Passing a Stopped School Bus in Pennsylvania

One of the most terrifying traffic tickets to receive in Pennsylvania is a traffic ticket for passing a stopped school bus with its stop sign extended. Sometimes, especially on sunny days, or on curvy roads, a motorist can drive right by a school bus with a stop sign activated without realizing they have done so until it’s too late.

In other instances, a school bus stops for an inordinately long time with its stop sign extended or merely with the red lights flashing and a motorist finally goes around the bus because nothing is happening and it appears to be a mistake. Because school bus drivers are empowered to report these violations, a ticket quickly follows. If you’ve been given a ticket for a school bus violation, here are three things you need to keep in mind.

school bus violation

1. Don’t talk to the police

Frequently, in school bus cases, the witnesses who make a report cannot positively identify the driver. Witnesses often don’t get a good look at the driver until they’ve passed, or they only saw a license plate and not the driver’s face. As with any ticket or criminal charge, if a police officer calls you and asks if you are the person who allegedly ran a school bus, you should decline to make any statement and tell them to contact your lawyer instead.

What you say to the police can always hurt you but rarely, if ever, help you. Even if police officers promise that they’ll “work with you” or make lesser charges available to you, this is unenforceable in court and is rarely followed through on.

Accordingly, you should tell the officer that he’s welcome to contact your attorney but that you don’t wish to make any other statements until he does so.

2. The law requires that the school bus stop sign be activated

First, for a ticket to be valid in Pennsylvania law for a school bus stop sign violation, the stop sign itself must have been activated. In several instances, courts have held that this “activation” is not complete until the stop sign is fully extended. This means that if someone is already in the process of passing the bus before the stop sign comes all the way out, it may not be a violation.

Of course, it’s better to play it safe than sorry as some courts may still convict someone if only the red lights were flashing. Nonetheless, this along with a number of other legal considerations, if properly presented in court, can weigh in your favor and result in a finding of “Not Guilty.”

3. Most school buses have video cameras on them

In most instances, the school buses today are equipped with forward facing video cameras which can show video of someone passing the bus. This is important to prove your identity or, more importantly, to prove that you are not the person accused of running a school bus.

You are entitled to receive a copy of this video if you are charged with the crime of passing a school bus, along with copies of the report that was made by the police and other relevant information. This right belongs to you under the Constitution and the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Don’t just plead guilty!

Being convicted of, or pleading guilty to, passing a school bus carries penalties including a mandatory suspension of your license. Don’t just plead guilty even if you think the evidence against you is overwhelming. An experienced traffic attorney may be able to negotiate a more favorable outcome for you than a school bus ticket violation.

In addition to a license suspension and points, such a violation can result in a dramatic rise in your insurance premiums. You should retain an experienced defense attorney before making any decision about pleading guilty.

Conclusion:

If you’ve been charged with a school bus violation or another traffic ticket in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania call our office for a free consultation about your case and to discuss the options in front of you. Tickets for passing a school bus stop sign can be severe, and you should have the benefit of legal counsel before making a decision about what to do in that case. Call us today.

 

Preliminary Arraignment

Magisterial District Court 23-1-05A preliminary arraignment is the first step in the criminal procedure process in Pennsylvania. When you’ve been charged with a crime, the preliminary arraignment is the first hearing that you’ll be notified of by the Magisterial District Court.

Typically, you’ll receive a notice in the mail although, in some instances, the preliminary arraignment happens when you are picked up on an arrest warrant and taken to a judge.

What Should I Expect at My Preliminary Arraignment?

At your preliminary arraignment, the judge will ask you for your contact information including your address, your phone number, and information on where you have recently lived. This information is intended to supply the courts with the ability to contact you in the event that you’re not able to be reached through normal methods and to allow them to send police to come find you if you start missing hearings. In addition, you will need to supply your place of work, the address of the place of work, and any phone numbers and supervisor information. The courts will not contact your supervisors and will not attempt to contact you at work unless you miss a hearing.

The judge will also read you your rights. The judge will inform you that you have a right to remain silent, that you have a right to a criminal defense attorney, and that you have to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the Commonwealth in order to be convicted. The court will also inform you of other important constitutional rights that you hold.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the court will set your bail. “Bail” refers to the terms upon which you can be released pending ultimate disposition of your case. Without bail, you would be forced to sit in jail until the conclusion of your case. The right to be released upon paying bail is a constitutional right, and you are permitted to be released on bail except in the most extreme of circumstances.

There are two major types of bail:

  1. Secured bail:
    In the instance of secured bail, you are required to pay to the court system the amount of money that’s set as your secured bail before you can leave and be free pending resolution of the case. For example, if your secured bail is $50,000, you will be required to pay $50,000 to the court. You will receive that money back at the end of the case, but it will be unavailable to you until then.
  2. Unsecured bail:
    In the event of unsecured bail in the amount of $50,000, you would simply be informed that if you missed a hearing or otherwise violated the terms of your bail, you would be required to pay a $50,000 fine to the court.

All of this exemplifies why it’s not smart to go to your preliminary arraignment alone. Criminal charges are serious, and understanding the court system’s complexity is not for the faint of heart.

Call us at the Cornerstone Law Firm to speak with a criminal defense attorney. We’ll help you determine how best to fight your charges and we can represent you at the preliminary arraignment. Our attorneys are experienced in arguing for favorable bail terms and insuring that your rights are protected from the very outset of the case.

Statement Under Penalty at Cabela’s in Berks County

Since Cabela’s opened its store in Tilden Township, Berks County, it has become a virtual tourist attraction bringing people from all over the country to visit the store and check out its massive displays of merchandise, stuffed wildlife, and live fish. Unfortunately, what is meant to be an entertaining trip to an outdoors store has, for some visitors, turned into criminal charges when they attempt to purchase a gun at Cabela’s and are denied because of a past crime or episode involving a mental institution.

Many times, an individual applying does not even realize that they’ve incorrectly answered a question on a touch-screen and that by incorrectly answering that question, they are now subject to criminal charges. These charges usually come in the form of a Statement Under Penalty of Perjury under 18 Pa.C.S. § 4904, the Pennsylvania Statute that criminalizes perjury. Many would-be gun-buyers are surprised to find out that, at the end of the application for a gun, there was a statement that says, “I submit this application and all of the statements made on it under penalty of perjury.” By tapping “yes” at the end of the application and submitting it, the applicant is agreeing that they are making a sworn statement and that they can be prosecuted if it turns out not to be correct.

So, what do you do when you’ve been charged with a Statement Under Penalty at Cabela’s? The Commonwealth is very serious about prosecuting these cases, no matter how innocent your state of mind when you applied—so how can you defend yourself against these charges?

Touchscreens are unreliable

The application that most people are asked to fill out at Cabela’s is a touchscreen. As a result, the answers that are entered by tapping on the screen can sometimes be distorted. Touchscreens are not always accurate, and they don’t always accurately reflect the answers that are put down. Sometimes, defendants are surprised to find out that they’re charged, believing that they put the correct answer to the very question they’re accused of lying about.

Proving that you tapped the proper answer on a touchscreen is difficult, but not impossible. For one thing, there is video of some touchscreen terminals, and for another, the burden of proof always rests with the prosecution to prove that you did indeed touch the incorrect answer.

Were you distracted?

Many people go to Cabela’s to purchase a gun and do so in the company of friends. They may be in the process of talking to their friends, discussing the gun they’re thinking about buying, or even looking forward to lunch up at the Cabela’s café. Doing any of these things can lead to a distracted applicant.

To prove their case, the prosecution will have to prove that you intentionally lied on the application. Demonstrating that you were distracted is a partial step toward showing that you did not have the malicious intent required by the statute. For someone to be convicted of this crime, § 4904 requires the statement be one which “he does not believe to be true” when he makes it. Proving distraction can be part of a defense to this charge.

Was the underlying offense that you did not disclose on the application valid?

Courts are not going to relitigate a past criminal conviction or psychological episode. However, in unusual situations, a past conviction that was expunged or a determination of incompetency after a psychological episode that was later reversed by a court or other adjudicative body should not be the basis of a conviction for statement under penalty.

If your conviction was expunged or otherwise reversed that’s an important point to mention when you meet with an attorney.

Your previous criminal background

Someone’s prior record score – that is, the charges for which they’ve been previously convicted – has an enormous impact on dealing with someone’s criminal case. If you’re prior record score is high, it might make it more difficult to achieve a favorable deal with a prosecutor and might force you to go forward to trial.

In other instances, a relatively light criminal background will frequently allow someone to achieve a favorable plea deal that makes trial unnecessary. An experienced attorney can help to advise you on what the outcome of your case might be with your particular situation.

Conclusion: You need an experienced attorney by your side to resolve your charges.

If you’ve been charged with statement under penalty at Cabela’s, it’s imperative that you reach out to a criminal defense attorney right away. At Cornerstone Law Firm, we routinely help individuals charged with crimes resulting from their visit to Cabela’s. Give us a call today and set up a free consultation with us to discuss your options and what you can do to aggressively defend yourself against these charges.

Understanding Your Car Insurance

Good car insurance is one of the most important assets that an individual can have.

A car accident can wreak havoc on an individual’s life—and insufficient car insurance can make it difficult or almost impossible to catch up on the medical bills that result and to seek treatment from injuries. Unfortunately, too many people don’t take a look at their car insurance coverage until after a car accident has already occurred. So, here are three things that your car insurance should cover for you after a car accident:

1. Car Insurance Protects You – Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

Personal Injury Protection (also known as “PIP”), is one of the least understood and most important aspects of comprehensive car insurance. We’ve covered PIP in more depth before, but in short, PIP coverage is your insurance provider’s obligation to pay your medical bills regardless of who’s at fault in the accident. You can be assured that your car insurance will pay your medical bills up to a certain amount. Why is this?

Sometimes cases can get bogged down into litigation for years, and the insurance companies can’t agree who’s at fault. Accordingly, PIP coverage is required to be offered by insurance companies in Pennsylvania so that, after a car accident, you have a reliable source of payment for those medical bills from your own insurance company.

2. Underinsured and Uninsured Motorist Coverage

But what happens when you’re hit by someone else, they cause injuries and their insurance doesn’t cover the extent of your injuries? What if someone is driving without any car insurance at all, and they hit you? In these cases, your own insurance may cover you under the “uninsured motorist coverage” portion of your policy. Similarly, if they don’t have sufficient insurance, underinsured coverage provides extra money for you to cover your injuries.

In Pennsylvania, you are always given the opportunity to “waive” uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage—that is, you may decline the coverage in exchange for a lower premium. This is generally a very bad idea. You should not waive this coverage, because this might be the only way that you can be covered if you’re in an accident and your damages are serious. The law only requires drivers to carry $15,000 in coverage.

If you’re in a serious car or motorcycle accident, this won’t be nearly enough to cover your medical bills, time off work and compensation for your pain and suffering. In that case, while your own insurance will have to cover your medical bills up to a certain point, after that you will be unable to obtain any additional payment for your pain and suffering or any medical bills that are in excess of that amount.

You can’t control whether other drivers are responsible, but you can insure against their irresponsibility. It’s important that you have substantial underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage in case you’re in a car accident so that you aren’t left without anyone to pay for those bills.

3. Third Party Liability

This third one is the least exciting of all insurance coverages, but it’s extremely important. Your car insurance indemnifies you in the event that you are in an accident that causes someone else harm. Hopefully, all of us try to be safe and careful drivers, but accidents do happen.

In the event that you cause a car accident and someone else is badly injured, you are personally on the hook for any injuries that you cause. This means that if you own a home, that house could even be in jeopardy if you injure someone badly enough. It doesn’t take much to be seriously injured in a car accident or a motorcycle crash.

Accordingly, you can do substantial damage that could wipe out all of your assets after a car accident. That’s why third-party liability coverage on your insurance policy is so important.

Conclusion: Car Insurance, a Social Safety Net

Car insurance plays an extremely vital role in our society, ensuring that anyone who’s injured on the road has a path to recovery. At Cornerstone Law Firm, we help people navigate the confusing world of car insurance claims after a car accident.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle or car crash, or if you’ve been hit as a pedestrian by a vehicle, please call the personal injury attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm today so that we can discuss how to properly handle your insurance claim.