Misdemeanor Charges Filed in Centre County Theft of Street Sign Case – Overcharging?
Posted in General on January 12, 2015
Two teens were recently charged by the Pennsylvania State Police with Attempted Theft, Conspiracy, and Possession of Instruments of Crime when they were caught in the wee hours of the morning trying to steal signs at the intersection of Sleepy Hollow Road and Ichabod Lane. Taking signs is illegal, but filing so many charges and such severe charges appears to be overkill and an example of overcharging.
Possession of Instruments of Crime, in violation of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 907, prohibits a person from possessing an “instrument of crime” which is defined as “anything specially made or specially adapted for criminal use” or “anything used for criminal purposes and possessed by the actor under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for lawful uses it may have.” In this case, I suspect that the instrument of crime was a wrench, pliers, or Vise-Grips that were intended to be used to remove the sign.
Misdemeanor Charges Are Too Severe
In this case, because some teens possessed a wrench to remove some nuts from bolts, they are charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, the most severe misdemeanor, meaning one step below a felony charge. A first-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 5 years in jail and a $10,000.00 fine. Is it just me or does it sound like this charge is a little too severe based upon the juvenile prank nature of the offense in this case? To give you a better idea, a first offense of Driving Under the Influence, Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, and Possession of any other Drug is an ungraded misdemeanor, which is the lowest possible misdemeanor. The Possession of a Controlled Substance charge carries the most severe sentence with 1 year incarceration and a $5,000.00 fine. So kids that were stealing a Sleepy Hollow Road sign face a much more severe sentence than someone that possessed heroin or drove drunk?
Also, if the kids were convicted of the first-degree misdemeanor, they would face a collateral consequence of the conviction that would prohibit them from possessing a firearm for the rest of their lives. Is it fair that these teens would be prohibited from hunting for the rest of their lives because they tried to steal a sign?
First-Time Offender Programs
These teens would most likely be eligible to participate in the first-time offender program called the Centre County ARD program. Successful completion of the program would avoid a conviction and allow the charges to be dismissed and expunged, but the program would cost over $1,000.00 and require at least two court appearances. Again, in my opinion, the punishment does not fit the crime here. The teens should have been charged with summary non-traffic offense of Theft and possibly Criminal Mischief, and the matters would be resolved via summary hearings before Magisterial District Judge Allen Sinclair. Judge Sinclair could have ordered the teens to pay court costs and complete community service, service such as cleaning graffiti from road signs, and then dismissed the charges. Such a resolution would carry an appropriate punishment for the crime by forcing the teens to do something positive for the community, as such community service is directly related to the actual crime. Sometimes prosecutors need to realize that just because they can file very severe charges does not mean that they should. Hopefully common sense prevails at some point in these cases.