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September 2012 Archives

When approached by a police officer, does a person have to stop and answer questions?

Mere Encounter or Detention

People often question whether or not they are required to stop and talk to a police officer if they are approached on the street. As with almost everything, the answer is "it depends." There is a distinction in the law between a "mere encounter" with a police officer and an "investigative detention." Generally, a person is permitted to walk away from the officer and need not answer questions. The law considers a routine approach and questioning by an officer to be a "mere encounter." The critical part of the mere encounter is that the person is not legally obligated to stop and answer questions. If the person does stop and answer questions, everything is being done voluntarily and thereby admissible. If the officer intends to conduct an "investigative detention," then the person is not free to leave. Legally, in order for an officer to detain a person for investigative purposes, the officer must have reasonable suspicion to believe that the person was engaged in criminal activity.

State College DUI Case - Virginia DUI Not a "Prior Offense"

DUI charges are treated as very serious offenses in Pennsylvania as evidenced by the mandatory minimum penalties that must be imposed for convictions. The mandatory minimum penalties often include mandatory periods of incarceration, license suspensions, and fines. The DUI signs that one routinely sees along Pennsylvania roadways that state "DUI - You Can't Afford It" are completely true. The mandatory minimum sentences are primarily based upon two factors: 1) the number of prior offenses; and 2) the blood alcohol level of the DUI suspect. As would be expected, a person that has a higher blood alcohol level or has prior DUI offenses is subject to more severe mandatory minimum penalties.

Will Higher Fines Reduce Underage Drinking in State College?

Penn State Underage Drinking Problem

Centre County Senator Jake Corman has proposed amendments to Pennsylvania law that would increase the maximum fine for Underage Drinking and Public Drunkenness to $1,000.00. I believe that it is safe to presume that Senator Corman's proposal was not intended to garner votes amongst the 40,000 Penn State students at University Park but was instead a response to local State College residents that complain about alcohol consumption by the Penn State students. Admittedly, the presence of the students does create additional costs for the county in the way of police and emergency medical personnel, but many of the local businesses that locals enjoy are also here because of the students and the university.