A Pittsburgh area police officer recently stopped a vehicle after smelling marijuana coming from the car. Imagine the officer's surprise when he discovered that two of the three occupants in the car were Pittsburgh Steelers running backs. I am sure that the officer would have preferred to see the Steelers star players at Heinz Field as opposed to being part of a marijuana possession investigation. Because the one player was behind the wheel at the time, he was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence. Both players were charged with Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(31), an ungraded misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a $500.00 fine, and a suspension of Pennsylvania driving privileges. One player was also charged with Driving Under Influence under 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802(d)(2), which is also an ungraded misdemeanor. If this were a first offense of DUI, the maximum sentence for this charge would be 6 months incarceration, a $5,000.00 fine, and a 12-month suspension of Pennsylvania driving privileges.
While the running back was busy having his blood taken as part of the drug-DUI investigation, the Steelers team was boarding a chartered flight from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia for a preseason football game. Imagine how angry head coach Mike Tomlin was when he was told that his starting running back would miss the team flight because he had been found in a vehicle containing marijuana at a time when the player probably should have been packing his travel bags.
ARD for First-Time Offenders
Because the players do not appear to have been in trouble with the team or the NFL before, they probably do not have to worry about packing their travel bags for good as it is unlikely that the team will cut either player. Presuming that neither player has been in legal trouble before, both would probably be eligible to participate in a first time offender program such as Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) or Probation Without Verdict (PWOV). Under either first-time offender program, the charges can be dismissed and then expunged from a criminal record if the person complies with the conditions and completes the requirements of the program. A primary difference between ARD and PWOV is that the PWOV program often requires a participant to enter a conditional guilty plea to the charges. If the person violates or fails to complete PWOV, the judge may remove the person from the program, would enter the guilty plea on the record, and would proceed to sentencing. Basically, a violation of PWOV results in a conviction. With ARD, the participant is not required to sign a conditional guilty plea, so a person that is removed from ARD may still fight the case via the filing of pretrial motions to suppress or a trial.
If this happened in State College, both players would probably be approved to participate in ARD. Many Penn State students are caught smoking marijuana in their dorms or in downtown apartments, and many others are caught after having a bit too much to drink before getting behind the wheel of a car. In such situations, the people are often approved to participate in ARD. Click here for more information about the Centre County ARD program.
Collateral Consequences for Criminal Charges
Aside from criminal penalties, the players face additional punishments that may be imposed by the team and the NFL. Penn State athletes and students that are suspects in criminal investigations also face additional punishments from the school. Many students and their parents are unhappy to discover that the student will be punished by both the court system and the school, and the two systems are handled completely different, and the punishments imposed in each system are often separate. Basically, students get punished twice for the same conduct. The most severe punishments with the Office of Student Conduct include permanent expulsion from school.
Aside from the punishment from the school, a conviction may have more long term consequences for a Penn State student. A conviction may result in the loss of student aid, and a conviction may prohibit or impair the person's ability to be professionally licensed in the future. For example, I have represented would-be teachers, engineers, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals that faced the possibility of not being approved by a professionally licensing board if they were convicted of the charges that were filed.
Anyone that has been charged with a criminal offense should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. While many attorneys look the same on the web, meaning many have websites that contain some information and have eye-catching pictures and phrases, a prospective client needs to look past the eye-appealing nature of a website and look at the content and profile of the attorney. The good attorneys have experience, have a history of obtaining favorable results for clients, are respected by their peers, and have clients that recommend the lawyer's services. For more information about selecting a criminal defense attorney, check out this page.