposed similar discipline on Dr. Mosuro ‘s license.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania commenced disciplinary proceedings based upon Texas’ disciplinary action, accusing the doctor under 63 P. S. § 422.41 of improper prescribing of controlled substance through his involvement with the pill mill and his failure to properly supervise a nurse practitioner as required under Texas law. Standard of care violations, documentation of medical record violations, and unprofessional conduct were perceived by the Pennsylvania Medical Board as very serious.

After hearing in Pennsylvania, the hearing examiner proposed an Order and Adjudication of a $500 civil penalty and indefinitely suspended Doctor Mosuro license to practice medicine in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Upon review, the Pennsylvania Medical Board excepted the hearing examiner’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law but rejected the recommended order. Rather, the Medical Board ordered a public reprimand on Dr. Mosuro ‘s permanent licensing record, a $5000 civil penalty, and an indefinite suspension of his license to practice medicine and surgery in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Reinstatement may be sought upon compliance with the Texas Board order and his Texas medical license being reinstated to unrestricted status.  This totaled over $15,000 in fine for a doctor unable to practice medicine.  This Board issued this order even though Dr. Mosuro did not have an active Pennsylvania medical license, was not practicing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and was disciplined by many other jurisdictions as a result of the same conduct.  PENNSYLVANIA’S DISCIPLINE WAS THE HARSHEST OF ALL JURISDICTIONS.
Dr. Mosuro appealed to the Commonwealth Court.  The scope of the Commonwealth Court appeal is limited to determining whether the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence and whether the board committed errors of law or constitutional violations.” Blair v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, State Bd. of Nursing, 72 A.3d 742, 750 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2013).  In review of the record, the appellate court concludes  the Medical Board’s extensive discipline based solely upon the opioid prescription drug abuse crisis is proper. The Board restates with approval the Pennsylvania Medical Board citation to recent Pennsylvania legislative findings regarding human suffering associated with addiction and how its epidemic has reached families throughout the Commonwealth.
The Medical Board and the Commonwealth Court use this case as a example of how to ensure public safety from medical practitioners who use their medical licenses to create “rogue pain management clinics” in Pennsylvania. Citing statistics that Pennsylvania ranks seventh in the nation for drug overdoses from prescription pain killers and the role of pill mills in the overdose epidemic, the Court approves the Medical Board utilizing these facts to “engage in its purpose under the medical practices act of safe guarding the public health and welfare”.

The Court did not address the Board’s role of insuring individual penalties to individual licensees be based upon their case facts. The Court affirms Board citation to broad policy language that the prescription overdose epidemic cannot be ignored. The Commonwealth Court concludes that when as now there is a “current threat to public health and welfare when assessing whether a Board carries out its statutory mandate in a purely arbitrary and capricious manner”, the Medical Board is properly carrying out its broader policy mandate of stopping pill mills during this great opioid epidemic.  Such is sufficient factual and legal reasoning to discipline even an in-active medical licensee.

 The Commonwealth Court limited its inquiry into the “wisdom of the board,” not reviewing the administrative decision of the Medical Board with an eye towards substituting it’s judgment of what is reasonable for that of the agency whose decision is being reviewed. The court let stand the Pennsylvania Medical Board’s perceptions of the seriousness of the doctor’s Texas discipline, how such is also a violation of Pennsylvania’s medical licensing scheme, and the Board’s broad policy reasons for its discipline.
In sum, Commonwealth Court concludes that “the board did not abuse its discretion by taking strong action to protect the safety and welfare of citizens by suspending Dr. Mosuro’s license instead of imposing conditions on his license similar to those of the Texas Board.” Dr. Mosuro’s violation is very serious. In determining that the Board did not abuse its discretion, the Court states “even if we disagreed with the severity of the sanction and thought the Texas Board’s decision was more appropriate, the sanction must be upheld because proper review is not whether it’s order is reasonable, but whether it was made in accordance with law.”  Facilitating and conspiring to engage in operation of a “pill mill”, the Court and the Medical Board conclude, is not in accordance with law and, therefore, the suspension of the medical license is within the confines of the Board’s regulatory authority.

Call me to discuss your out of state disciplinary action and Pennsylvania’s pending disciplinary action.

Network Investigative Techniques, Federal Criminal Search Tools, and Your 4Th Amendment Rights

My involvement for twenty five years in federal criminal matters has resulted in me handing many different Motions to Suppress. Recently, in the context of Federal internet criminal investigations, I have gained extensive experience fighting the new federal investigative techniques, (“NIT”) that reveal personal identity and location data.

Once such case involves the Government’s use of an NIT or Network Investigative Technique. The NIT is a malware program placed on a computer server that launches itself into each computer accessing that server to engage in alleged criminal activity.  The accessing computers utilize the TOR network for anonymity purposes.  Upon accessing specific areas of the server, the malware on the server then sends to the activating computer (in another state typically inside a person’s home) a code instruction to search, secure, and transmit back to the server the user’s IP address. Thereafter, search warrants secure the personal identification and location information of the accessing computer owner.

I have filed motions to suppress this search technique.  The Government bears the burden of showing, under the Fourth Amendment, the reasonableness of each individual act constituting a search or seizure. The burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence. The court is presented with the choice of two tracks of analysis. Does the court choose to evaluate these defendants’ constitutional rights affected by the NIT Warrant under the:
1) Reasonable expectation of privacy test set forth in United States v. Katz, 389 U.S. 347 (1967); or
2) The property-based Fourth Amendment test set forth in United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. ___, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012). There, the court exclusively applied the property-based approach to determine whether a search occurs when the Government physically occupies private property of another for the purposes obtaining information. This approach keeps easy cases easy.

  1. PROPERTY-BASED FOURTH AMENDMENT PROTECTIONS

The court must choose the property-based search analysis set forth in JonesJones holds that surveillance on a person through electronic means without a warrant constitutes a trespass and may be an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. 132 S.Ct. at 953–54. Even though Jones involved warrantless global positioning system (“GPS”) searching, the analysis applies because the NIT warrant is illegal. Jones makes clear the constitutional nature of computer searches, especially in the privacy of one’s home.

Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1 (2013), follows Jones’ property – based Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.  The Jardines court held that a warrantless dog sniffing through the front door of Jardines’ home constitutes an unconstitutional search of a constitutionally protected area.  In Jardines, as here, “the officers learn what they learned only by physically intruding on Jardines’ property to gather evidence.”  This search activity is enough to establish that a search occurred. These cases stand for the proposition that the “Fourth Amendment, at its very core, stands for the right of a man to retreat into his home and there be free from unreasonable Government intrusion.” Jardines, supra.

There is no evaluation or discussion of an expectation of privacy under the property-based Fourth Amendment jurisprudence after JonesJardines, 569 U.S. at *9.  The court recognizes a simplistic procedure.  If the Government goes on the property of another, (trespassing or not) it needs a warrant due to Fourth Amendment’s constitutional property rights. These NIT cases, the Government understood this legal necessity and secured the NIT warrant. However, the NIT warrant was illegal.

  1. The Constitutional Character of the NIT Search is Per Se Prejudicial

In today’s society, disclosing an Internet Protocol (“IP”) address is, in essence, disclosing protected location privacy. Similar to Jones‘ GPS coordinates in tracking devices or cellular telephones, location data reveals a great deal about a person.  As such, cases discussing governmental activity and search techniques that reveal a defendant/target’s location are relevant to the court’s analysis of prejudice and the constitutional level of protections in these motions to suppress.

United States v. Maynard, 615 F.3d 544, 562 (D. C. Cir. 2010), affirmed, United States v. Jones, supra, stands for this proposition. Analogizing IP address location data to cellular telephones, Justice Alito writes that “society’s expectations have been that police agency and others will not secretly monitor and catalog every single movement of an individual’s car for a very long period of time.” Jones at 945.

Thereafter, in Riley v. California, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), the Supreme Court following Jones, specifically references location privacy as a reason to limit police searches of cellular telephones incident to arrest.  The Riley Court determines that due to the wealth of information electronic devices “contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life.” Riley at 2494–95.

Riley even states, “The fact that an arrestee has diminished privacy interests does not mean that the Fourth Amendment falls out of the picture entirely. Not every search “is acceptable solely because a person is in custody.” Maryland v. King, 569 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slip op., at 26). To the contrary, when “privacy-related concerns are weighty enough” a “search may require a warrant, notwithstanding the diminished expectations of privacy of the arrestee.” Ibid. One such example, of course, is Chimel. Chimel refused to “characteriz[e] the invasion of privacy that results from a top-to-bottom search of a man’s house as ‘minor.’” 395 U. S., at 766–767, n. 12. Because a search of the arrestee’s entire house was a substantial invasion beyond the arrest itself, the Court concluded that a warrant was required.” Riley, supra.  Cellular telephones and home computers are simultaneously offices and personal diaries containing the most intimate details of our lives. United States v. Cotterman, 709 F. 3d. 952, 964 (9th Cir.. 2013).  Several circuits recognize these facts, uniformly requiring a warrant prior to searching a computer. United States v. Paton, 573F.3-D 859 (9th Cir. 2009); United States v. Andrus, 483 F.3d 711, 718 (10th Cir. 2007).

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania addresses surveillance issues of GPS warrants in United States v. Ortiz, 878 F. Supp. 2d. 515 (E.D.Pa. 2012). In the Court’s discussion of location data and the privacy issues, it concludes that the Government’s warrantless surveillance technique “produces location data while inside the garage of a home or other Fourth Amendment protected place”, potentially yielding information that the Supreme Court specifically found in United States v. Karo, 468 U.S. 705 (1984), is protected by the Fourth Amendment.

An unreasonable search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment occurs where, without a warrant, the Government surreptitiously employs an electronic device to obtain information it could not have obtained by observation from outside the curtilage of the house. The beeper tells the agent that a particular article is actually    located at a specific time in the private residence and is in the possession of the person or persons whose residence is being watched.  Even if visual surveillance has revealed that the article to which the beeper is attached  has entered the house, the later monitoring not only verifies the officers about observations but also establishes that the article remains on the premises. United States v. Karo 468 US at 715.

Ortiz at ___.

Review of these controlling Supreme Court cases and their emphasis on the data produced through cutting edge surveillance techniques (including an NIT) on electronic mediums (cellular telephones and home computers) render’s applicable the Fourth Amendment privacy protections afforded to Jones, Jardines, and Riley.

  1. Expectation of Privacy in an IP address

An expectation of privacy in location data that IP addresses reveal is both objectively and subjectively reasonable based upon people using the TOR network and how the Government secures those person’s IP address.  The Government typically argues that because these defendants may have initially disseminated their IP address through an internet service provider (“ISP”), they have no expectation of privacy in an IP address.  This is factually wrong.

  1. Third Party Doctrine

The case of Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979), addresses warrantless access to information possessed by a third-party. This is the third-party doctrine set forth in United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. at 957.  Third party dissemination and reduced expectation of privacy has no applicability here because of the NIT’s mechanism of search and how Government secures that defendant’s IP address from his computer, not a third-party ISP. The court requires factual testimony on this issue.

United States v. Stanley, 753 F.3d 114 (3d. Cir. 2014), specifically addresses the no expectation of privacy of IP addresses when a defendant uses his neighbor’s wireless router without permission. The Government found Stanley’s computer’s wireless signal piggy backing illegally on his neighbor’s unsecured wireless router. Such unauthorized use of the neighbor’s IP address through which a third-party provider secures individual media access control (“MAC”) addresses of moochers of other people’s wireless routers. The Court found this fact alone reveals that Stanley had no expectation of privacy in his IP or MAC address. Stanley‘s finding that there is not an expectation of privacy in an IP address is not binding here as such is not the basis of the Government’s investigation in this case.

These defendants’ IP addresses are not disclosed anywhere throughout the use of the TOR or his third party ISP.  Declaration, Special Agent Daniel Alfin, document no. 74-1, filed June 1, 2016, U.S. v. Matish, 4:16-cr-00016, attached hereto at Exhibit 3.  This declaration makes clear that the NIT did not secure any other defendant’s, IP address from a third-party ISP or through the TOR network. Rather, the NIT searched for and secured the accessor’s IP address SOLELY from their own computer programming.

The NIT transferred directly to the Government from that defendant’s computer, his IP address not through the ISP.  The Government must acknowledge this fact in response to court’s inquiry of how the NIT worked in Matish. The Government bluntly concedes that but for the IP address, it could not locate these defendants.  These IP address would have been unknown.  The accessing defendants’ personal location data is collected from the accessing computer. See Exhibit 3, Alfins’ declaration, ¶¶ 22 and 25; Exhibit 2, Alfin’s May 19, 2016 Testimony, page 13-17, 21–26.  Alfin makes clear this factual point.

Once put to the test in a Motion to Compel Discovery, Alfin’s testimony is in stark contrast to the NIT Affiant Special Agent Douglas Macfarlane’s affidavit stating that the NIT instructions “are designed to cause the user’s ‘activating’ computer to transmit certain information to a computer controlled by or known to the government,” including the “activating” computer’s actual IP address. See Affidavit in Support of Application for Search Warrant, at ¶ 33.   The NIT would deploy “each time that any user or administrator log[ged] into Playpen by entering a username and password.” (Id., Ex. 1 ¶ 36.) The FBI could then link a username and its corresponding activity on the site with an IP address. (Id., Ex. 1 ¶ 37.)  This is factually wrong when compared to Alfin’s declaration and testimony regarding how the NIT worked its search functions performed when an accessing computer logged onto the Playpen Website.

The Government was less than candid with the tribunal by not advising it that the NIT would send a computer search and seizure program to the user’s home computer and then send back to the FBI computer an IP address.  The FBI was not linking a username and corresponding activity to an IP address. Further, the record is unclear if the Government told  the Magistrate that it was concurrently filing a Title III warrant.  This would have disclosed both its strategic use of a magistrate to issue the NIT Warrant and its seizure gathering mechanism of electronic information for which it required Article III judicial authorization.

The NIT that accessed these defendants’ computers operates in the computer memory locations, retrieved information, and then leaves the computer. The same situation is presented when the Government comes into your house, searches your house, and then leaves. The Government is required to advise you of the search (giving you the search warrant) and then leaves you an inventory of items seized. None of that was done in this occasion.  Jones, Riley, Jardines affirm this constitutional requirement to which Rule 41(B) codifies into a procedure implementing the Fourth Amendment’s warrant provision.

As such, the question is not whether there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy in an Internet IP address (as Werdene concluded there was not), but does a person have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area where the search (his home) occurred and in the information seized (his location).   Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128 (1978). Darby and Matish conclude yes.  This court must choose the property-based Fourth Amendment analysis and afford these deendants the constitutional protections because the NIT searches a home-based computer.

Call me to discuss your NIT, Playpen based federal government internet criminal matter.

Major US Supreme Court DUI Decision and Pennsylvania Licensees

On June 23 the United States Supreme Court decided  BIRCHFIELD v. NORTH DAKOTA, three consolidated cases addressing important substantive and procedural legal issues regarding driving under the influence (“DUI”) cases.  In each case, the North Dakota motorist, lawfully arrested or under investigation for drunk driving, was convicted of a separate crime or otherwise received an enhanced criminal penalty for refusing to submit to a warrantless blood test measuring the alcohol in their bloodstream.

All three state court cases results depended upon the proposition that criminal laws ordi­narily may not compel a motorist to give evidence against themselves in the form a blood sample or breath test unless a warrant authorizing such testing is issued by a magistrate.  The specific issue considered was how the search-incident-to-arrest doctrine applies to breath and blood tests incident to DUI arrests. The court ruled while compelled evidence from breath tests are constitutional based upon the limited inconvenience and invasion of privacy to the motorist, compelled blood tests are unconstitutional for those same reasons.

In Pennsylvania, 75 Pa C.S.A. § 1547 of the motor vehicle laws addresses motorists’ civil license suspension consequences for refusing to submit to a DUI investigation breath or blood test. Depending on how many refusals the operator of the car has previously engaged, a driver’s license suspension based upon a breath or blood test refusal starts at one year and may escalate. The court ruled that these civil collateral consequence license suspension for refusing the test remains constitutional. “Our prior opinions have referred approvingly to the gen­eral concept of implied-consent laws that impose civil penalties and evidentiary consequences on motorists who refuse to comply.”The Birchfield case did not question the constitutionality of those civil collateral consequence refusal laws, and the Supreme Court limited its ruling stating that “nothing should be read to cast doubt on them.”

In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that the natural dissipation of alcohol from the bloodstream does not always constitute an exigency justifying the warrantless taking of a blood sample. That was the holding of Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U. S. ___, where the State of Mis­souri was seeking a per se rule that “whenever an officer has probable cause to believe an individual has been driving under the influence of alcohol, exigent circum­stances will necessarily exist because BAC evidence is inherently evanescent.”  This case set the stage for Birchfield, where the individual defendant’s objected to being criminally penalized for not submitting to the warrantless blood draw or were criminally penalized when the warrantless blood draw produced evidence that was used against them in trial.

Pennsylvania’s DUI statute, 75 Pa.C.S.A.§3802D, provides for enhanced criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a breath or blood test stemming from a DUI investigation. DUI offenders with multiple prior DUI convictions faced enhanced license suspensions and jail sentences based upon the same refusal. In Birchfield, after reviewing all of the prior case law regarding car stops, privacy concerns, and search incident to arrest case law, the court held that motorists cannot be deemed to have consented to submit to a blood test on pain of committing a criminal offense.  Motorists can not be compelled criminally to give evidence against themselves without a warrant signed by an independent magistrate.
The court has finally drawn a constitutional line in the sand limiting the extent to which a state may utilize driving-on-our-roads informed consent laws to compel motorists to give evidence against themselves so the state may investigate and prosecute them for criminal conduct. In Pennsylvania, this will mean enhanced criminal penalties associated with refusing a blood test, not breathalyzer, in any criminal DUI prosecution may no longer be constitutionally permissible.  Please call to discuss your DUI charge, your medical or professional license issue and potential discipline on your license from stemming from your first or subsequent DUI.

Pennsylvania Criminal Expungement and the Pennsylvania Licensee

Expungements are major issue with every professional licensee.  Many licensees are involved in some type of criminal conduct that result in enrollment into Pennsylvania’s pretrial probation – Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition –  program (ARD).  Some cases also involve Drug Court or Section 17 dismissals under Pennsylvania’s Drug Act. I field many telephone and Internet inquiries regarding criminal convictions and ARD results that require reporting to Pennsylvania licensing boards.  Reporting is either within 30 days of arrest (Nursing Board), 30 days of conviction, or enrollment in the ARD or Drug Court programs.

An issue has arisen regarding expunging dismissed criminal records from one’s Pennsylvania administrative licensing board record.  Typically, licensees who win their criminal cases seek to have those criminal records expunged at the earliest possible date. The expungement process is found under 18 Pa. C.S. § 9122. This Chapter is known as the Criminal History Record Information Act (“CHIRA”). This provision is part of the same statutory chapter, 18 Pa. C.S. § 9161(3), that renders admissible criminal convictions in administrative licensing proceedings. As such, the necessity of expunging criminal arrests that result in not guilty, dismissals or ARD is of key value to every Pennsylvania licensee. But for the criminal charges, there is no administrative disciplinary basis under CHIRA to commence a disciplinary process.
The problem, however, unlike other states, for example Ohio, is that Pennsylvania expungement rules do not specifically provide for an expungement of a criminal arrest record subsequently dismissed that became the basis for an administrative licensing disciplinary proceeding. Pennsylvania’s expungement process allows only for specific administrative licensing expungements in drivers license matters. This is in contrast to Ohio law at section Ohio revised code 2953. 32 and 2953. 52.  This conclusion is drawn because one provision of Pennsylvania’s expungement law, § 9122(a)(3), specifically states “the court shall order the expungement of all criminal history record information and all administrative records of the Department of Transportation.” Leaving absent all other administrative licensing boards allows these Boards to not expunge their Board proceedings that rely upon criminal charges that were eventually dismissed or expunged.
This is a complex reporting issue for Pennsylvania’s nurses.  In October 2015 Pennsylvania Nursing Board regulations changed, requiring reporting of criminal arrests within 30 days of the arrest.  Other licensees who receives ARD or other pretrial probationary dismissal of offenses under the Drug Act only have to report upon the conclusion of the offense.   I am now finding that nursing license prosecutions are commencing soon after the initial reporting of the criminal arrest and not upon its conclusion.  This creates important 5th Amendment self-incrimination questions for the licensee trying to maintain their profession and their license in the midst of a criminal case.

Other cases affected by this expungement rule include enrollees of Pennsylvania Drug Act, Section 17 drug use dismissal cases, and county Drug Court programs for felony drug sale or possessory offenses. Typically, satisfactorily completing these county-based criminal court diversion programs result in dismissal of criminal charges. Thereafter, the licensee is eligible for the expungement in criminal court of those dismissed criminal allegations. Nonetheless, the licensee will have already reported on their annual renewal or initial licensure application their involvement in these criminal cases. Reporting of Drug Act or pretrial ARD or Drug Court involvement automatically results in licensure disciplinary action even though the charges are eventually dismissed and expunged.

Pennsylvania’s expungement rules do not waiver on this issue.  As well, CHIRA and the Drug Act specifically provides for automatic Licensing Board disciplinary action of any licensee enrollment in any Drug Act pre-trial probation program that eventually results in dismissal and expungement eligibility.  It is the old fashion Blue Law, religious based abstinence theory of the Pennsylvania laws that have not progressed with the rest of the country.  Kicking people out of their jobs and taking their licenses, rather than treatment and keeping them productive members of society, like in OHIO, is how Pennsylvania currently functions.

Drug Act Convictions and Automatic Suspensions

Pennsylvania’s licensing boards have become very proactive in learning of professional’s criminal convictions for violating Pennsylvania Drug and Cosmetic Act – 35 P.S. § 780–113 (a). Once learned, licensing board prosecutors aggressively file petitions for automatic suspensions of professionals’ licenses. At issue is whether the Boards impose, per Drug Act offense, the one year maximum suspension or a suspension for a lesser amount of time and concurrent versus consecutive for each violation.

If the proper attorney handles both the criminal case involving Drug Act allegations and the consequential administrative licensing disciplinary action, the probability of a better total result is clear. In September 2015 I wrote a blog on this exact legal issue. September 2015 Blog

In that blog, I set forth that the Drug Act, § 113(a) lists thirty six illegal actions involving drugs, prescriptions, record keeping, and other pharmaceutical issues. Section 780- 113(b) identifies which of those thirty six offenses are either felonies or misdemeanors and their respective jail penalties. Drug Act sections 780-123(b)&(c) identify a separate penalty solely targeting the licensed practitioner who is convicted of, or pleads guilty to, either a misdemeanor or felony offense set forth in 35 P.S. § 780-113(a).

When representing the licensed practitioner, 35 P.S. § 780-123(b) & (c) dictates the priority of negotiating a guilty plea to a non-Drug Act offense. An initial goal is to avoid any Drug Act criminal charge and/or conviction. A secondary goal on cases involving drugs is to secure misdemeanor graded Drug Act violations over felonies.

How these cases are defended criminally – with an eye towards the license context — is hugely important. Non-drug use or contraband related Drug Act violations need to be clearly discussed in any guilty plea. The guilty plea hearing should include a recitation of facts explicitly eliminating any question that the plea is for personal consumption conduct. The guilty plea colloquy must clearly spell out the absence of evidence regarding drug diversion, positive drug tests, or inferences of personal consumption.

In many Drug Act cases, specious criminal charges are filed for tenuous record keeping violations, charting errors, or untimely prescription dispensing errors. In these cases, the guilty plea must identify the charting errors, dispensing mistakes, or the nature and manner of typical prescription dispensing negligence that forms the foundation of the criminal charges. Emphasizing the non-diversion facts here is important as the Board will consider such when the professional suspension is decided.

Once convicted, how and what is included in the professional’s mandatory notification to the professional board is important. Attach the guilty plea transcript that sets forth the non-diversion factual predicate of the plea. The professional, through counsel, should request the Board to exercise its discretion in not instituting the automatic one year suspension, but some lesser amount. If necessary, file an application to stay the automatic suspension and an answer to the prosecutor’s motion, contesting the Board’s discretionary implementation of a one year suspension.

The perception that automatic one year suspensions are mandatory rather than discretionary stops many licensees from contesting these petitions. Applications for a stay of any license suspension in conjunction with an application answering the petition for an automatic suspension should be filed. Appropriate legal averments and complex legal strategy is necessary to stop any automatic license suspension from going into effect.

A case I recently handled, for which the proposed adjudication has yet to be handled down, is on point. It is an abuse of discretion to impose a one-year suspension of a professional’s license for old convictions that are not related to the use or diversion of any narcotics. Please call me to discuss these issues to properly insure either your license is not suspended for the one year maximum for each Drug Act conviction.

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