Accusations of Sexual Offenses In Pennsylvania

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Some of the most serious crimes that anyone can be charged with come under Title 31 of the Pennsylvania Criminal Code — Sexual Offenses.

Under the guise of approximately eight different sub-statutes, Pennsylvania punishes people who engage in various types of sexual conduct. Although every defendant is innocent until proven guilty at a trial, the reality is that the stigma of a sexual offense always leans against the defendant. The stain of a sexual offense charge often forces defendants to engage an active defense against a sexual offense charge, even though they have no burden to do so.

In addition, the criminal effects of a conviction always have lifetime consequences (especially Megan’s Law requirements). It is for these reasons that anyone charged with a sexual offense should take his or her case very seriously.

What Charges Can Be Brought Against Me?

Considering the circumstances, the ages and employment of the individuals involved, the conduct alleged, and the date an offense allegedly occurred, a defendant who is accused of sexual misconduct may be charged with one or more of the following offenses:

Nature of Sexual Offense Charges in Pennsylvania

The nature of sexual offense charges in Pennsylvania will depend on a number of factors, including:

Age: Age is an important factor in chargeability and defense. For most sexual offense statutes, age makes a difference when an alleged victim is less than 16 years old, when a defendant is four (4) years or more older. Mistake of age for complainants under 14 years old is not a defense; however, it can become a defense in cases involving complainants older than 14.

Strict Liability: Knowledge of a victim’s age is irrelevant in some situations. Anyone accused of any type of sexual conduct with a complainant who is actually less than 13 years old is “strictly liable” for the offense. There is no defense that the defendant thought the victim was 15, 16 or even 17 years old. In addition, sexual intercourse between an individual under 16 years old and a defendant who is 4 years or more older is strictly criminally liable under Pennsylvania statutes.

Sex Doesn’t Just Mean “Sex”: Sexual intercourse is not the only sexual activity that is punishable under the law. A few Pennsylvania statutes punish a broad range of sexual activity, including forms of penetration, however slight. Of course, even if no contact occurs, a defendant can always be prosecuted for criminal attempt or conspiracy to engage in a sexual offense.

Considerations for Prosecutions of Sexual Offenses in Pennsylvania

Lengthy Statute of Limitations: Most prosecutions must commence within 12 years of the alleged crime. Where a victim is under 18 years old, prosecution must commence within 12 years after the victim turns 18 years old or by the date the minor victim reaches 50 years old. Old, forgotten, and even sealed accusations nevertheless have a way of coming back to prosecute unsuspecting defendants (as in the Bill Cosby case).

Victim’s Sexual History: Evidence of a complainant’s past sexual history or reputation is not admissible in a sexual offense case. Often called “rape shield laws,” the legislative purpose is to protect complainants from coming forward out of fear of sexual judgment. Evidence of past sexual conduct is admissible at trial, however, only where the complainant’s consent with the defendant is an issue and only after a hearing on the matter.

Are There Possible Defenses to Charges for Sexual Offenses?

Even if consent is not an issue (such as being charged with statutory sexual assault), other defenses may be available. A defendant has a right to present an alibi to all charges alleged, and has a right to cross-examine a complainant and any other witnesses. If DNA evidence exists, there must be a proper chain of custody before such evidence is admissible at trial. With the assistance of counsel, you may be able to present these and other powerful defenses.

What are the Consequences of a Sexual Offense Conviction?

The consequences of a criminal conviction for any type of sexual misconduct are severe. Aside from the effects of a felony conviction, most defendants must register on the Sexual Offender Registration system for a period of 15 years, 25 years, or for life.

As a registered sexual offender, a defendant’s movements are tracked every year and home and work addresses, vehicle information, criminal information, picture and physical description are publicly available for the world to see.

A conviction for sexual misconduct has other implications. A convicted individual may not sponsor relatives, even spouses, for certain family-based immigration petitions. Convicted individuals may also be barred from: adopting or taking custody of minor relatives, obtaining teaching and other occupational licenses, operating certain child-based businesses, attending school events, rallies, PTO meetings, volunteering and even being on or near school property.

When a defendant is convicted of a sexual offense, the reality is that the whole family feels the effects.

Finding an Attorney for Sexually Motivated Crimes in Pennsylvania

Even if you are merely accused of a sexual offense — but not charged — it is most important to invoke your right to remain silent.

Do not speak to the police, the alleged victim or any family members about the incident. Do not agree to provide any DNA. It is also important not to submit to any type of junk science including polygraph tests.

Until you retain an attorney, police may attempt to get a hold of you any way possible. Nothing prevents them from calling your cell phone, contacting you through Facebook and even showing up to your home or school for questioning. Once you retain an attorney, police must cease all attempts to contact you directly.

If you or a loved one find yourselves in a situation where serious sexual accusations are made — even falsely — you should contact an attorney immediately.

The attorneys at Skinner Law Firm represent clients for a variety of allegations involving sexually motivated crimes in Chester County, and the surrounding areas of Delaware County and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. With offices conveniently located in West Chester in Chester County and Media in Delaware County, our attorneys are ready to help you fight these serious charges. 

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Unmanned Aircraft Systems in Pennsylvania

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Technology is constantly advancing and as we get closer to the world promised in Back to the Future, the more creative the government must be in coming up with regulations for these advances. Drones are a perfect example of advances in technology that have become available to widespread users and are now subject to federal and state regulation.

Drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), are defined as unmanned aircraft (UA) with the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications, and navigation equipment necessary to operate it.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization Reform Act of 2012 will have the FAA amending its regulations for airplanes and similar aircraft to include rules for UAS. An unmanned aircraft (UA) is considered an aircraft and falls under FAA regulation. Federal and state governments have deemed it necessary to enact laws to regulate drones. Approximately thirty (30) states have passed laws to regulate drones. The federal laws deal with airspace regulation, registration, and safety while the laws in most states focus on privacy.

Can I Fly my Drone?

On January 3, 2012, 49 U.S.C. § 40103 went into effect. Section 40103 requires the FAA to regulate aircraft and UAS operations. 49 U.S.C. §§40101 -113 regulates all unmanned aircraft. At this point, most drone use by everyday citizens is recreational. Still, the government may require you to register your drone. Small drones are considered to be drones that weigh more than 0.55lbs and less than 55lbs, including all the attachments and payloads such as cameras. Small drones may be registered online. Large drones are considered drones that weigh 55lbs or more. Large drones must be registered through a paper system. The following are the federal requirements for flying drones recreationally.

Drone Rules

The FAA has implemented multiple regulations for recreational drone flying. The regulations for flying a drone for fun include the following:

  • must be at least 13 years old;
  • must be a U.S. Citizen or legal permanent resident;
  • must be clear of all aircraft, people, and structures;
  • must operate UAS within visual sight at all times;
  • must not fly UAS no higher than 400ft;
  • must contact the airport or airport traffic control towers before flying within five miles of an airport;
  • must not fly within three miles and up to 3,000 ft in altitude of any major sporting event;
  • must not fly near or over sensitive infrastructures (such as electric plants);
  • must not fly in adverse weather conditions; and
  • must not fly while under the influence.

The FAA has an app that helps UA operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect in the location where they want to fly their drone. The app is called B4UFly.

Should Pennsylvania Enact Drone Laws?

In PA, the Legislature has tried to introduce drone legislation in multiple sessions. In 2015, the Legislature proposed four bills and regulations, but none passed. Most recently, on January 20, 2017, the Pennsylvania Senate introduced a bill to amend Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses), in obstructing governmental operations, providing for the offense of unlawful drone activity over correctional institutions. Whether drone regulation will pass has yet to be seen.

Since the FAA laws focus primarily on safety and airspace regulation, the state’s laws have focused mostly on privacy. In Pennsylvania, however, some argue that Pennsylvania does not need additional laws to regulate drones for privacy because existing laws already protect against private citizens spying on others. Private Citizen privacy regulation is just one side of the issue.

A lack of laws regulating government use of drones could become a real issue as drone use becomes more prevalent. The idea that law enforcement could use drones to fly over a person’s private property and potentially gather evidence is scary. The holding by the US Supreme Court in Kyllo v. the United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), where the Court held, “[w]here, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of a private home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a Fourth Amendment ‘search,’ and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant,” comes to mind.

According to U.S. officials, approximately one million drones were sold last holiday season, and that number is expected to increase. The holding in Kyllo soon will not apply to drones because unmanned aircraft will not be considered “a device that is not in general public use.” As general drone use continues to increase, it will be important to pay attention to how law enforcement agencies use drones.

Additional Resources

Section § 44102 –Visit the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, the United States Code page for the full statutory language include the subsections of the Federal statute regulating drones.

Fly for Fun –Visit the Federal Aviation Administration website for a list of rules and requirements for flying a drone recreationally. Find the age and citizenship restrictions for flying and also find links to the pages to register your drone.

Interactive Drone Map –Visit Smithsonian Magazine, the official website of the Smithsonian museum, which places a “Smithsonian lens” on the world, looking at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian institution.

Flying a Drone in PA Parks – Visit the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Services for more information on the rules for flying drones in the various Pennsylvania State Parks.

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