Northampton County’s 1861 Court Room!!

Finding the diamond in the rough. That describes my recent drive to the Northampton County Courthouse. As my law practice takes me from the Philadelphia’s suburban counties to northeastern Pennsylvania, I routinely travel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and its Northeast extension.
The drive this July week was rough. The weather forecast proved accurate; rain and fog through the Lehigh Valley. It was raining so hard, I missed my exit off Rt 476E at Rt 22 E. I drove an additional 20 miles each direction, turning around in Jim Thorpe. (I love the Carbon County Courthouse – see my other blogs – but I was not going there today.)
 I was uncharacteristically late, arriving at 9:25 am for a 9:00 am hearing.  I was otherwise safe.  The judge was extremely gracious and polite. The case was handled quickly.  Opposing counsel – a local assistant district attorney – offered a tour of the courthouse as I expressed my appreciation for our hearing taking place in the old courthouse, courtroom 3, as compared to the new 2004 building.
The county website states, “The original court house was built in  1764. Nearly a century later and after the courthouse had experienced a number of historical events, which included being used as a barracks by Revolutionary troops, a group of citizens petitioned for a new County Courthouse at a different location. On August 23, 1860, the County Commissioners decided to accept land offered at a price of $1.00 that was located several blocks west of the original facility.   A new brick structure was later built on a steep hill at a cost of $53,000. The first term of court was held in the new facility on June 18, 1861.  Since then, two additional wings were constructed to accommodate the growth of Northampton County and satisfy the judicial needs of the expanded population.  The second part of the courthouse was built in 1978 and the third in 2004. “
I was interested in the 1861 building and court room 1.  Finished at the out set of the Civil War.   Wow!! A majestic legal theater, refurbished in 1978 to match the import to the community when the courthouse was built. Original woodwork, plaster, and paint are renewed. County Commissioners rightfully chose to not clutter the court room with of a phalanx of computer cables, microphones, and other modern day accoutrements that clutter some other county courtrooms in which I practice.
The pictures below reveal the courtroom’s grand entrance, judicial bench, and the jury box of the times. The remarkable woodwork and attention to detail immediately reveals itself. The artisans of Pennsylvania’s counties knew their work would be on display at every important and public event of the times. The honor and respect they earned working for their local government on the most important building in the county.
Advertisements

My County Practice – The Licensee Attorney on the Road

It is a cool, crisp 78° as I gander at the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Blue Mountain and Kittatinny tunnels cutting through the middle of Pennsylvania. It’s 95° and 100% humidity in Philadelphia. The Blue Mountain Tunnel is one of two tunnels through Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania, located west of Newburg. It is one of seven tunnels completed for the Pennsylvania Turnpike mainline, … The Blue Mountain Tunnel is 600 ft (180 m) to the east of the Kittatinny Mountain Tunnel, separated by the Gunter Valley.

As I drive through these Pennsylvania mountains, including the tunnel at Tuscarora Mountain, I marvel at Pennsylvania’s endless greenery. Towns such as McCalloch, Lynnsburg, Sheepskin Hollow, and Mount Union dot the landscape but are surrounded by majestic trees and forests..

On Route 99 I snake through the mountain passes of Blair County. Smoke screened with early morning fog, panoramic views give way to county towns spread along the Juanita and Little Juanita River valley. Route 99 was carved out of the Lock Mountain. Its rolling hills provide necessary access to the historic railroad town of Holidaysburg. Local roads are named after long since passed farm owners who settled this area. Canoeing ramps, hiking and biking trails shunt off from the many state park.

Driving up Bald Mountain, through Phillipsburg, I left Tyrone behind. I scamper up Bald Mountain, through the pass, on the way to Clearfield County. Route 350 welcomes me with Victorian style homes. Phillipsburg is a brief one  light hamlet. Leaving Phillipsburg, I approach the Upper Susquehanna River and Clearfield Creek. Here the rolling mountains roads are dotted with roadside homes, businesses, and flow slowed by summer road construction.

Arriving in Clearfield County I am surprised by the size of the borough. I am taken aback at the age of the courthouse. Pictured below, its courthouse is regal, sturdy and welcoming.

 

 

 

 

Pennsylvania’s New DUI Case Law

Since Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S.Ct. 2160, 195 L. Ed. 2d 560 (2016), Pennsylvania’s DUI statute as applied to blood draws and refusals to submit to blood draws has because unenforceable.  The illegal escalation of criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a blood draw, or even being told of the enhanced penalties, has created an untenable situation for every police department in the Commonwealth.  They are still doing it wrong. Do not plead guilty.  Fight these cases.

Some departments are still reading the old refusal warnings.  Some are still taking people to the hospital when a simple breath test will work.  Some are making up new refusal warnings.  Some are trying to get people to freely consent to a blood draw without telling them of the consequences.  These, I think are all illegal procedures.  The cases are coming down every week limiting how the Commonwealth can gather evidence and what evidence can be used to prosecute the cases under the post-Birchfield paradigm.

It is the Commonwealth’s burden of proof to establish a DUI suspect’s consent to give blood is the product of essentially free and unconstrained choice—not the result of duress, coercion, expressed or applied. Commonwealth v. Gaetano, 2017 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1241 (April 4, 2017); Commonwealth v. Evans, 153 A.3d 323, 2016 PA Super 293 (Pa. Super. filed December 20, 2016). The standard for measuring the scope of a person’s consent is based upon an objective evaluation of what a reasonable person would have understood by the exchange between the officer and the person who gave such consent.

Gaetano and Evans  in applying Birchfield hold that the Commonwealth may not impose criminal penalties on the refusal to submit to a warrantless blood test.  Reading a person the now illegal O’Connell warning’s, or any other fabricated, constructed, newly designed version thereof, threat of enhanced criminal prosecution and incarceration vitiate consensual submission to a blood draw absent a warrant. Gaetano and Evans state it is the Commonwealth’s burden of proof to establish that a defendant’s consent is freely given and not the product of coercion.

It is not the a defendant’s burden of proof to establish or place in the record his subjective feelings of coercion. Commonwealth v. Fink, 2016 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 4704, *13 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2016).  The mere language of the O’Connell warning, or any other fabricated, constructed, newly designed version thereof, include a threat of enhanced criminal prosecution are coercive and the Commonwealth cannot establish coercive free consent.   Objective evidence of duress that is the basis for Gaetano and Evans will be present in almost every defendant’s arrest record, thus vitiating alleged voluntary consent to give blood draw.

Upon deciding a Motion to Suppress the blood evidence, trial courts cannot, and it is irrelevant to the constitutional evaluation under the Supreme Court precedent, put the burden on the defendant, as to what their objective state of mind was upon giving consent for a blood draw.

As for the specific refusal statute, 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1547, Superior Court has concluded that it or police departments newly fabricated, constructed threat of enhanced criminal prosecution vitiates any consent given to a warrantless blood draw.  Gaetano and Evans maintain that subjecting defendants to warrantless blood draws based upon the illegal O’Connell warning consent provisions (or any other fabricated, constructed, newly designed but improper version thereof, threat of enhanced criminal prosecution) is illegal and unconstitutional under US Supreme Court and Pennsylvania appellate court jurisprudence.

In looking at the totality of the circumstances the court must determine that any consent is not voluntary and coerced. Birchfield’s review of the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on blood testing compels a review of Missouri v. McNeely, 566 U.S ___ (2012),  where the Court refused to adopt a per se rule that “whenever an officer has probable cause to believe that an individual has been driving under the influence of alcohol, circumstances will necessary exist because blood alcohol content evidence is inheritably evanescent.”  Id. at ____, (slip op., at 8).

McNeely is applicable in Pennsylvania DUI cases because officers in drunk-driving investigations can reasonably obtain a warrant before having a blood sample drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search.  The Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so.  They are no doing so.  The court has held that it is not enough to claim that “circumstances may make obtaining a warrant impractical such that the alcohol’s dissipation will support an exigency.” This is to be decided in each case on its facts.  The Court did not create a general rule based upon “considerable over generalization” that a per se rule would reflect.

Pennsylvania has said the same thing.  “The Fourth Amendment to the [United States] Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of [the Pennsylvania] Constitution protects Pennsylvania’s citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.” Commonwealth v. McAdoo, 2012 PA Super 118, 46 A.3d 781, 784 (Pa. Super. 2012). “A search conducted without a warrant is deemed to be unreasonable and therefore constitutionally impermissible, unless an established exception applies.” Commonwealth v. Strickler, 563 Pa. 47, 757 A.2d 884, 888 (Pa. 2000).  “Exceptions to the warrant requirement include the consent exception, the plain view exception, the inventory search exception, the exigent circumstances exception, the automobile exception . . . , the stop and frisk exception, and the search incident to arrest exception.” Commonwealth v. Dunnavant, 2013 PA Super 38, 63 A.3d 1252, 1257 n.3 (Pa. Super. 2013).

As for blood, the “administration of a blood test . . . performed by an agent of, or at the direction of the government” constitutes a search under both the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. Commonwealth v. Kohl, 532 Pa. 152, 615 A.2d 308, 315 (Pa. 1992); Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 770, 86 S. Ct. 1826, 16 L. Ed. 2d 908 (1966).  Since the DUI blood tests are typically performed without a warrant, the search is preemptively unreasonable “and therefore constitutionally impermissible, unless an established exception applies.”

In determining the validity of a given consent, the Commonwealth bears the burden of establishing that a consent is the product of an essentially free and unconstrained choice — not the result of duress or coercion, express or implied, or a will overborne — under the totality of the circumstances.  The standard for measuring the scope of a person’s consent is based on an objective evaluation of what a reasonable person would have understood by the exchange between the officer and the person who gave the consent.  Such evaluation includes an objective examination of the maturity, sophistication and mental or emotional state of the defendant. Gauging the scope of a defendant’s consent is an inherent and necessary part of the process of determining, on the totality of the circumstances presented, whether the consent is objectively valid, or instead the product of coercion, deceit, or misrepresentation.  Commonwealth v. Smith, 621 Pa. 218, 77 A.3d 562, 573 (Pa. 2013) (internal citations, quotations, and corrections omitted).

I think the DUI case law requires that the police tell the arrestee of the consequences of a refusal to take the test so that he can make a knowing and conscious choice.  When requested to take a breathalyzer or blood test, the court insists that in addition to telling an arrestee that his license will be suspended for one year if he refuses to take a breathalyzer test, the police instruct the arrestee that such rights are inapplicable to the breathalyzer test and that the arrestee does not have the right to consult with an attorney or anyone else prior to taking the test. An arrestee is entitled to this information so that his choice to take a breathalyzer test can be knowing and conscious and we believe that requiring the police to qualify the extent of the right to counsel is neither onerous nor will it unnecessarily delay the taking of the test.  Commonwealth v. O’Connell, 521 Pa. 242, 555 A.2d 873 (1989).

In many cases, the police claim a defendant allegedly consents to the warrantless blood draw during a custodial interrogation after the police inform him of some fabricated, constructed, newly designed informed consent language not court or legislatively approved. This is not proper.  Currently, the only available law requires the police to advise a defendant that: “if you refuse to submit to chemical test and you are convicted or plead to violating § 3802(a)(1) related to impaired driving under the vehicle code, because of your refusal, you will be subject to more severe penalties set forth in § 3804(c)[,] relating to penalties, the same as if you were — if you would be convicted at the highest rate of alcohol.”

This makes the verbal consent to a warrantless blood draw  during a non-mirandized, custodial interrogation in illegal statement subject to suppression.  Absent verbal consent, there is none.  Further, since Birchfield held that  a state may not “impose criminal penalties on the refusal to submit to [a warrantless blood] test,” the police officer’s advisory to any defendant on the non-legislatively permitted language illegal. Birchfield, 136 S.Ct. at 2186. This then requires a court to conclude that the search incident to arrest doctrine does not justify  warrantless blood testing compelled through enhanced criminal sentencing provisions for refusing to take that blood test.  This in turn means that the enhanced criminal offense, both in charges filed and potential sentencing scheme set forth in 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 3802(b)(1)(2), compels this County Courts of Common Pleas to hold that “motorists cannot be deemed to of consent to submit to a blood test on fate of committing a criminal offense.”

Call me to discuss you DUI and blood draw evidence.

Another Really Nice Client Review with my Response

Here is another really nice and very accurate client review and my response. I can write blogs about this stuff. But, client testimonial about how aggressive and direct my representation is becomes the best blog.

I received a “letter of concern” from Pa nursing board after a charge of public intoxication.I unwittingly responded to the Board before contacting Richard.What a mistake!!!!The Board is not your ally-quite the opposite.Their job is to destroy you both financially and mentally.
Fortunately,Richard was able to expertly win our court case.Unfortunately,unbeknownst to me,I had been suffering from Bipolar disorder all the while,and the relentless emotional stresses caused by the Board caused me to suffer deep depression and a resulting manic swing where I had 2 DUI’s in a span of less than 2 weeks. Richard was right there for me and had my charges lessened significantly.Despite that,the Board required that I participate in their onerous,soul and money sucking program.I chose to voluntarily suspend my RN license rather than go through with that.I would not be able to work in my specialty during the 3+ years in the program,be out of thousands of dollars,and may not be employable when all is said and done.32 years as a nurse is enough for my lifetime anyway.
Richard Hark is an expert in protecting licenses of health care professionals and will work tirelessly to win your case.He is also very understanding and helpful with your anxieties at such a stressful and unsure time.I recommend him 100%.

Richard Quinton Hark’s response: “Thank you. I am so happy to help. I aggressively support every client’s need to take their medication without VRP and PHMP interjection in you, the professional’s, course of medical care and treatment. The one size fits all, regulatory approach does not work for everyone. We live in the best time of medical care and lawful prescription medication management of many medical conditions. Do not be ashamed or scared of your medical care as it pertains to your license. Anxiety, depression, ADHD are commonly diagnosed medical conditions for which properly administered and dosed medication management is no one’s business but the patient. Do not tell your job, your manager, the D.O.N., or any police officer in a DUI investigation. Do not respond to any letter of concern or sign medical authorizations releasing your medical care and treatment history to a social worker. Call me. This client and the others who have reviewed me attest to my aggressive defense of you, your privacy, and your license. I couldn’t be happier for this client who trusted my professional experience to help them, and won!!!!!!!”

Professional License Indefinite Suspensions for Missing the Mental and Physical Evaluation

Board authority to  compel a mental and physical examination(“MPE”)  is pursuant to 63 P. S. § 2205(D)(1).  The purpose of the evaluation is to determine whether, under 63 P. S. 224(a)(2) for nurses, a licensee is unable to practice their profession with reasonable skill and safety by reason of mental or physical illness or condition or psychological or physiological dependence on alcohol, hallucinogenic on narcotic or other drugs that impair judgment and coordination.  Similar impairment evaluation provisions are contained in each of the twenty six different Pennsylvania licensing schemes.

A formal board order compelling attendance always accompanies these Petitions.  The Board signs the order to compel both attendance and compliance with document production requirements.  Typically, these petitions are filed, licensees show up at the expert’s office for the examination compliant with the terms and conditions of the MPE order.  It is the unique case where a licensee does not show up and their license is summarily suspended.

License suspension is based upon the Pennsylvania Code provisions that states,  if a licensee fails to attend the MPE,  the allegations of impairment are deemed true.  The admissions of fact and law allow the Board to conclude impairment and formal suspension is ordered.   License reinstatement after this step requires attending a PHMP expert evaluation (at the licensee’s expense) and complying with all other aspects of the suspension order.
Why or how would a licensee not go to the Mental and Physical Evaluation?  Failure to maintain an up-to-date address with one’s Pennsylvania licensing board, resulting in missed notices is the first way. Secondly, thinking these appointments can be unilaterally changed or failing to properly communicate scheduling conflicts create huge problems.  Minor inconveniences though do not warrant not attending the procedure.  The last way is the simplest; a licensee simply does not attend the evaluation for fear of the result.
Case law discussing these provisions specifically requires proper Board notification of the MPE and suspension to the licensee’s address of record.  The address on record is the address to which the Board is required to provide notice of a disciplinary action in order to honor its constitutional due process obligations.  The Board only needs to provide proof of service via regular and certified mail.  It is licensees burden to attend or reschedule the evaluation.
Why do licensees have to go to these evaluations?  Section 224(a)(2) of the Nursing law, for example, is the standard provision in every regulatory board scheme.  Board prosecutors receive information suggesting an impairment.   In seeking licensure, licensees agree to be regulated by the State.  Licensees agree to honor the provisions of Pennsylvania code and case law interpreting the code.

The MPE is just such a provision in an over arching regulatory scheme the Commonwealth has erected to protect its citizens from errant and high licensees (realtors, doctors, pharmacists, nurses and the like).  My blogs deal with my role in preparing each licensee for the MPE. However, I cannot accept mail for each licensee. Once we are retained, I am able to re-scheduled the MPE with consent of either the doctor, Board counsel or prosecuting counsel.  This allows me time to assist the licensee organize their documents and prepare for this expert examination.  I cannot receive the mail.

The consequence on the licensee of not attending the evaluation is significant. While not immediate, eventual license suspension for failure to honor a Board order will occur. Reinstatement will only take place upon attendance of that MPE.  Additional requirements include providing a criminal background check, proof of compliance with all continuing education burdens, proof of no practice during the term of suspension, and payment of investigatory costs.
As well, included in the typical MPE order is the Board paying for the evaluation.  Once a licensee refuses or fails to attend the MPE, the MPE expert evaluation expense must be borne by the licensees.   Please call me to discuss your recent mail compelling you to attend a mental and physical examination.or suspending your license for missing one.

Pennsylvania Drug Act Charges — Doctors and Nurses — Reputation

My last blog focused on physicians’ criminal Drug Act conduct and reporting responsibilities to the Medical Board.  Whether a physician or professional nurse, the typical triggering event requiring reporting to a professional license board is a charge or conviction for violating Pennsylvania’s Drug Act.  Aside from license impacts, the evidentiary important of such a charge or conviction is profound.

There is a string of cases in Pennsylvania that identify a Drug Act offense as a crime of moral turpitude and crimen falsii.  What are these characterizations and import on your license defense shall be addressed in this blog.

The esteemed Leonard Packel and Anne Poulin, wrote the book Pennsylvania Evidence § 609 (1987 and Supp. 1994).   At the time of publication, the book did not contain drug violations in either category.  In Commonwealth v. Candia, 286 Pa.Super. 282, 428 A.2d 993 (1981), Pa Superior Court stated that Drug Act offenses were not crimen falsi.

There are several federal decisions, one in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Hayes, 553 F.2d 824 (1977), where the court held that importation of cocaine was not clearly crimen falsi, but could be if the particular facts demonstrated that the importation involved false written or oral statements on customs forms.  That court weighed the effect on credibility of various drug violations, stating smuggling “ranks relatively high on the scale of veracity-related crimes, but that mere narcotics possession would be less highly ranked on that same scale.

That court stated impeachment use of a conviction involving dishonesty or false statement refers to allegations particularly focusing on credibility issues, such as those for ‘perjury or subornation of perjury, false statement, criminal fraud, embezzlement, or false pretense.  Each of these cases involves the commission of acts which involve a basic intent element of deceit, untruthfulness, or falsification bearing on the accused’s propensity to testify truthfully.

Pennsylvania has determined a similar list of crimes to constitute crimen falsi.  Included in this list, a recent Superior court decision holds, is writing prescriptions for a controlled substance to oneself, knowing one has a chemical dependency problem. The crime itself involves making a false statement because it necessarily involves the falsification of a prescription by a practitioner representing that it is not for a person who is chemically dependent.  As such, Drug Act prescription violations constitute crimes of crimen falsi and, thus, a crime of moral turpitude.

The import of these cases can not be understated.  The Board will look at any Drug Act conviction as a crime of moral turpitude because it relates in many different ways to the securing, utilizing, or possessing an illegal controlled substance.  Whether such is in the course of the practice or in one private life, a Drug Act violation therefore also becomes a “conduct unbecoming” violation.

Separate and aside from these issues, are the mandatory suspensions of any Drug Act conviction.  Call me to discuss your case.

The Drug Act — Pa Doctors’ Reporting Responsibilities for Arrest, Conviction, and Automatic Suspensions

Every day I read appellate cases that review disciplinary decisions of Pennsylvania’s licensing boards. A recent case discusses physicians’ unique arrest and conviction reporting responsibility to the State Board of Medicine.  Physician’s reporting of arrests versus convictions depends on the crime involved.

Pennsylvania’s MCare’s law regarding malpractice insurance coverage, 40 P.S. § 1303. 903(4), identifies physician’s reporting responsibilities if a professional liability claim is asserted them, disciplinary action taken against them from another jurisdiction, criminal sentencing for any case, and the arrest of a physician in four very limited classes of crimes. These offenses are:

  • following offenses in this Commonwealth or another state:
    • (i)  18 Pa.C.S. Ch. 25 (relating to criminal homicide);
    • (iii)  18 Pa.C.S. Ch. 31 (relating to sexual offenses).
    • (iv)  A violation of the act of April 14, 1972 (P.L. 233, No. 64), known as The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.
Physicians’ limited reporting responsibilities means arrests for following offenses does not trigger reporting to the state: domestic violence offenses, DUI’s offenses, theft offenses, or a string of federal related non-drug criminal arrest offenses.   Physicians do have to report arrests alleging a sex offense, homicide, aggravated assault, and a violation under the Drug Act.
Understanding what offenses are Drug Act offenses, not just possession or selling drugs, under The Act that are important.  Drug Act charges include patient record keeping, charting issues, and properly recording and dispensing medications.  Section 780-111 of the Drug Act focuses  on professional prescription, administration, and dispensing of drugs.  Here, the Act states:
  • (a)  Except when dispensed or administered directly to the patient by a practitioner or his authorized agent, other than a pharmacist, to an ultimate user, no controlled substance in Schedule II, may be dispensed without the written prescription of a practitioner, except in emergency situations, as prescribed by the secretary by regulation. No prescription for a controlled substance in Schedule II may be refilled.
  • (b)  Except when dispensed directly by a practitioner, other than a pharmacist, to an ultimate user, no controlled substance in Schedule III or IV, may be dispensed without a written or oral prescription. Such prescriptions shall not be filled or refilled more than six months after the date thereof or be refilled more than five times after the date of the prescription unless renewed by the practitioner.
  • (c)  No controlled substance in Schedule V may be distributed or dispensed for other than a medicinal purpose.
  • (d)  A practitioner may prescribe, administer, or dispense a controlled substance or other drug or device only (i) in good faith in the course of his professional practice, (ii) within the scope of the patient relationship, and (iii) in accordance with treatment principles accepted by a responsible segment of the medical profession. A practitioner may cause a controlled substance, other drug or device or drug to be administered by a professional assistant under his direction and supervision.
  • (d.1)  A practitioner shall not prescribe, administer or dispense any anabolic steroid for the purpose of enhancing a person’s performance in an exercise, sport or game. A practitioner may not prescribe, administer or dispense any anabolic steroid for the purpose of hormonal manipulation intended to increase muscle mass, strength or weight except when medically necessary.
  • (e)  A veterinarian may prescribe, administer, or dispense a controlled substance, other drug or device only (i) in good faith in the course of his professional practice, and (ii) not for use by a human being. He may cause a controlled substance, other drug or device to be administered by a professional assistant under his direction and supervision.
  • (f)  Any drug or device dispensed by a pharmacist pursuant to a prescription order shall bear a label showing (i) the name and address of the pharmacy and any registration number obtained pursuant to any applicable Federal laws, (ii) the name of the patient, or, if the patient is an animal, the name of the owner of the animal and the species of the animal, (iii) the name of the practitioner by whom the prescription order was written, and (iv) the serial number and date of filing of the prescription order. In addition, the following statement shall be required on the label of a controlled substance: “Transfer of this drug to anyone other than the patient for whom it was prescribed is illegal.”

§ 780-112 focuses on records of distribution of controlled substances

  • (a)  Every person who sells or otherwise distributes controlled substances, shall keep records of all purchases or other receipt and sales or other distribution of such substances for two years from the date of purchase or sale. Such records shall include the name and address of the person from whom purchased or otherwise received or to whom sold or otherwise distributed, the date of purchase or receipt or sale or distribution, and the quantity involved: Provided, however, That this subsection shall not apply to a practitioner who dispenses controlled substances to his patients, unless the practitioner is regularly engaged in charging his patients, whether separately or together with charges for other professional services, for substances so dispensed.
  • (b)  Every practitioner licensed by law to administer, dispense or distribute controlled substances shall keep a record of all such substances administered, dispensed or distributed by him, showing the amount administered, dispensed or distributed, the date, the name and address of the patient, and in the case of a veterinarian, the name and address of the owners of the animal to whom such substances are dispensed or distributed. Such record shall be kept for two years from the date of administering, dispensing or distributing such substance and shall be open for inspection by the proper authorities.
  • (c)  Persons registered or licensed to manufacture or distribute or dispense a controlled substance, other drug or device under this act shall keep records and maintain inventories in conformity with the record-keeping, order form and inventory requirements of Federal law and with any additional regulations the secretary issues. Controlled substances in Schedules I and II shall be distributed by a registrant to another registrant only pursuant to an order form.
Violations of either of these two subsections and their itemized list, by either doctors or other health care nurses is dealt with under section § 780-123, revocation of licenses of practitioners.
  • (a)  Any license or registration heretofore issued to any practitioner may either be revoked or suspended by the proper officers or boards having power to issue licenses or registration to any of the foregoing, upon proof that the licensee or registrant is a drug dependent person on the use of any controlled substance, after giving such licensee or registrant reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard.
  • (b)  The appropriate licensing boards in the Department of State are hereby authorized to revoke or suspend the registration or license of any practitioner when such person has pleaded guilty or nolo contendere or has been convicted of a felony under this act or any similar State or Federal law. Before any such revocation or suspension, the licensee or registrant shall be given a hearing before the appropriate board. At such hearing the accused may be represented by counsel and shall be entitled to compulsory attendance of witnesses.
  • (c)  The appropriate licensing boards in the Department of State shall automatically suspend, for a period not to exceed one year, the registration or license of any practitioner when the person has pleaded guilty or nolo contendere or has been convicted of a misdemeanor under this act. The district attorney of each county shall immediately notify the appropriate State licensing board of practitioners subject to the provisions of this section. However, the provisions of such automatic suspension may be stayed by the appropriate State licensing board in those cases where a practitioner has violated the provisions of this act only for the personal use of controlled substances by the practitioner and the practitioner participates in the impaired professional program approved by the appropriate State licensing board for a period of between three and five years, as directed by the appropriate licensing board. If the practitioner fails to comply in all respects with the standards of such a program, the appropriate licensing board shall immediately vacate the stay of the enforcement of the suspension provided for herein. Automatic suspension shall not be stayed pending any appeal of a conviction. Restoration of such license shall be made as in the case of a suspension of license.

35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 780-123

Case law addressing practitioner’s objections to the emergent and disparate impact Drug Act convictions and their automatic suspensions have on doctors is very clear.   Board discretion and legislative prerogative regarding public safety out weight a physician’s property right in their license.  “Licensed medical practitioners’ unique access to controlled drugs and a physician’s appropriation of this access for illegal purposes presents a danger to the Commonwealth, for which the General Assembly has legitimately and rationally adopted a separate policing device.”  Call me to discuss your case.

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.
 
 t.

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.

The VRP and the “Letter of Concern” — They Are Not Concerned!

I have written about this issue many times.  I, though, continue my one attorney crusade against the PHMP improperly offering a drug and alcohol treatment-abstinence program to vulnerable licensees who neither suffer from drug or alcohol addiction nor are incapable of safely practicing their profession.  By this I mean offering any professional enrollment in the Voluntary Recovery Program “VRP” whether or not they suffer from an addiction or impairment.

The VRP does this by targeting professionals charged for the first time with a DUI or other minor alcohol or drug related summary offenses.  These professionals received the VRP “letter of concern” at a very vulnerable time.  Especially nurses who must report criminal charges with in thirty (30) days of arrest, not conviction. However, first time DUI offenders are typically eligible for Pennsylvania’s ARD pre-trial diversion program.   As such, there will be no conviction.  Professionals receiving the “letter of concern” while the DUI prosecution is just starting are terrified of losing their license. Many unilaterally, without consultation of licensing counsel like me, go to the VRP assessment and then sign a PHMP consent agreement thinking it saves their license while the prosecution is pending. It only makes the problems worse.
The 2006 case Wittorf v. State Board of Nursing, 913 A.2d 956 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006) is on point. Wittorf voluntarily entered the VRP to save his license after a first time DUI offense.  (If he had competent counsel he would not have entered the VRP to start and his license would never have been affected.) Soon after, however, the rigors of the abstinence-based PNAP administered PHMP became clear.  Work and life affected Wittorf’s ability to comply with every condition of the program.  He sought to exit the program.  Wittorf claimed he did not suffer from a drug or alcohol addiction that rendered him an impaired nurse. Wittorf presented numerous witnesses at the hearing supporting his lack of addiction and any professional impairment. Wittorf lost his petition to exit the VRP and have his license returned to non-probationary status.
Wittorf forgot he signed the standard PHMP agreement/contract and Board Consent Agreement.  Each document contains admissions that the signatory is an alcoholic (or drug addict) and such impairs their ability to practice their professional safely. This is the only legal fact upon which the Court needed to rely in denying Wittorf’s motion.  By signing the agreements Wittorf (and every other licensee in the same position) stipulates to both their addiction and impairment when asking to voluntarily enter the VRP.  One must do so to be eligible for the VRP.  Its the worst thing to do.
Every VRP “letter of concern” includes the personal data information sheet and medical authorization releases. Do not sign any of these documents if you wish to retain your medical, nursing for other professional  license.  Do not go to the requested assessment as one is not legally required. If you are reading this blog or column, you should call me immediately.
If you are reading this blog after being charged with a DUI and compelled to go to a COAD (Council on Addictive Diseases) assessment, hire competent counsel to handle your licensing issue along with the DUI. This is because typically the mandatory ARD DUI COAD assessors are the local PHMP referred VRP assessors. Once that assessor learns that DUI ARD applicant sitting in front of them is also a professional licensee – especially nurses and doctors – the assessment turns into a VRP assessment that I advise my clients to avoid.  Being prepared for this assessment, similar to be prepared for the Mental and Physical Evaluations (see my other blogs int he archives), is just as important.
The only way I can fight against the unfair tactics of the VRP is by representing as many professionals as I can.  These are trained but incompetent unlicensed case workers implements are highly structured regulatory process.  They have no authority to deviate from any condition of the program.
The PHMP, PMP, VRP, PNAP case workers deal with these issues every day and have honed their trapping skills over the years.  I read the same case workers names on every VRP and PHMP “letters of concern”.  This is the first time you have read this letter.  You need experienced counsel who has honed his skills to battle these experienced case workers.  Call me.
%d bloggers like this: