Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Philadelphia Crime Statistics and Visualization Tools

Thanks to OpenDataPhilly and other recent efforts, raw data sets concerning Philadelphia and its resources are now more open to the public. This accessibility has in turn resulted in a great deal of innovation by designers, information architects, and programmers in presenting this information to users in creative and useful ways.

Although projects have focused on a wide range of topics – from analyzing election data to creating location-specific photo databases – a number of applications have been developed using crime statistics from the Philadelphia Police and other sources. These applications are informative and helpful to residents, especially when they use regularly updated data.

We recently published a guide to some good online resources for Philadelphia crime statistics and visualization tools. In addition to offering an interesting look at various trends in the city, some can help you stay informed about what is going on in your neighborhood. For more information, check out the following presentation.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Penalties for DUI in Philadelphia

Driving under the influence (DUI)
in Philadelphia is like playing with fire.
Convictions for driving under the influence charges can carry harsh penalties; however, as harsh as the punishments are, it seems as though many people are continuing to commit the same unintelligent and careless act. Because drunk driving can be fatal to the driver, passengers, and even uninvolved third parties near the scene, police forces in jurisdictions nationwide strive to catch offenders.

In the City of Philadelphia, DUI cases are unfortunately common. Depending upon a person’s BAC level, the punishment for a DUI conviction will differ. Another factor that goes into deciding the appropriate penalty for driving under the influence is how many offenses the person already has. For example, the first offense will be much less harsh than the second or third. It is important to remember, though, that the State of Pennsylvania provides strict laws and penalties when it comes to DUI arrests, and the City of Philadelphia is no different.

The first offense for a convicted drunk driver may include being charged with probation or up to 72 hours in jail, depending on the persons BAC level. Second or more offenses can result with five days to over a year in prison, along with thousands of dollars in fines, again depending upon how much alcohol was in the driver’s system. Many first time DUI offenders are eligible for an ARD program, but not always. It is important to note that these are not the only charges for which a person with a DUI must be prepared. The penalties, including fines and possible jail time, will become even harsher if the driver has caused an accident resulting in injury or death.

Drunk driving is a serious crime that comes with serious criminal charges. Many qualified DUI lawyers in Philadelphia are able to represent those facing DUI penalties. It is important to have an understanding of what will be involved when it comes to your arrest and how to be prepared to defend yourself.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Philadelphia Wedding Brawl, Criminal Charges, and Legal Citations

If you are a resident of the Philadelphia area, chances are that, by now, you’ve heard of the giant wedding brawl that took place this past Sunday (10/7/12) at the Sheraton Hotel in Society Hill. Apparently, two separate wedding groups were involved and one of the guests, a 57-year-old man, died of a heart attack during the ordeal.

Although at least three people have been arrested for their involvement so far, there could be other arrests as officials continue to investigate – according to Lt. Ray Evers, spokesman of the Philadelphia Police Department.

One of those arrested, Matthew Sofka, was booked on a number of charges – seven, in fact. You can find the docket sheet here: Docket # MC-51-CR-0041253-2012

Reading the Case Docket Sheet

On the docket sheet, you will find the charges listed (including citations of PA statutes):

From Page 2 of the Docket

Although these charges are fairly straightforward, you may be wondering about the statutes themselves, as well as where you can find them in the state's legal code.

Where can I find these state laws?

These charges were filed in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania’s state law applies. If you want information about what these charges mean, you could consult the Consolidated Statutes of Pennsylvania and be able to read the exact wording of the state’s legal code. (For more info: Pa. Consolidated Statutes)

What is the Law Statute Symbol that looks like a Double Letter S?

That symbol, which looks like this §, is known as a section sign and is frequently used in legal code. For example, 18§2705 refers to Title 18, Section 2705. This section is part of Chapter 27 – Assault.

A .pdf file of Pa. Title 18, can be downloaded here: Title 18

On Page 78 – Section 2705 is included in a table for Chapter 27:

Page 78

Page 83 – Further in the chapter, you’ll find Section 2705 itself:

Page 83

Other Legal Notation

You may have noticed that, on the criminal docket referenced above, use of the section symbol twice in a row, like this §§. This refers to a subsection. For example, 18§5503§§A1 refers to Title 18, Section 5503, subsection a, paragraph 1. This might also be cited as 18 Pa.C.S. § 5503(a)(1). The “Pa.C.S.” part is simply shorthand for “Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes”.

On Page 230 – 18 Pa.C.S. § 5503(a)(1)

Page 230

Charges Filed

All of the charges in the docket referenced above can be found in 18 Pa.C.S. - CRIMES AND OFFENSES. Here is a list of those charges as well a link to the relevant Section on the PA General Assembly’s website.

An Important Note

This post is intended for reference/entertainment purposes only. It should not be used in place of qualified legal counsel. Furthermore, it should not be construed as advice to take, or not take, any specific action. The writer of this post and the operators of this blog are in no way associated with any of the parties referenced herein.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Philadelphia Texting While Driving Ban

Cell phones have made the lives of people much easier but they have also become a major distraction for drivers. Pennsylvania recently passed a law that bans the use of a cellular device to send text messages while the person is behind the wheel. Texting while driving is subject to primary enforcement, which means that law officers can stop offenders for that reason alone. Drivers are still allowed to use hands free devices and talk on their cell phones, which will make it difficult for law officers to determine who is texting.

The punishment for texting while behind the wheel is a $50 fine, no points are received on the driver’s license, and their phone cannot be confiscated. If the driver has an urgent need to send a text they should pull over and park in order to send their text message. Since it is still legal to talk on the phone while driving, law officers have to observe the driver for a longer time before they can pull them over. The law officers must be certain that the driver is texting and they have guidelines that they are to follow in order to determine if the driver is texting.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Principles of the U.S. Criminal Justice System

The goals and values of the United State's Criminal Justice System rest on a few core principles. While these are not a perfect representation of what happens in the real world, they are nonetheless the standard that the system strives to maintain.

First, anyone accused of or charged with a crime is, from the court's perspective, innocent. "The burden of the proof lies upon him who affirms, not he who denies" - as the Latin saying goes (Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat). They must be proven guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, by the prosecution, before being considered guilty.

Similarly, the legal rights of the accused must be protected. This is commonly referred to as Due Process, which seeks to ensure that laws are not vague and are applied fairly to the accused. In addition, the accused is to be notified of their charges and have an opportunity to be heard before actions are taken to deprive them of their life, liberty, or property.

The Sixth Amendment spells out many of the rights of which those charged with a crime are entitled, such as having "the Assistance of Counsel" for their defense. This means that a defense attorney can be hired by the accused or provided by the state in the event they lack the resources to procure legal representation on their own.

The accused are also entitled to be judged fairly by impartial jurors without influence or interference from outside sources. The process must also take place openly in a venue that is publicly accessible to ensure that all involved are treated fairly and equitably. According to the principles of the United States  Criminal Justice System, all are to be considered equal before the law.