More Domestic Violence Shelters Allowing Pets

For years, I’ve been trying to educate people on the link between animal abuse and domestic violence. Not only are animal abusers much more likely to be perpetrators of domestic violence, but more and more women are reporting that their abuser has targeted their pets as a way to control and terrorize them. I personally have witnessed this, both in my own personal life and while working in the Domestic Violence Clinic during law school.

Society’s attitude towards pets is changing, and animals are often considered members of the family. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of options for women who want to leave an abusive relationship but won’t leave their pets behind. Many domestic violence shelters do not allow animals. Because of the strong bond with their pets and the lack of available housing for the animals at the DV shelter, women tend to stay in abusive relationships rather than make the devastating choice of leaving their pets behind to face an unknown and sometimes deadly fate.

Thankfully, the link between domestic violence and animal abuse is beginning to gain national recognition. Domestic violence shelters are slowly starting to allow pets, giving women the opportunity to leave abusive relationships when they may not have had one before. The AP just published an article on this topic. Click here to check it out. It has some great information on just a few of the much needed shelter programs popping up around the nation.

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The Sad Truth About Feral Kittens

I’m an animal lover and am extremely active in animal rescue efforts. My biggest passion is spreading the word about Trap-Neuter-Return programs (TNR). TNR is a program where feral cats are trapped, spayed/neutered, and returned to their home outside to live out their lives without reproducing. It’s the most humane way to control the feral cat population. This is the time of year known to those in animal rescue as “kitten season,” a time when huge numbers of kittens are being born to stray and feral cats. Somebody recently sent me an interesting article on what will happen to many of these kittens, and now I’m passing it onto you. Many municipalities are starting to pass ordinances that could protect ferals from the fate described in the article, but there is still much work that needs to be done to protect feral cats and kittens.

Click here to read the article.

JUSTICE

This is the final post in a series examining DUI of lawfully prescribed medication. In Part Two, I told you about a woman who came into my office, frustrated because her attorney wanted her to enter into ARD for DUI charges despite the fact that it would ruin her career and she maintained she was innocent. Her driving was perfect, she had no alcohol in her system, and the only drugs found were lawfully prescribed antidepressants and migraine medication. Part Two ended with a denied continuance, a rejected plea deal and a new DA.

Immediately upon taking the case, the new DA began demanding that we provide her with my client’s medical records. We had already provided a note from her treating physician stating that all the meds were prescribed and he never saw any indication of side effects or abuse, so I refused to ask for the medical records. They weren’t necessary in light of this letter and the fact that everything was within therapeutic range, a clear sign that they weren’t being abused. Also, my client didn’t want a DA going through all her personal psychiatric and PCP treatment. When I refused to obtain the records, the DA started issuing subpoenas to the pharmacy. What blew my mind was that the pharmacies turned over the records without any consent from my client. How they thought this didn’t violate HIPAA privacy rights, I’ll never know.

At the time of the trial, the DA asked for a continuance so she could obtain an expert opinion on my client’s impairment. Despite previously denying my request for the same thing, the judge granted the DA’s continuance request. After that, the DA continued to issue subpoenas, and when the doctors wouldn’t turn over the records she wanted because they didn’t have consent from the client, she went over everybody’s head and got a search warrant under the guise that she wanted to see if the client was abusing her meds.

In the meantime, the DA tried to get me to provide her the name of my client’s doctors and pharmacy and also obtain all of her medical records and supply them to her expert. To me, this was a huge invasion of my client’s privacy and there was no way I was handing that information over. Plus, the DA had no right to force my client to go out and get evidence that could be used against her; it’s unconstitutional. When I again refused to request the information she wanted, she filed a Motion to Compel with the court and asked the judge to force me to get her the information. Thankfully, the judge saw how unconstitutional this was and denied the motion. However, he did grant yet another continuance for the DA so she could continue her crusade against my client and obtain more medical records and an expert report.

Because of the time all this took, we were able to secure an expert who wrote an opinion for us. When I had a conversation with him, he told me he thought it was absolutely criminal that they were coming after my client and that he just didn’t see any evidence of impairment. He couldn’t understand how the case even got this far. We submitted his report and supporting documents to the DA and she passed that on to her expert.

About a week later, the DA called me and said that her expert would not be able to opine that my client was impaired by her medications. Therefore, they were withdrawing the DUI charge. Instead of just letting the entire case go, though, she told me they’d be amending the charges to careless driving and a headlight infraction. I told her there was no way my client was pleading to careless driving, as the dash cam clearly showed her driving was perfect. The DA said she would have to review the tape again; she did, and agreed with me they couldn’t prove careless driving, but she was going to keep the headlight infraction. My client agreed to plead guilty to that charge.

A couple weeks ago, she entered her plea. After all that, she received a $25 fine. But the damage has already been done. My client no longer has any faith in our justice system. She had to spend thousands of dollars on attorney and expert fees. This has been on her record all this time while she’s been applying for jobs. She lost out on at least one because they saw the charge when they ran a criminal background check. Her medical privacy rights have been violated. And none of this even begins to account for the emotional toll this has taken on her and her family. And for what? All because she took legal medication as prescribed to her by her doctor. She eventually received justice, but how many out there don’t?

The Innocent Defendant

This is Part Two of a three-part series examining the rise in prosecutions for DUI of lawfully prescribed medication. In Part One, I explained the law and how it is that someone can take medication as prescribed and still face a possible DUI charge. Now, it’s time to look at a specific case I recently handled where I firmly believed my client was innocent.

Last year, a very scared and frustrated young woman came into my office, charged with a first offense DUI of a controlled substance after being pulled over for a faulty front headlight. She’d never been in trouble before and her attorney was pushing her to enter into ARD rather than fight the case. She maintained that she had done nothing wrong, as the only thing found in her system after a blood test was lawfully prescribed antidepressants and migraine medication. Plus, even ARD would cost my client her job and ruin her career. She wanted to fight and prove her innocence rather than admit she drove impaired and enter into ARD, as her attorney kept recommending. Because I’d recently taken on these types of cases as my pet project at my firm, I immediately told her I could help and became her attorney.

I looked at her blood results and saw that all the medications she was on were well within therapeutic range, meaning she was taking them as prescribed and obviously not abusing them. Then I looked at the synopsis from the officer and there was a clear disconnect between what he said he observed and what was in her system. I watched the dash cam video, and it showed my client driving perfectly. It also showed that she didn’t do great on the SFSTs, but it looked more like she just wasn’t taking them seriously and wasn’t really trying. She did tell me that she thought the whole thing was a joke, so the video jived with what she had said. However, according to the officer, she was swerving and weaving and performed extremely poorly on the SFSTs, showing numerous signs of impairment. I told my client she should hire an expert witness who specializes in pharmacology so that we could have testimony explaining that the meds she was on wouldn’t produce anything the officer observed. She agreed.

At her first hearing, I asked the judge for a continuance to give us time to hire an expert and provide an expert report. The judge shockingly denied my request, informing me that he didn’t care that this was a first listing and that time to obtain an expert report is not a valid reason to grant a continuance. He then forced us to trial a few weeks later.

When we showed up for trial, we had worked out a plea deal with the DA. We didn’t have time to get the expert and my client was afraid of what would happen if we went to trial. However, when she tried to enter her plea, the same judge that had denied the continuance rejected the plea deal, again forcing us to trial. After this, the trial was rescheduled and a new DA took on the case. That’s when things became disturbing.
The behavior of the DA defied all standards of logic and professionalism. It very quickly turned from a case of seeking justice to a crusade against an innocent young woman. In Part Three, I’ll tell you about the months of maltreatment my client was forced to endure at the hands of an over-zealous prosecutor. Stay tuned!

Take Medicine, Get a DUI in Pennsylvania

This is Part One in a series of blog posts dedicated to the rise in prosecution for DUI of lawfully prescribed medication.

You’re suffering from depression and anxiety. You go to the doctor and are prescribed medication to help treat your symptoms. You take the medication exactly as prescribed, taking only the dose your doctor told you to. You’re driving home from work one night and are pulled over. The officer tells you he saw you swerve and asks you to get out of the car and perform some field sobriety tests (SFSTs). You do, because you have nothing to worry about – you haven’t been drinking or taking any illegal drugs. The officer decides he saw signs of impairment and arrests you for suspicion of DUI. You cooperate and let him take a blood sample, but you don’t expect to ever be charged with anything. After all, you’ve done nothing wrong, right? Wrong. Much to your surprise, a few weeks later you receive a summons in the mail, charging you with DUI of a controlled substance. How is this possible? You had no alcohol, no drugs, just the medication your doctor prescribed you. How could you possibly be charged with DUI?

There’s a disturbing trend going on in Pennsylvania. Since the breath test challenges shed light on the deficiencies of Breathalyzers, the majority of police departments have moved to blood testing. What we as defense attorneys are now seeing as a result is a sharp rise in DUI charges when the person has nothing but lawfully prescribed medication in their system.

My theory for why this is is that before, the Breathalyzers could only test for alcohol; if it came back that the person was drinking or wasn’t above the legal limit, they let the person go. Now, the police can use the blood to test for more than just alcohol; they almost always will test it for drugs as well. Because of this, they’re able to see if a person has anything at all in their system, including prescription drugs. Where they wouldn’t have been able to charge a person because the Breathalyzer didn’t show alcohol, they can now charge the person because PA DUI law allows for charges against people who take prescription or over-the-counter medication.

Under section 3802(d) of the Motor Vehicle Code, a person can be charged with DUI of a controlled substance. Section 3802(d)(1) is the per se subsection. What this means is that if a person has any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in their system, they are guilty of DUI; it makes no difference is the person is impaired by the substance. Just its presence is enough. Schedule I controlled substances include the following:
• Marijuana
• Heroin
• LSD
• Ecstasy
• Methaqualone
• Peyote

Schedule II and III drugs also fall under this subsection. They are treated a little differently, though. If a person has a Schedule II or III drug in their system and they do not have a valid prescription for that drug, then like Schedule I drugs it is enough that the drug is in their system; it is not necessary to show impairment. However, if the person does have a valid prescription, the state must prove that the drug was in the person’s system and they were impaired by it. Many of the drugs prescribed for chronic pain and ADD are Schedule II substances. Examples of Schedule II drugs are:
• Dilaudid
• Fentanyl
• Demerol
• Oxycodone (OxyContin)
• Dexedrine
• Adderall
• Ritalin
• Cocaine
• Methamphetamine

Schedule III drugs have a lower potential for abuse than Schedule I and II drugs. They include:
• Vicodin
• Tylenol with Codeine
• Ketamine
• Anabolic steroids
• Testosterone

Section 3802(d)(2) states that a person is guilty of DUI if they are under the influence of a drug or combination of drugs so that their ability to safely drive is impaired. In other words, if you have a Schedule IV or V controlled substance in your system, the DA has to prove that it’s present in your blood AND that you’re impaired by it. Examples of Schedule IV and V controlled substances are:
• Xanax
• Soma
• Darvon
• Darvocet
• Valium
• Ativan
• Talwin
• Ambien
• Cough medicines like Robitussin
• Lyrica

Essentially, what all this means is that even if you are properly taking lawfully prescribed medication, you may still be charged with a DUI. Even if you’ve only taken certain over-the-counter medications, you may still be charged with a DUI. The trend in Pennsylvania is to charge drivers with DUI of these drugs even when there is no or minimal alcohol in the person’s system. It makes counties a lot of money. The key word is “impairment” which is often completely subjective. Many local police departments do not have (working) dash cam systems, so convictions are often based on their subjective opinion.

In Part Two of the series, I’ll discuss a case I recently handled in which a young woman was charged under this section after being pulled over for a faulty headlight. The only thing in her system was antidepressants and migraine medication. Stay tuned!