Stanton D. Levenson, P.A., Law Offices - Call 24 Hours a Day at 412-889-7270

Blog

Welcome to the blog for Stanton D. Levenson, Pittsburgh-based defense attorney. This blog has been designed to help individuals dealing with defense cases gain access to helpful resources, and learn more about the topics affecting their lives. Check us out here, too, for reactions to important defense cases and examination of other legal issues.

Megan’s Law and the National Public Sex Offender Registry

December 7th, 2010

A consequence of being convicted of certain sex offenses is the requirement to register as a sex offender. This requirement, generally referred to as “Megan’s Law,” can be for life or for a number of years.

Having to register as a sex offender has a number of significant negative consequences. First, the registries are public and, of course, are available on the internet, making them a constant source of public shaming for both the offender and his family. In addition, it makes it difficult for individuals on this registry to obtain employment and housing.

Sadly, there is no evidence that registration prevents future criminal conduct. It would thus appear that registration is nothing more than additional punishment.

But a new problem related to the registry emerged in 2007, when then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales declared the federal reporting requirement (The Adam Walsh Act) to be retroactive. That meant someone who had been convicted prior to the passage of the new law was now subject to its provisions.

Failure to register is a separate crime. But punishing someone for conduct which predates the law is generally an unconstitutional violation of the ex post facto doctrine. Louisiana has recently held this to be the case. Similarly, in 2008, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the Alaska Sex Offender Registration Act does not apply to persons whose acts predate the effective date of the Act.

This is an issue I expect to see a lot more of.

–Stanton D. Levenson

Criminal Defense Cases in Pittsburgh: Drug Crimes, Sex Crimes and Federal Court- Part Three

November 17th, 2010

In last week’s post, we talked about the case of a well-respected dentist who charged with federal drug distribution offenses. Today, in the third and final part of our series on recent criminal defense cases in Pittsburgh, I’ll share with you a case currently in progress, where a Pittsburgh-area father faces charges of a sex crime, and why a preliminary hearing can be so important to a strong criminal defense.

Preliminary Hearings and Pittsburgh Family Man Facing Sexual Assault Charges

About three years ago, my client and his wife had employed a babysitter. She was approximately 15-years-old at the time, and after her job was done for the evening, my client drove her home. It was on this drive, the babysitter alleges, my client sexually-assaulted her.  She waited two years to report this to anyone.

My client, of course, denies these charges, and the case will be on trial sometime in 2011.

The reason I bring this case up is because we recently had the preliminary hearing, and I want to emphasize why it is so important that individuals facing criminal charges do not waive this critical opportunity.

The preliminary hearing determines whether there’s sufficient evidence to hold a case for further court action. And while it’s very difficult to get a case dismissed at this proceeding, it does provide an excellent opportunity to learn about the case.

In this instance, the alleged victim was required to testify, and I had the chance to cross-examine her. Based upon that, I now know the entire case, and I can begin to map our strategy.

So I tell my clients just as I’m telling you now: never waive the preliminary hearing. Attend the preliminary hearing. Confront the witnesses. Learn about the evidence. And most importantly, have your own court reporter there to create a transcript of the testimony for later use at trial. The preliminary hearing can make an enormous difference to your case and is the difference between winning and losing.

–Stanton D. Levenson

Criminal Defense Cases in Pittsburgh: Drug Crimes, Sex Crimes and Federal Court- Part Two

November 11th, 2010

In our last post, I told you about a case where a Pittsburgh traffic citation turned into a drug bust and a violation of my client’s constitutional rights.

Now, in Part Two of our three part series, we’ll talk about the case of a dentist who faced five years in federal prison on drug trafficking charges.

Dentist Arrested on Mail Order Drug Distribution Charges

It was a dark time in an otherwise flawless career… My client, a respected dentist, was charged with distributing drugs by mail across state lines. For these serious charges, and because of a mandatory minimum sentence, my client was facing a minimum of five years in federal prison.

My client pleaded guilty, but the client’s otherwise impeccable character became vital in his mitigating his sentence. We amassed 52 character letters from people who knew the defendant—family, friends, all of the people who knew all of the good he had done for his community, and how hard he had worked in his profession.

It was through this, I was able to convince the judge that while the charges against him were serious, his conduct had been aberrational. Based upon the aberrational nature of the conduct, and the defendant’s prior good works and professional reputation, I was able to eliminate the mandatory minimum sentence. Instead the judge imposed a sentence of incarceration of three years.

–Stanton D. Levenson

Recent Criminal Defense Cases in Pittsburgh: Drug Crimes, Sex Crimes and Federal Court- Part One

November 1st, 2010

I’ve been involved in a few recent criminal defense cases here in the Pittsburgh area that focused on interesting angles of our criminal justice system. I’d like to share them with you today.

Pittsburgh Traffic Citation Turns Into Drug Bust and Constitutional Rights Violation

It happens all too often; an individual is pulled over for a traffic infraction, which leads to additional charges. In the case of a recent client, the charges became driving under the influence and possession of drugs.

First, the police officer issued a citation for the traffic offense. And you may be familiar with this kind of situation…

You get pulled over, the police officer speaks with you, and then you sit in the car and wait, while the officer returns to his vehicle to write up the citation. He brings it back to you, and explains your next steps.

All of that happened in this case. Once the citation was issued to my client, the encounter appeared to be over, and the police officer turned and started to walk back to his car. But instead of leaving, the police officer returned and said to my client, “Would you mind stepping out of the car and having a discussion with me?”

Now, when talking to a police officer, most people don’t interpret the “would you mind?” as an option. They interpret it as, “Get out of the car and come back and speak with me.”

So, the client stepped from the vehicle and at that point, the officer made DUI-consistent observations. Based on that, he then asked the client, “If I call for a drug sniffing dog will we find drugs in your car?” At which point my client said, “Yes, I’ve got marijuana in the car.”

Now, I felt the traffic stop itself was appropriate. The client was speeding, and the police officer had a properly calibrated radar gun.

But I challenged what happened afterward. By asking the client to leave his car, knowing most people don’t realize they have a right to refuse the request, the state trooper violated the defendant’s constitutional rights.

The judge ruled that, indeed, it was unconstitutional, because the client didn’t believe that he was free to terminate the encounter and leave the scene. The judge suppressed all of the observations consistent with driving under the influence, as well as the drugs found in the car.

The district attorney’s office dismissed the case.

This sort of traffic encounter happens all too often. It’s a perfect example of why it’s so important that individuals know their rights– or make sure to select an attorney who does.

—Stanton D. Levenson

New Video: Preparing for Trial: Criminal Charges, Defendants and Advice

September 28th, 2010

What can an individual charged with a crime do to help prepare for trial and ease what can be a frightening, overwhelming process? Get some sage advice straight from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer Stanton D. Levenson in this video.

New Video: What Should You Look for in a Criminal Defense Attorney?

September 23rd, 2010

Learn firsthand from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based criminal defense lawyer, Stanton D. Levenson, what you should look for when choosing a criminal defense attorney.

New Video: Pittsburgh Traffic Citation Turns Into Drug Bust and Constitutional Rights Violation

September 17th, 2010

Check out our new video, as criminal defense attorney Stanton D. Levenson discusses a case in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania region where a routine traffic stop turned into
drug charges and a violation of the defendant’s Constitutional rights.

The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven: Pittsburgh Pirates, Pleas and Punishment

September 8th, 2010

The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven: How a Ragtag Group of Fans Took the Fall for Major League Baseball, by Aaron Skirboll, recently hit bookstore shelves and includes a case I defended back in 1985. At the time it was a scandal that rocked all of baseball and continues to symbolize the unfair treat treatment of the little guy in our judicial system.

It was a minor league case played out in a Major League ballpark. My client, Jeffrey Mosco, was bartender at a popular Pittsburgh Pirates hangout. He got to know player Dale Berra, who was the son of Yogi Berra and– as he soon learned– was a cocaine user.

Star-struck with this newfound connection to the Pirates scene, Mosco helped obtain cocaine for Berra. Berra then spread the word to two other Pirates ballplayers that Mosco could get cocaine for them, as well.

Mosco became one of seven defendants accused of drug dealing, and I was Mosco’s defense lawyer. We worked a deal, Mosco entered a guilty plea, and he received a year in jail.

Meanwhile, the three Pittsburgh Pirates– including Berra– were granted immunity and faced no consequences. This was an outrageous example of prosecutorial discretion gone awry. The rich and powerful went free while the poor and unknown went to jail.

I had the pleasure of meeting with the author of The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven as he researched this strange, tumultuous time in Major League Baseball.

You can learn more about this revealing new book—and my role in it—on Amazon.com here.

–Stanton D. Levenson

Lessons Learned from Jurors: Sex and Drug Cases Tried in Pittsburgh Criminal Court

August 11th, 2010

Our recent blog post talks about how closely jurors watch how everyone behaves in the courtroom, and this reminded me of two interesting examples I thought I’d share with you today.

I had a case involving a schoolteacher, who was accused of sexual assault on seven of his thirteen-year-old female students. While ultimately, he was acquitted, the first time around the jury convicted him.

The jury included six men and six women, and the client did not testify. Even though I believed he wasn’t guilty, I did not think he would be a good witness.

The jury convicted him on half of the charges and acquitted him on half.

I had occasion to speak with the jurors afterward. And what was interesting was, the jurors said they knew he was guilty of the charges they’d convicted him on because, as each of these young girls testified about the alleged sexual assault, he refused to look at them and instead looked down at the table.

It was from that, the jurors felt the defendant was embarrassed, ashamed and guilty.

That was an incredibly important lesson for me, not only in terms of the re-trial of this case but for all other cases since. Not evidence, but appearance, body language and the erroneous impressions jurors draw from them can make or break a case.

Another important thing I learned from years of being in front of a jury is that jurors watch how you treat your client.

Early in my career, I represented a young man who was charged with the distribution of drugs.

We had no defense to the charges, but couldn’t get a deal that made sense. So we picked a jury and went to trial.

And while I don’t recall my argument to the jury– lo and behold, the defendant was acquitted, leading me to believe I must really be a terrific lawyer.

Fortunately, about a week later I ran into one of the jurors walking down the street. He stopped me, we talked about the case, and I asked him what the basis for the acquittal was.

And he looked me in the eye and said, “Stan, we knew your client was innocent.”

I said, “Of course he was. But how did you know that?”

He said, “Well, the way you treated him. You were so nice to him and you put your arm around him. We knew that you wouldn’t have acted that way if he was a guilty person.”

Again, a fascinating lesson about human nature.

—Stanton D. Levenson

Advice for Defendants Preparing for Criminal Trial

August 6th, 2010

Defending yourself on criminal charges can be one of the most terrifying experiences of your life. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based criminal defense lawyer, Stanton D. Levenson, shares the advice he gives his own clients during this difficult time:

Don’t Let Your Body Language Mislead the Jurors

During jury trials, jurors carefully study all the participants—the lawyers, the client, the witnesses and the judge. This is because of the very nature of the jury trial itself. Jurors are restricted to the jury box and aren’t able to speak to one another in the courtroom. This gives them a lot of time for keen observation of everyone’s habits and mannerisms. This body language and behavior gets interpreted in a variety of ways, but some of them can pose a problem for defendants.

So Don’t:

  • …look down/avoid eye contact with the witnesses and jury
  • …look ashamed or embarrassed
  • …try to stare down the witness or intimidate them

Do:

  • …look at the witness and jury like you would anyone else under normal circumstances

Appearances Count

A defendant with a clean, neat appearance shows respect for the court, and an understanding of the seriousness of the defendant’s circumstances. But there are a few things to avoid…

Don’t:

  • overdress for the occasion. if you don’t normally get dressed up, don’t dress up for trial. Jurors are good at detecting phoniness and manipulation, and you will lose credibility with the court
  • come into the court room unclean, wrinkled or otherwise sloppy.

Do:

  • dress as you ordinarily do. If you’re a businessperson who is often dressed up, then a suit would be appropriate. If you ordinarily dress more casually, then this the way to dress in court.

Avoid Common Mistakes

There are a number of mistakes individuals accused of a crime make as their trial approaches. Some helpful tips can help you avoid these pitfalls.

Don’t:

  • discuss the case with non-lawyers. Attorneys who specialize in criminal law understand the complex legal system, and what may seem like common sense to a person not familiar with the law is not necessarily helpful from a legal perspective. While your friends, family and neighbors may be very concerned for you and want to help you in any way they can, the best thing you can do for yourself is to restrict your discussion of the case to your own legal team.
  • try to do your own research. Again, the court system has its own complex language, and unless you’re well-versed in it, you may actually do more harm than good by trying to tackle your own research.
  • compare your case with other, similar cases. Each case is entirely unique, and one case generally has nothing to do with another case, no matter how similar they initially may seem.

Do:

  • make sure your lawyer explains to you the strategy, and why he or she may be asking certain questions and not others.
  • tell your lawyer what you would like to see him or her doing regarding your case, and share any ideas you might have. Sometimes clients have ideas that lawyers might not think of because the client is so close to the circumstances that led to the charges. A collaborative experience with your lawyer will serve you best.

Things To Keep in Mind as Trial Approaches

Defending yourself against criminal charges may be the most frightening time you’ll ever face. But as your trial approaches, it’s important to remember the following:

  • This is a limited-time event. It will be over at some point.
  • Yes, the trial may be life-changing. But do not let it alter every aspect of your life. Life will go on, as painful as it may seem now.

For more information on this topic, or if you have a criminal case you’re concerned about, contact the criminal defense offices of Stanton D. Levenson here.