Thinking About a Pennsylvania Step-Parent Adoption?

In an ideal world, every child would have two loving, responsible parents. All too often, though, that just is not the case. Sometimes, a tragic death take a parent from a child. In other cases, however, a parent is simply absent from the child’s life. Then there are cases where the parent’s contact with his or her child is infrequent and where that parent does not financially, emotionally, or spiritually support the child. In these latter situations, where there is a living parent, but that parent is either totally absent or only barely involved in the child’s life, involuntary termination of parental rights followed by a step-parent adoption may well be in the child’s best interest.

In Pennsylvania, the grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights are spelled out in the Domestic Relations Code at 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2511. In the typical step-parent adoption scenario, perhaps the most common reason courts terminate the parental rights of one parent is because that “… parent by conduct continuing for a period of at least six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition either has evidenced a settled purpose of relinquishing parental claim to a child or has refused or failed to perform parental duties.” The birth parent and his or her spouse or partner must prove the other birth parent’s “settled purpose” or refusal or failure to perform parental duties by clear and convincing evidence.

The laws of Pennsylvania governing the adoption of children are complex. The Orphans’ Court rules are also complex. A successful adoption action requires legal expertise, attention to detail, and rigid compliance with law and rules of court. If you are considering a step-parent adoption and live in Central Pennsylvania, feel free to contact the Law Office of Sean Potter, PC to arrange for a free consultation. From my office in New Bloomfield, Perry County, Pennsylvania, I provide adoption services in counties including Perry, Juniata, Cumberland, Dauphin, Mifflin, Center, Snyder, Franklin, York, and Lancaster among others.


ARD Policies Vary by County

In Pennsylvania, a first conviction for Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or a controlled substance almost always means jail time, a 12 month license suspension, and a heavy fine. Many drivers charged with first offense DUI, though, are eligible for ARD, which stands for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. ARD can allow someone facing their first ever DUI charge to avoid a criminal conviction for DUI as well as the unpleasant consequences of that conviction. Drivers who are admitted into an ARD program face license suspensions of up to 90 days, with most drivers losing their driving privileges for 30 or 60 days. They also must take Alcohol Highway Safety Classes, submit to drug and alcohol evaluations, seek treatment for addiction (if an evaluation reveals a problem), and follow rules laid down by the county’s probation department, and the court.

The local rules vary from county to county. Cumberland County, for instance, offers Alcohol Highway Safety Classes on weeknights and weekends. ARD participants must complete a total of six 2.5 hour classes to successfully complete the program. In neighboring Perry County, participants must complete four 3 hour classes. Perry County offers the classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm.

Classes, though, are only part of it. Juniata County requires that ARD participants complete 30 hours of community service. Dauphin County participants must attend a victim impact panel. Each county also imposes fees and costs participants must pay in order to successfully complete the ARD program. In Dauphin, participants pay at least a $1,500.00 “acceptance fee”. Perry County participants pay $300.00 plus the “costs of prosecution”. Costs can include lab fees and a variety of other charges, many unrelated to the offense of DUI.

The rules, fees, and policies I’ve just described are by no means the only ones. It’s important that anyone facing a driving under the influence charge discuss all aspects of their case, including the possibility of ARD, with a lawyer experienced in defending DUI cases.

If you are facing a DUI charge and would like to discuss your possible ARD eligibility with an experienced Pennsylvania Attorney feel free to contact me at 717-582-0400. I offer free, no obligation, initial consults.

Sean Potter
Law Office of Sean Potter, PC
15 E. Main Street | PO Box 121
New Bloomfield, PA 17068
Phone: 717-582-0400
Fax: 717-582-0401

The Pennsylvania Preliminary Hearing: Witnesses Optional (well almost).

Pennsylvania’s legislature and courts target the rights of those accused of crimes with all the ferocity of a coyote chasing down a fawn. In the recent case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. David Edward Ricker (2015 PA Super 153), the Superior Court decisively ruled that the prosecution need not present any actual witness testimony at preliminary hearings. At the preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth’s task is (and has been) to make out a prima facie case that a crime occurred and that the accused is the culprit. While the Commonwealth still has to do just that, the Superior Court just made the job easier.

Prima facie does not mean proof beyond a reasonable doubt. One way of thinking about is to ask yourself whether a jury could convict the accused of the crime charged if that jury were to believe all the evidence the prosecution presented. If your answer is yes, then the prosecution has made out a prima facie case and the magisterial district judge “binds” over the charge or charges. For the Commonwealth, making out a prima facie case, in most situations, has never been a particularly difficult task. So why is the Commonwealth’s job even easier now?

Well, instead of having to present testimony by complaining witnesses and other fact witnesses, the Superior Court has ruled that the prosecutor only has to produce the witnesses’ out of court statements, which is to say “hearsay”. That means a police officer can simply tell the judge whatever the alleged victim told him or her. No need for the actual victim, or alleged victim, to testify. This also means, of course, that the accused has no right to confront his accusers at a preliminary hearing. Recent changes in the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure made it all but inevitable that hearsay, alone, would eventually be enough for the prosecution to carry the day at a prelim. The Ricker case simply removed all doubt.

Prelims, though, are still important. A skillful criminal defense attorney will use every opportunity to build or bolster a defense. Even a preliminary hearing consisting only of hearsay testimony can provide a valuable opportunity for the lawyer to gauge the strength of the Commonwealth’s case, to test the evidence, to develop suppression issues, and to spot weaknesses. And, because the rules permit the criminal defendant to call witnesses on his or her behalf, it may be possible for the defense attorney to call the witnesses the Commonwealth didn’t want to call.

Adopting a Child from Outside of Pennsylvania

If you are planning to adopt a child from outside of Pennsylvania, you and your attorney must comply with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). If Pennsylvania adoptive parents complete an adoption in  another state but have not complied the ICPC, those parents face penalties and punishments not only in Pennsylvania, but in the state where the adoption was completed (the “sending state”). Indeed, the adoptive parents may even face difficulty bringing their newly adopted son or daughter into Pennsylvania.

The good new is that a skilled and knowledgeable adoption attorney can ensure the adoption meets the requirements of ICPC. When shepherding adoptive parents through a multi-state adoption, the adoption attorney will make sure the adoptive parents fill out all of the required forms and comply with the laws of the states involved. For instance, it is critical that everyone involved with the adoption comply with the law regarding voluntary or involuntary termination of parental rights.

If you reside in central Pennsylvania (Cumberland, Dauphin, Perry, Juniata, Franklin, and surrounding counties) and are contemplating a multi- state adoption, feel free to contact the Law Office of Sean Potter, PC at 717-582-0400 for a free consultation.

A Quick Note on Metabolites

A while back I blogged about how Pennsylvania drivers can be convicted of DUI even if they were not impaired while driving. This is so because very low levels of controlled substances (or their metabolites) can be enough to support a DUI conviction when the charge is based on operating a motor vehicle when there is any amount of a controlled substance, or a metabolite of a controlled substance, in the driver’s blood.

The phrase “any amount” does not quite mean any amount, however. But it can and often does mean a very, very low amount. For marijuana metabolites, if a driver’s blood contains more than 1 nanogram of the THC metabolites 11-Hydroxy-Delta-9-THC (THC-OH) or 11-Nor-9-Carboxy-Delta-9-THC (THC-COOH) that driver can be guilty of a controlled substance DUI under 75 Pa. C.S. Sec. 3802(d). If a driver’s blood contains more than .04 ng of the “parent drug” of marijuana, that is Delta-9-THC (THC), then that driver can be guilty of a controlled substance DUI.

Now, what I just stated, above, does not mean there are no defenses in controlled substance DUI situations. Which, of course, is why anyone in Central Pennsylvania facing a DUI charge should consult with an experienced criminal defense or dui defense attorney.

If you are facing DUI charges in Cumberland, Dauphin, Perry, Juniata, or other Central Pennsylvania counties, do not hesitate to give me a call. You can reach my office at (717) 582-0400 or (717) 884-8384. I offer free consultations and look forward to helping you.

Sean Potter
Law Office of Sean Potter, PC

Yes, Preliminary Hearings are Important

Anyone who faces a misdemeanor or felony charge in Pennsylvania has an absolute right to a preliminary hearing. At the “prelim”, the Commonwealth’s goal is to present enough evidence to convince the magisterial district judge that a crime was committed and that the accused probably committed that crime. We lawyers say the Commonwealth has to make out a “prima facie” case. The prelim is not about proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Its main purpose is to safeguard an accused person’s right against illegal arrest and detention. As skilled defense attorneys know, however, the prelim serves other functions, as well.  (more…)

Do I need a lawyer to probate a will?

The simple answer is no, you do not need to hire an attorney to probate a will in Pennsylvania. However, retaining the services of an attorney to help you navigate the probate process can give you peace of mind that the administration of the estate is being properly handled. From helping to secure letters of administration to arranging for the orderly, dignified disposition of a departed loved one’s material possessions to preparing and filing any necessary inheritance tax returns or federal tax returns, the Law Office of Sean Potter, PC stands ready to assist you with all aspects of the Pennsylvania probate process. Call 717-582-0400 to arrange for a free, no-obligation consultation.

Can your children afford to inherit your wealth?

When devising an estate plan it is important to consider the potential tax burden on your children and others who stand to benefit from your hard work and generosity. Will your heirs be able to afford the gifts you leave them?

While there is sometimes no simple answer to that question, a carefully drawn Will or Trust can minimize the tax burden your loved ones could face after you are gone. A well-thought out estate plan can benefit your heirs, not only financially, but in other ways, as well.

Whether you want to create a simple will or a flexible trust, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of the various estate planning instruments available to you. Please phone my office today to arrange for your free consultation. I am proud to offer my legal services to individuals and families throughout central Pennsylvania.

The Law Office of Sean Potter, PC
15 East Main Street
P.O. Box 121
New Bloomfield, PA 17068

Marijuana DUI Arrest + No Probable Cause = Charges Dropped

Recently, a client came to my office after police charged him with a controlled substance DUI. According to the lab and police reports, he had 12 nanograms of a marijuana metabolite in his blood within two hours of operating a motor vehicle. In Pennsylvania, a driver with 1 or more nanograms of THC in his or her blood can face a DUI conviction.

After the client gave me a detailed account of the events before and after his arrest, I realized the police did not have — and could not have had — any reason to stop his vehicle. Quite simply, the officer did not have any reasonable suspicion that my client was violating the rules of the road or any other laws. Nevertheless, he was arrested and charged.

Immediately before the preliminary hearing, though, the Commonwealth’s case began to fall apart. I was able to demonstrate to the arresting officer and the more senior officer she brought along for support that the stop of my client was totally illegal. The end result? The police officer withdrew the criminal charges. Case closed.

As always, it’s important to realize that no two criminal cases are alike. No attorney can guarantee a result. However, as a knowledgeable, experienced criminal defense attorney I welcome the opportunity to deliver the best results possible to all of my clients. If you are facing DUI or other criminal charges in central Pennsylvania, call my office today. I offer new clients a no-cost consultation and case evaluation. Call the Law Office of Sean Potter, PC at 717-582-0400 to find out how I can help you.

A Great Day for an Innocent Man

For one of my clients, the nightmare is finally over. He is a gentleman in in his 70’s with no criminal history at all. His life has been characterized by military service and hard work. I can’t imagine how sick he must have felt when, out of the blue, the Pennsylvania State Police charged him with the indecent assault of an 8 year boy, felony unlawful contact with a minor, and assorted other Megan’s Law offenses.

By the time he came to me, Children & Youth had already founded the abuse claim against him. Eventually, the district attorney offered a plea to misdemeanor that would have carried no jail time. My client, though, was innocent. Therefore, he chose to go to trial and face the possibility of becoming a convicted felon and going to prison rather than plead guilty to something he did not do.

Happily, the hard work and preparation for trial brought the best possible result. Indeed, it took the jury less than 10 minutes to return not guilty verdicts across the board. Next up was the Children & Youth matter. Because I had filed an appeal of the C&Y determination that abuse had occurred C&Y was in the position of either opposing the appeal or throwing in the towel. C&Y threw in the towel when it refused to fight my client’s appeal. It was only a matter of time, then, before the abuse finding was expunged. And that’s exactly what happened.

I was proud to defend my client and fight for his rights at trial. I am proud that I was able to secure the not guilty verdicts and the expungement of his Children & Youth record. My client got his life back.

It’s important to know that know two cases are alike and that past results are no guarantee of future success. Indeed, no attorney can guarantee a result. However, I offer all my clients the hard work, diligent preparation, years of experience, and the wealth of legal knowledge needed to put them in the best position to win.

If you are charged with a crime, feel free to contact the Law Office of Sean Potter, PC to learn how I can help you. You may use the form below, send an email, or phone my office. I welcome your inquiries.

Sean A. Potter, Attorney and Counselor at Law | Serving Central Pennsylvania including the counties of Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Juniata, Perry, Snyder, and Mifflin.
The Law Office of Sean Potter, PC   –  Criminal Law | Family Law | Wills & Estates | Probate and more.
15 E. Main St.
P.O. Box 121
New Bloomfield, PA 17068
Phone: 717-582-0400
Fax: 717-582-0401