Top Six Reasons to Consult an Attorney

I started out with just five, but folks, the reasons just keep coming, and number six is truly what people are looking for from those they do business with.

  1. Avoid your exposure to risk- You want to move forward, you want to prosper, and you want to succeed. If fortune does “favor the bold,” then what you should do is be bold. However, when you embark on a new venture, you face risks. Consider these risks before you move forward with any venture, whether business or personal, and use an attorney’s expertise to help you overcome these risks.
  2. Solutions to your problems- I have worked with many diverse clients while working in the law, and prior to that, while working in the business world. The experiences I have had are a valuable asset to you. My work with others can only serve to benefit you: perspective from others is a good way to help solve problems.
  3. Study of the law and facts- when you consult with me, you will benefit from a thorough review of the facts and law in your issue. After an in-depth interview with you, to gather the facts of your specific situation, and detailed research into any and all cases and laws that might affect your next move. Making an appointment with this office will secure a comprehensive study of the law and facts to help you solve your problems.
  4. Communication on your behalf- Let’s face it, sometimes you have to be the bad guy. When you need to take an aggressive posture in a dispute or a negotiation, that is a position in which your attorney, in their capacity as zealously representing you, can help you in that situation. Alternatively, when you find you may need to back down on an issue, having a proxy, such as an attorney, can help you to save face.
  5. Timely performance- When you pay for an attorney, you pay for someone who has the time and resources to make sure an issue gets done when it needs to be done. A good attorney makes your urgent and important matter, their urgent and important matter.

AND

6.   Ongoing support- When you retain an attorney, the attorney should be available, the attorney should be accessible, and the attorney should provide sound advice- these three things comprise support. With me as your attorney, this support goes beyond the first issue you discuss with me. The support continues, throughout aspects of your life and other future issues you may run into. Whether legal or not, having a person you can trust, and who is unquestioningly on your side, is crucial to your wellbeing.

Your Rights at a DUI Stop: Sobriety Checkpoints and DUI Roadblocks

Sobriety checkpoints and DUI roadblocks are increasingly used to enforce DUI laws. The courts have found that if the police follow specific guidelines, a systematic checkpoint is constitutional. The police must follow certain roadblock guidelines and respect your individual rights.

If the guidelines set out by the courts are not followed, then the DUI arrest may be invalid. You should discuss with your attorney the process that you underwent regarding the arrest: from the initial stop, up until the arrest and Miranda Warnings.

What guidelines are there?

The United States Supreme Court case Michigan v. Sitz established many of the guidelines that police officers must follow in a roadblock or DUI checkpoint. Pennsylvania has established a number of other cases which largely follow these guidelines.

  • The police may not choose vehicles at random: The officers conducting the checkpoint musty have a pre-established neutral mathematical formula for which cars to stop. For example, officers may determine ahead of time that they will stop only every third car. This prevents potential discrimination by stopping individuals based on appearance.
  • Checkpoints must be established to ensure safety of police and the drivers: The roadblock must be highly visible to ensure time for stopping or slowing down to a safe speed. The roadblock must also be done in a way that minimizes the amount of time each driver is at a checkpoint.
  • You may turn around prior to the checkpoint: So long as you do not break any traffic laws or regulations, you have the right to turn around and take a different prior to being stopped at the checkpoint. That is, if you can turn off one block ahead of the actual checkpoint, you may do so to avoid the sobriety check.
  • The stop may not last long enough to constitute an unreasonable seizure of the person without reasonable suspicion: when a driver is stopped, the initial interaction with police may last only long enough to ask a few questions and determine reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion may include slurred speech, an odor of alcohol, glassy or bloodshot eyes. If the officer cannot cite reasonable suspicion within that brief initial meeting, the driver should be allowed to leave.
  • Sobriety Checkpoints and DUI Roadblocks are only permitted if they are planned and a part of an on-going safe driving program and the checkpoint follows established protocol: You should discuss with your attorney whether the protocol was established and if so whether a judge or a representative from the district attorney’s office participated in it.

The Supreme Court deemed that a car stopped at a roadblock is a seizure, but, if the purpose of the roadblock is to ensure the safety of all drivers, and the interaction is brief, then the seizure is not unreasonable. Sobriety Checkpoints are not meant to identify criminal behavior and are considered a part of regulatory law, not criminal law.

What are your rights?

As an individual faced with a Sobriety Checkpoint or a DUI Roadblock, you have certain rights. Your rights fall mainly under the Fourth Amendment, the right against unreasonable search and seizure. The government may not intrude beyond the point of a reasonable seizure.

A Sobriety Checkpoint must meet five criteria:

  1. Vehicle stops must be brief and may not entail a physical search
  2. There  must be sufficient warning of the stop prior to arrival and you have the right to avoid the DUI stop if you may do so lawfully
  3. Decisions for the checkpoint, time, conduct, etc. are subject to prior administrative approval
  4. Timing and placement of the checkpoint must be based on experience as to when and where intoxicated drivers have been found previously
  5. Decisions as to which vehicle to stop must be predetermined and is not to be left to officer discretion.

Knowing these rights ahead of time can help you when faced with a Sobriety Checkpoint or DUI Roadblock. If you believe that your rights have been violated, or that you have a challenge to the roadblock, please contact our office today for a free consultation.

Appealing a Court’s Determination

What is an appeal?

An appeal is a petition for a review of a lower court’s decision.  There can be various grounds for the appeal. These include a mistake of law, a mistake of fact, or an error in the process. A mistake of law may mean the wrong law was applied, or that the correct law was applied but in an incorrect manner. A mistake of fact may occur when a new fact is discovered, or when a jury clearly disregards a fact. Finally, a mistake of process may occur when the correct procedure is not followed at the trial level. This may include certain deadlines, disclosure of evidence, or improper action in the courtroom.

An appeal is not to be regarded as a chance to re-do the trial. The appeal is a separate petition and may ask for forms of relief, including to hold a new trial. The appeal itself is a proceeding which uses certain methods to review the actions at or before trial for propriety. The court may then choose to reverse the trial courts opinion, remand for a new opinion, remand for a new trial, or a number of other options. You should discuss with your attorney what options you may have to appeal a decision.

When is an appeal appropriate?

The most common time for an appeal is after a trial and a verdict has been reached or a final opinion given. At this time a party has 30 days to file a notice of appeal. Appeals are only given if filed in the appropriate window. You should discuss with an attorney whether you have a right to appeal an adverse decision when the decision is finalized.

There are other times when an appeal may be filed, and there are times that despite an adverse decision, the appeal is not possible. An appeal may also be filed after verdicts on certain motions. The motion will be one which would irreparably harm you if it is not granted, this can only be determined on a personalized basis. There is no way of generalizing what motions are directly appealable. Additionally, sometimes even though the courts decision is adverse to you, you may not be able to appeal. This occurs when an issue becomes moot, or when your trial attorney failed to preserve an issue for appeal.

To what court will I appeal?

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania runs a unified court system, the description of which can be found here. Which court your attorney files an appeal in will depend on what court your case originated.

If the appeal is from a local or some state government agencies it can usually be appealed to the Court of Common Pleas. Otherwise the Court of Common Pleas is a trial court.

The Commonwealth Court was created to alleviate the burden of appeals on the Superior and Supreme Courts. This court hears appeals relating to state administrative agencies, state government, and matters involving internal affairs of non-profit corporations.

The Superior Court is mainly an appeals court with petitions originating from the Court of Common Pleas. This includes civil and criminal appeals.

The Supreme Court handles appeals originating from any court, depending on the type of appeal. Some cases are automatically appealed or heard as a matter of right, while for other cases the Supreme Court has discretion whether to hear the appeal.

Who can help me with an appeal?

When the decision you obtained is negative, you may wish to think about appealing the decision. Whether it is a decision by a government agency, a civil trial, or a criminal problem, the process takes time and a lot of writing and research. It is crucial that you contact an attorney about an appeal as soon as possible. Shannon K. McDonald is an experienced attorney who has handled many appeals issues. Talk to your attorney and discuss the possibility of an appeal, and for further information and a free consultation, contact Shannon K. McDonald today.