Spivak Law Firm | Pittsburgh, PA

Based in Pittsburgh, PA

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DUI Carries Minimum Sentences in Pennsylvania

200274121-001Pennsylvania law carries a mandatory minimum sentencing requirement for all DUI convictions. This means that judges may have little or no discretion in sentencing decisions.

In most cases, a first-time conviction for DUI requires several days of jail time, DUI hotel, or house arrest with electronic monitoring. Additionally, offenders must pay a fine, forfeit their driver’s license for one year, complete Alcohol Highway Safety School DUI classes, and submit to drug and alcohol screening.

To speak with a Pittsburgh DUI attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Marijuana and Racial Profiling

200273900-001Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates, though blacks are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession, according to new federal statistics.

“The costly, ill-advised ‘war on marijuana’ might fairly be described as a tool of racial oppression,” writes The New York Times’s Editorial Board. “[L]aw enforcement agencies need to put an end to what is obviously a widespread practice of racial profiling.”

Marijuana arrests make up about half of all drug arrests in the United States. There were almost 900,000 marijuana arrests in 2010, and about 810,000 of these were for possession.

The sharp rise in marijuana arrests during the last two decades comes at a time when two states – Colorado and Washington – have legalized the drug for general use by adults, and 18 others and Washington D.C. have legalized it for medical use. Pennsylvania currently has legislation pending that would legalize marijuana for medical use.

Consequences for marijuana arrests are severe, as convictions can lead to fines, jail time, temporary loss of federal student financial aid, and criminal records that make it difficult to find housing or work.

If you’ve been arrested for drug crimes, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

DUI Penalties in Pennsylvania Prove Costly

200274139-001DUI penalties include Alcohol Highway Safety School classes designed to educate participants on the consequences of driving while intoxicated – including the safety, legal, physical, and economic costs of that decision. The goals for the participants of these mandatory classes include:

  • Understanding the relationship between substance use and highway safety
  • Recognizing that driving, after using substances, is dangerous behavior
  • Recognizing the broader implications of a DUI arrest in relation to family, job and friends
  • Identifying realistic strategies to avoid future DUI behavior
  • Learning how and where to obtain help for substance abuse problems

In one exercise, participants complete a worksheet assessing the total cost (not only fines and program fees, but also medical, court, time and other related costs) of their DUI. Estimates ranged from the low five-figures to the mid six-figures, the latter involving hospital costs from injuries sustained during a DUI-related incident.

To schedule an appointment with a Pittsburgh DUI attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Paying Child Support in Pennsylvania

87486604In Pennsylvania, most child support is paid by income withholding, or wage garnishment, as ordered by the court and maintained in the state’s Child Support Enforcement System, which is the state’s child support computer.

Pennsylvania maintains monthly support orders, which charge the first of each month. If your employer gets a court order, the employer will take child support out of your pay and send it to the state’s Support Collection and Disbursement Unit (SCDU).

Support can also be taken from your unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, Social Security, and retirement and pension benefits.

To speak with a Pittsburgh family law attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

What is DUI Hotel?

SO000183In Allegheny County, DUI Hotel has quickly become the default sentencing option for most first-time DUI offenders. An alternative to jail, DUI Hotel offers participants the opportunity to complete all their required penalties during an intensive four-day program lasting from Thursday to Sunday. It is geared toward first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) exceeding .10.

But what exactly is DUI Hotel?

Just as it sounds, participants spend four days in an actual hotel – located either in Oakland or some 20 miles from downtown Pittsburgh. Participants enter the hotel on Thursday night and undergo a check-in process that includes a Breathalyzer test. Participants’ luggage is inspected, as alcohol and non-prescription drugs are strictly prohibited. The first night concludes with a group dinner and introduction to the program.

For the next three days, DUI offenders participate in classes and group therapy facilitated by Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Mon-Yough Community Services, Alternatives, and Mercy Behavioral Health. The group therapy sessions aim to encourage participants to examine their behavior.

DUI Hotel is relatively cheap. Each participant pays $500 for the program, which includes a shared hotel room, food, and the classes. Participants may have their own private room for an additional cost of $350 ($850 total). Courts often assist low-income people by delaying sentencing to give them more time to raise the money.

To speak with a Pittsburgh DUI and criminal lawyer, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Jail Alternatives in Allegheny County

200488043-001Allegheny County has six specialty courts that offer intensive treatment as an alternative to jail for repeat criminal offenders. These courts, which generally handle non-violent offenders only, often require longer time commitments than typical incarceration. The main purpose of specialty courts is rehabilitation not punishment. Allegheny County’s specialty courts are described below.

DUI Court is available to defendants who have been arrested at least two times on misdemeanor counts of drunken driving and have not been convicted of a violent crime for at least ten years.  DUI Court requires monthly progress hearings, electronic home monitoring, and breathalyzers before entering the courtroom.

DUI Hotel, an alternative to the mandatory minimum jail term for persons convicted of DUI, involves four days of intensive programming, classes, and therapy at a specific location in Allegheny County. The sentence is completed at the end of the program, which is paid for by the defendant.

Drug Court is available for repeat drug offenders who have not been convicted of a violent crime in the past ten years. All defendants entering the program must plead guilty to the charges, be placed on electronic monitoring, and complete all treatment requirements recommended by the Drug Court Specialist.

Mental Health Court is available to misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenders with a documented diagnosis of a mental disorder. Defendants may be released from jail and placed in mental health treatment as part of probation.

Veterans Court is available for veterans of the United States Armed Forces with substance-abuse issues and mental-health disorders. Like Mental Health Court and Drug Court, Veterans Court meets monthly and undertakes regular progress reports, treatment plans, and probation.

Prostitution Court is mandatory for most defendants charged with prostitution crimes. Like Drug Court and Mental Health Court, it requires therapy and monthly progress hearings.

To discuss whether you may be eligible for a specialty court as an alternative to jail, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

7 Tips For Avoiding High-Conflict Divorce

111787230Even the most civil divorce can be devastating emotionally and financially. But high-conflict divorce – in which parties litigate over all aspects of the divorce, including custody, child support, alimony, and property division – can be especially damaging. Protect yourself by following these tips for avoiding high-conflict divorce:

1.     Develop an emergency plan.

Your partner could assault or evict you at any time. Figure out a safe place to go, and get some ready cash, and think about who can help you on short notice. Copy important records and keep them in a safe place.

2.     Keep a journal.

As soon as possible after they occur, write down accurate details of problems and events between you and your partner that could become issues in court. Keep a journal or other written record of anything pertinent. Save email and text-message correspondence in a safe place, especially copies of hostile and harassing exchanges.

3.     Think before hitting “send.”

Communicate very carefully and respectfully with your partner, because anything may be introduced into evidence. Make any emails, whether initiated by you or in response to your partner, brief, informative, friendly, and firm. This is especially true if your partner’s emails are hostile.

4.     Seek counseling.

Obtain a therapist to help you understand your partner’s behavior, anticipate problems, deal with your emotions around the divorce or separation, and learn about yourself.

5.     Retain a family law attorney.

Hire an attorney with good communication skills, and consult with this professional to prepare for predictable crises and accusations.

6.     Avoid social media.

Delete your Facebook, Twitter, or any other publicly accessible online social networking account. You may wish to erase your browsing history from your computer. Make sure your passwords are secure. Make sure that what you want to keep private, such as letters or lists, is kept private.

7.     Reach out to loved ones.

Tell your family and friends what to expect, how to respond, how they can help, and how to avoid splitting either of you into being viewed as all good or all bad.

This list was adapted from Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

To schedule an appointment with a family law attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Accused of Abuse?

147285315Spivak Law Firm routinely defends people accused of domestic violence and abuse. We defend people facing Protection From Abuse (PFA) orders and criminal charges such as simple assault, aggravated assault, harassment, stalking, terroristic threats, child abuse, and reckless endangerment. We also help people facing abuse charges assert child custody and visitation rights.

In family court, it is important to understand that credibility is everything. Someone accused of abuse instantly loses sympathy and credibility in the eyes of the court. Only a rapid, fact-based response can prevent a negative stereotype from attaching to you if you’re falsely accused of abuse. If this happens, it often helps to request a custody or psychological evaluation for both parents and the children, which some judges will order to get beneath the surface and thoroughly evaluate the truth, the dynamics of the parties, and their parenting abilities. Ideally you need to be prepared with a fact-based response to these common types of allegations from the start of the case.

If you’ve been accused of abuse, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Types of Domestic Violence

77005984At Spivak Law Firm, we handle many cases involving allegations of domestic violence, including: Protection From Abuse (PFA), criminal charges such as assault and harassment, and high-conflict divorce and child custody matters. According to family law experts, there are four distinctly different types of domestic violence:

1)    Battering: Also known as coercive controlling violence, battering involves a pattern of power and control by one partner and a pattern of fear in the victim partner. There may not be frequent violence, but when violence occurs, it can be severe and result in bruises, broken bones, and even death. The victim often becomes isolated, loses self-esteem, and finds it very hard to leave. Most batterers seem to have characteristics of borderline, narcissistic, or anti-social personalities.

2)     Situational Couple Violence: This type of domestic violence is the most common type. Instead of a pattern of power and control, both parties in the couple have difficulties resolving conflict peacefully and get into pushing and shoving types of behavior, sometimes with injuries. Neither party lives in fear of the other, and the violence is generally less severe. Research shows that men and women engage in this type of violence fairly equally.

3)    Separation-Instigated Violence: Sometimes there are one or two incidents at the time of separation, but no prior history of violence. Both parties may engage in this behavior, and it is fairly equal among males and females.

4)    Violent Resistance: This term is used when a victim of a batterer fights back, sometimes injuring the usual perpetrator. Sometimes, batterers set up a spouse to fight back, then call the police. Sometimes victims get arrested because of one injury to the batterer, while the batterer gets away with numerous injuries on other occasions that the victim does not report.

To schedule an appointment with an attorney experienced in cases involving allegations of domestic violence, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

ARD Gives Offenders A Second Chance

139378055In Allegheny County, first-time non-violent offenders may qualify for the ARD program, which gives them a second chance for a clean criminal record. ARD stands for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. It is commonly offered to first-time DUI offenders.

ARD participants agree to a probationary period lasting from six months to two years that may include community service, restitution, and offense-specific classes. Although the program isn’t cheap – court costs alone exceed $2,600 – successful completion of ARD allows an offender’s record to be erased or expunged.

To learn if you are eligible for ARD, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.