Workers Compensation is legislated under two separate Acts. The Workers Compensation Act was adopted in 1915. Originally, it was known as the Workmens Compensation Act. It has been amended many times since its original enactment. Occupational diseases are governed by the Occupational Disease Act of 1939. The administration of both Acts is under the supervision of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry which has extensive rule and regulation making powers.
At its simplest, an employee injured in the course and scope of his employment is entitled to receive payment of wage loss benefits and payment of medical expenses. When an injury occurs, the employer is required to report the injury to the Workers Compensation Bureau. The employer can accept liability and file the appropriate document which will result in payments beginning to the injured employee and payments of medical expenses paid directly to the medical providers. In this situation, an injured employee rarely requires consultation with counsel.
However, when an alleged employer fails to accept responsibility for the injury, the employee is required to file a Claim Petition. At this point, even the most sophisticated layman will find himself or herself trapped in a maze that cannot be navigated without the help of counsel knowledgeable in the interpretation of the Statues as amended and the case law that has developed over many years.
Examples of hurdles that may be encountered are: distinction of employee versus independent contractor, was the injured individual within the course and scope of employment when the injury occurred, and did the injury occur while on or off the premises.
Most injuries which occur on premises are compensable, while many off premises are not. In a case recently handled by our firm, we were able to extend the definition of on premises to an unusual situation.
In summary of that case, a worker parked her car in a garage off the employer’s campus at a reduced rate as an employee benefit. The employer provided shuttles from the garage to the employer’s campus. The employee parked her vehicle at the garage and slipped on sidewalk ice as she prepared to board the employer-provided vehicle. After being denied benefits by the Workers’ Compensation Judge, the Board on appeal reversed the decision and benefits were granted.
The Board reversed the WCJ and concluded that the claimant sustained her injuries on the extended premises of the employer and her injuries were compensable. The Board found that the employer posted “drop off and pick up” areas where
employees were required to board and disembark from the company-provided shuttle. The Board found the claimant’s injury was caused by the operation of the Defendant employer’s shuttle bus at that location. In short, the Board found that the shuttle pickup
and disembark area was an extension of the employer’s property and the employee was injured as a result of the condition of the extended premises. The lesson to be learned is that consultation with counsel should always be had in cases where an injury occurs when going to or leaving employment.
The Workers Compensation Law is extremely complex and issues arise constantly over the benefits owed to claimants who are injured in their employment. Some of those issues are:
- Compensation for Specific Loss such as:
- Disfigurement and determining the amount of compensation
- Benefits in respect to fatal injuries, accruing to the employee’s
- (a)thumb, fingers and hand;
- (b)forearm and arm;
- (c)lower leg or leg
- (d)toes and foot
surviving spouse and children, parents and brothers and sisters.
Settlement of Claims
By Section 449 of the Act, settlements for the first time were sanctioned, and as amended in 2006, the settlement approval process was streamlined. This procedure is known as a Compromise and Release Agreement (C & R) and in the proper case, will provide a lump sum payment to the claimant. It is also used in disputed cases to obtain a final resolution.
In summary, counsel should be consulted immediately in the event the employer disputes an injury claim. Counsel is also desirable in all cases when a Compromise & Release Agreement has been offered or suggested by the employer or its carrier.
If you have a Workers Compensation issue, you can’t afford to make the wrong decision in choosing a lawyer. Contact us today for your free no obligation evaluation.
Update Regarding Workers’ Compensation Act
Protz V. Workers Compensation Appeal Board (Derry Area School Board)
On June 20, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found Section 306(a.2) of the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act to be unconstitutional. This Section allowed employers to demand that claimants undergo an impairment-rating evaluation (IRE) to determine the claimant’s “degree of impairment” due to the claimant’s compensable injury.
In almost every case, the degree of impairment found was less than 50%, which permitted the employer or its insurance carrier to change total disability benefits to partial disability benefits, limiting disability payments to 500 weeks.
With the decision in Protz, an injured claimant can continue receiving total disability benefits for as long as the work-related disability prevents a claimant from returning to work regardless of the degree of impairment.
Employees who, in the past, have had their benefits limited by IRE findings or have otherwise entered into settlements influenced by IRE evaluations or the expected results of an IRE Evaluation should have our firm review your case for possible re-opening.
The Heart and Lung Act
It should be recognized at the outset, that The Heart and Lung Act is somewhat of a misnomer as it applies to injuries sustained by certain public servants engaged in hazardous occupations. It would include, but is not limited to, the State Police Force, Enforcement Officers and Investigators of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, Department of Corrections Employees, Special Agents at the Office of Attorney General, and many other officers engaged in hazardous occupations at State, County and Local Municipalities.
The Heart and Lung Act provides for what is essentially a salary continuation during temporary disability without the deduction of taxes.
While Heart and Lung benefits and Workers’ Compensation are separate programs, benefits can be received concurrently and upon happening of an injury in the course of employment, a claim should be made for both The Heart and Lung Act Benefits as well as Workers’ Compensation Benefits.
Heart and Lung Act Benefits are paid only during the period of temporary disability, and should that temporary disability become permanent, The Heart and Lung Benefits will cease; however, Workers’ Compensation Benefits will continue.
First and Foremost:
“Limited Tort “Option:
Pennsylvania has adopted the “Limited Tort” Option. This Option limits your right and the right of members of your household to seek financial compensation for injuries caused by other drivers. Under the Limited Tort form of insurance your recovery for injuries sustained by yourself or other household members is severely limited. Although you may seek recovery for all medical and other out-of-pocket expenses, you may not sue for pain and suffering or other non-monetary damages with some exceptions. You or other members of your household may only sue for pain and suffering if your injuries fall within the definition of “Serious Injury” as set forth in the policy. The definition of “Serious Injury” has been narrowly interpreted and would exclude, in most instances, injuries such a broken arm, broken leg, “whiplash injury”, rib fractures and other injuries that would not leave a person permanently impaired.
While the “Limited Tort” Option is slightly less expensive then the “Full Tort” Option, you must clearly be aware that you are giving up some of your rights to sue in exchange for a relatively low premium reduction.
“Full Tort” Option:
An insured in Pennsylvania also has the option of choosing “Full Tort”, which if chosen, you and other members of your household maintain an unrestricted right to seek “full” financial compensation for injuries caused by other drivers. Under this form of insurance, you and your household members may seek recovery for all medical and other out-of-pocket expenses and may also seek financial compensation for pain and suffering and other non-monetary damages as a result of injuries caused by other drivers.
While the annual premium for “Full Tort” is higher than for “Limited Tort”, this option should be seriously considered when purchasing or renewing an insurance policy.
In many instances, while the pain, suffering an inconvenience caused by injuries such as a broken arm or leg, whiplash or other bodily fractures are not considered “serious injury” under Limited Tort, the pain and suffering and inconvenience associated with such injuries can be quite substantial. In many or most cases involving injuries in an automobile accident, the recovery available under this Option far exceeds any savings realized in selecting Limited Tort. Carefully consider this Option when purchasing or renewing your insurance policy.
Understanding Other Areas of Your Automobile Insurance Coverage
Pennsylvania, as well as many other states, mandates that an automobile owner purchase auto insurance for at least a State-mandated minimum. In Pennsylvania this minimum is $15,000 for injury to one person and $30,000 for all injuries caused by an incident. A basic auto insurance policy is comprised of six basic types of coverage, some of which are required by State law, while others are optional. The various types are:
- Bodily Injury Liability;
- Property Damage Liability;
- Personal Injury Protection (PIP);
- Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist;
- Collision; and
Liability coverage is required in Pennsylvania and in most states. If you are at fault in an accident, your liability insurance will cover the cost of bodily injury and property damage caused to others involved in the accident, as well as the cost of your legal bills associated with the accident. It is extremely important to consider the amount of coverage you are able to afford, keeping in mind that if the injuries and property damages caused by you exceed the amount of the coverage you purchased, the injured parties may sue you for the difference between the total damages incurred and the amount your insurance company pays.
Property Damage Liability Coverage falls within the Liability Coverage which you are required to purchase. While Property Damage Liability Coverage usually repairs damage to the other driver’s vehicle, it can also cover damages to things such as lamp poles, fences, buildings, or anything else that you may have struck.
As Liability insurance is the foundation of most auto insurance policies, careful attention must be paid to be sure that you have enough coverage to avoid a short-fall in coverage which would put your savings, investments and other property in jeopardy of being lost. In short, consider being safe rather than sorry.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) is required coverage in Pennsylvania. Personal Injury Protection will pay your medical bills to the extent of your coverage when injury occurs as a result of an accident while you are driving your car, someone else’s car (with their permission), and the injuries you or your family members incur as pedestrians. Additionally, PIP may cover other expenses that are related to injury in addition to medical, which include lost wages, child care and funeral costs. Ordinarily, if you have a good health insurance plan, there may be little need to buy more than the minimum required. However, there are exceptions to this general rule. PIP Coverage is relatively inexpensive and a rather small premium purchases substantial coverage in the event of injury and lost wages. When your automobile insurance carrier pays your expenses and lost wages, they are not entitled to recover the payments made to you should you make recovery against another driver who was responsible for your accident. On the other hand, if your medical bills have been paid by your Health Insurance Company, the amounts paid on your behalf may have to be paid to that health insurance company or disability insurance company that made payments on your behalf. Primary examples of payments made which must be reimbursed include payments made by Medicare, Medicaid, Public Assistance Benefits, and payments made by Health Insurance Companies through employer provided health insurance (ERISA). The right of these health care providers to recover is often times referred to as a subrogation interest.
This concept is best understood with an example: You are injured in an automobile accident and the sum of $50,000, the amount of your coverage, was paid to your healthcare providers under your PIP Coverage. You then seek recovery against the driver who was at fault and are awarded a settlement or a verdict in the amount of $100,000. In this example, the entire settlement or verdict is awarded to you with no responsibility to make any payment whatsoever to your auto insurance company for what it may have paid.
However, let’s assume the same injuries and a recovery of $100,000 with medical bills of $50,000. You have purchased PIP coverage of $10,000. Your medical bills of $50,000 were paid by your automobile insurance carrier to the extent of your $10,000 coverage. The balance was then paid by Medicare or your company-provided health insurance (ERISA).
In this example, you have no responsibility to repay your automobile carrier the sum of $10,000 it expended. The sum of $40,000 must, however, be reimbursed to Medicare or your ERISA health benefit provider before you are entitled to receive any monies as a result of your injuries. Therefore, you will only receive $60,000 of the $100,000 recovery made with the sum of $40,000 being paid to Medicare or ERISA health care in reimbursement.
The amount of PIP coverage you purchase should be carefully considered in light of the foregoing examples.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Like Personal Injury Protection (PIP), Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage protects you and your family when injured in an automobile accident which was not your fault. When seen in this light it is easily recognizable that this form of coverage is extremely important. While Liability Insurance Coverage is mandated by State law at a minimum amount, please recognize that many individuals drive vehicles without the required insurance or with only the minimum $15,000 coverage. In the event that an accident causing injury to you is caused by an uninsured motorist, unless you have uninsured motorist Coverage, you cannot make any recovery for your injuries except through your own uninsured motorist Coverage. Of course, you retain your right to sue the party at fault, however, if they were driving without insurance, it is very unlikely that they would have any assets with which to provide compensation to you. Uninsured Motorist Coverage also comes in to play if you are struck and injured by a hit and run driver.
Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) often comes in to play in Pennsylvania accidents as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania only requires a driver to carry $15,000 in liability insurance. In today’s economy and with the cost of medical care, the $15,000 required Liability Coverage is quickly exhausted. In such an event an injured insured who was not at fault can turn to his own insurance carrier to cover the difference in damages between the $15,000 provided by the underinsured driver and the amount of coverage you carry with your own insurance company. As an example, if you sustain injuries for which you are entitled to $100,000 in compensation , you would be entitled to receive $15,000 from the at-fault driver’s insurance company and the balance of $85,000 from your own insurance company if your Underinsured Coverage was $100,000.
It should be obvious that Uninsured and Underinsured Coverage is extremely important to you and your family and high coverage limits should be considered. Be reminded, however, that uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage can only be purchased in an amount equal to the Liability Insurance Coverage that you purchase for your vehicle. From a cost standpoint, carrying high Liability Coverage and equal amounts in Uninsured and Underinsured Coverage is a wise financial choice. Remember that the Liability Coverage of your policy is very reasonable and limits can be raised to a higher level without a substantial increase in your premiums.
Collision Coverage will pay to repair your vehicle if you cause an automobile accident. This coverage typically covers the actual cash value of your car, which is not the same as the car’s replacement cost. Collision Coverage is normally the most expensive component of auto insurance. The cost of Collision Coverage can be reduced by choosing a higher deductible, which is the amount you will pay out-of-pocket before your insurance company is required to make additional payment to you. As Collision Coverage is very expensive, you should carefully consider if the purchase of Collision Coverage, which is not required by Pennsylvania, is the right choice for you. Remember that should substantial damage occur to your older model auto, the insurance company may well conclude that it will “total” your car. If the cost of repairs exceed a certain percentage of the car’s worth, you will only be paid the actual cash value of your car and not its replacement cost. If you have an automobile which has an actual cash value of $1,000 and a deductible of $250, the most that you can expect to recover from your insurance company is $750. Your yearly premium costs in this situation could exceed the amount that you could recover.
Comprehensive Coverage will pay for damages to your car that were not caused by an auto accident, such as theft, fire, vandalism, natural disaster or hitting a deer. Comprehensive Coverage also comes with a deductible and your insurance company will only pay up to the amount the car was worth at the time the car was damaged. Comprehensive Coverage is not a required coverage under Pennsylvania law.
While Collision and Comprehensive Coverage are not required under Pennsylvania law, when you finance a car, your lender may require that your purchase Collision and Comprehensive Coverage as part of the loan agreement. Please remember that if your car is financed you will be required to pay the total amount you owe to the finance company notwithstanding that you may no longer have use of the vehicle.
The above information is not intended to be exhaustive with regard to automobile insurance coverage in Pennsylvania. However, if it provides some answers to questions regarding your insurance coverage, it has served its purpose. In conclusion, please know that insurance companies will charge different premiums for the same coverage. It is important to determine exactly what coverages you would like to purchase and in what amounts and then check the premium being charged by a number of insurance companies to be sure that you receive the coverage you desire at the best possible cost.
Getting arrested can be a frightening experience, especially with everything that can follow — being taken by police car to a detention center, getting booked, and likely being put in jail. Because getting arrested is a trying time, if you’re arrested you may be tempted to say or do anything to get out of the situation. But if you’re ever arrested, it is important under these difficult circumstances to think clearly and try to protect your rights. Here are some important things to know if you are arrested as well as key steps to protect your rights.
What Is An Arrest?
Just because you are stopped by the police for something does not mean you are under arrest. An arrest generally refers to the point at which you are taken into custody, meaning you are unable to freely leave the scene. Police usually don’t need a warrant to arrest you — they can arrest you as long as they have probable cause to believe you have committed or are about to commit a crime (an arrest made at your home generally does require a warrant unless there’s a belief you will run away, destroy evidence or harm someone).
If you are arrested, don’t try to run away or resist, as this will only make the situation worse and lead to additional charges. Though it may be difficult, try to remain calm and not get into an argument with the officer. Be careful about your body movements, and don’t threaten to file a complaint against the arresting officer. If you feel the officer has violated your rights, you can file a formal complaint later.
Your Right To Remain Silent
As most people know from watching television crime shows, if you’re arrested you have to be read your Miranda rights by the police before they can question you. These state that:
- you have the right to remain silent;
- anything you say can be used against you;
- you have the right to an attorney; and
- if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
Miranda rights are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. They must be given to you whether you are a U.S. citizen or a non-citizen. If you are arrested and not read your Miranda rights before police start questioning you, statements you make cannot be used against you. However, this does not mean your case will be dismissed, as there can be other evidence sufficient to find you guilty.
Ask To Speak To A Lawyer Immediately
Once you are under arrest, take advantage of your right to remain silent and don’t answer any questions (you can give your name and personal information). Ask to speak to a lawyer immediately, and don’t say anything until you have talked to a lawyer . An arrest is an emotional time and can cause you to not think clearly, and it’s easy to accidentally say something that hurts your case. You may think you can persuade the police officer to let you go, but this is highly unlikely. What is a lot more common is that the person being arrested says something that makes things worse. Any statement you make will go into the police report and be used against you later. Because of this, it’s much better to consult a lawyer before you say anything. Your lawyer can advise you what to say — or not say — to law enforcement officers so that it will not hurt your case.
Invoking your right to remain silent is easy. Just simply tell the officer “I don’t want to say anything until I talk to my lawyer,” or “I am invoking my right to remain silent” or “I have nothing to say.”
If you’re arrested, law enforcement officers can question you without a lawyer present only if you waive your right to remain silent. If you answer some questions and then decide you don’t want to answer any more until talking to your lawyer, the questioning must stop.
In some arrests, like an arrest for drunk driving, the police officer will ask for physical evidence, such as a blood, breath or urine test. All states have implied consent laws, which are based on the principle that as a condition to obtaining a driver’s license, people implicitly agree to take a test to determine the alcohol content of their blood if they are suspected of drunk driving. But laws vary between states regarding the penalties for refusing to take a blood alcohol content test. Almost every state imposes administrative penalties, like fines and losing your driver’s license for a certain time, for refusing to take the test. Some states also impose criminal penalties for refusing to take a test.
When you are arrested, the police will likely search you. Depending on where the arrest occurs, they may also try to search your car or home.
With regard to body searches, if you are arrested a police officer is legally entitled to search you — without a warrant — for weapons or evidence.
If you’re arrested while driving, you are not legally required to consent to a search of your vehicle, and to protect yourself, you should not consent to a search. Generally, the police are entitled to search your car without a warrant and without your consent only if there is probable cause to believe it contains illegal items or evidence.
If you are arrested at home, an officer without a warrant can generally search only the area near your (depending on the circumstances, this may mean just the room you are in). However, if the officer believes evidence will be destroyed and it’s an emergency situation, your home may be searched without a warrant and without your consent.
If you are the victim of an illegal search, a court may not allow as evidence anything obtained during the search.
After The Arrest
After the arrest, you will be taken to a detention center for booking. It is important to continue to maintain your silence, as the statements you make not only at the time of the arrest but also elsewhere can be used against you. Booking is the process of fingerprinting, photographing you and processing you into the system. At the detention center, you will be granted the right to make at least one phone call. That call should be to a loved one, friend or a lawyer, who can start the process of protecting your rights.
Being arrested is a frightening and confusing time. But knowing and invoking your rights if you are arrested — especially your right to remain silent and your right to a lawyer — can help prevent the situation from getting worse.
Contact an attorney at Eddy DeLuca Gravina & Townsend today. Please call us for all your legal needs. We offer a full range of legal services to individuals, families and businesses, including personal injury, estate planning, real estate, family law and business matters. We are dedicated to providing the highest quality legal services at a reasonable cost.
Charged With a Crime? Plan Your Next Steps Carefully.
Pittsburgh DUI Attorney
Call on the Pittsburgh DUI Attorney, Steven C. Townsend if you’ve been charged with a DUI or other crime.
Since the Birchfield decision ruled that BAC results are not admissible without a warrant, District Attorneys are still trying to move forward with DUI cases on the general impairment charge. Don’t fall victim to the pressure to plead guilty. There are many defenses to general impairment cases and you should contact Eddy DeLuca Gravina & Townsend to discuss your options before making your decision.
You can lose your license, your job, and lose your right to carry a firearm.
Commonwealth v. Dragoslovich Driver is pulled over for an alleged firearms violation and subsequently arrested for DUI based on the smell of alcohol and failed field sobriety tests.
Result: Not Guilty
Consequences that can flow from a DUI arrest and prosecution include: loss of your driver’s license, heavy fines, court costs and extensive administrative fees, probation, jail or state prison, vehicle impoundment or forfeiture, an ignition interlock device put on your car, etc. Pennsylvania treats Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”) seriously. The DUI laws are strict.
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Call the TRUSTED Pittsburgh DUI attorney, STEVEN C. TOWNSEND, to fight for you and to save your license. Don’t let a DUI destroy your life or jeopardize your job.
St. Jude Recall
Notice regarding the St. Jude Recall. If you have one of these devices or know of anyone with one of these defective devices, please give our office a call immediately for a Free Consultation.
To date, of the 398,740 affected devices sold worldwide, 841 were returned for analysis due to premature battery depletion caused by lithium clusters.
- 2 deaths (1 in the U.S.), have been associated with devices that could not provide needed shock therapy due to premature battery depletion.
- 10 patients (9 in the U.S.), have reported fainting from devices that could not provide needed pacing therapy due to premature battery depletion.
- 37 patients (30 in the U.S.), have reported dizziness from devices that could not provide needed pacing therapy due to premature battery depletion.
After the hearing, defense attorney Steven Townsend said he thought the teens’ testimony was “suspect” and “inconsistent.”
“I think there’s a lot of holes that need to be closed,” Mr. Townsend said, raising the question of why the girls continued to have sex with Mr. Ruprecht if he was forcing them to have sex with others or hurting one of them. Mr. Townsend also noted that the two testified that they willingly had intercourse with Mr. Ruprecht.
“A lot of it just doesn’t make sense to me,” Mr. Townsend said.
Sex Assault cases are normally won or lost based based on the testimony at the Preliminary Hearing. Over my many years of defending sex cases, I have been contacted by defendants who either waived their right to a Preliminary Hearing or had ineffective representation. showbox download The questions are: What can I do now? Why did my attorney waive the Preliminary Hearing? How can you help me?
There are ways to remedy when a defendant has lost his right to confront witnesses at the Preliminary Hearing, but you must hire an attorney who handles sex assault cases and has successfully litigated sex assault cases. Steven C. Townsend has handled hundreds of assault cases and know the importance of every step of the process. If you have been charged or are being investigated for sex assault please contact him immediately. You only get once chance to defend yourself against criminal charges and the consequences of choosing the wrong or inexpereinced attorney can be devastating.
Generally one may think that the criminal cases are often won or lost based on what forensic evidence is presented to jurors. However, this article reveals that even forensic evidence can be fallible. The reality is that not all forensic scientific evidence is backed up with rigorous scientific research.
Throughout the article you will see how different types of forensic evidence made its way into the courtroom. It discusses the reliance by the prosecutors, FBI and the defense. What is interesting about the chronological studies is the way that science has evolved in order to form a more “exact” science as used in the courtroom. I encourage you to read how the forensic evidence was first used and how it is being used today.
Evidence refers to information or objects that may be admitted into court for judges and juries to consider when hearing a case. Evidence can come from varied sources — from genetic material or trace chemicals to dental history or fingerprints. Evidence can serve many roles in an investigation, such as to trace an illicit substance, identify remains or reconstruct a crime.
I have had many trials where evidence was produced and where experts testified that the science is 100%. We now know this not to be true. In the end, cases are often won or lost on what evidence is produced.
Believe it or not, there are ways to challenge scientific and forensic evidence, such as attacking the chain of custody of blood samples or the improper calibration of a machines used to provide testimony.
Rape Kits – How important are they?
By Steven C. Townsend
I recently won a rape/sex assault trial where DNA was a crucial piece of evidence obtained by a rape kit. How significant was the evidence? The DNA extracted from the rape kit showed that my client was excluded from the profiles obtained. What is so disturbing is what happened during the trial.
On cross-examination of the lead detective, I asked if he ever submitted the rape kit and the other samples for testing. He agreed that he requested the rape kit and submitted it for testing but amazingly said he never reviewed the results. How important or significant was this evidence? Apparently, it was not significant enough for the detective to review the final analysis of the rape kit. He testified that he had no idea what the results of the rape kit showed or the DNA testing.lucky patcher apk This is after there were dozens of samples obtained from the rape kit itself as well as other areas of the site of the alleged rape. I could not believe it when he testified that he never reviewed the reports. I even asked him again to make sure I wasn’t missing something.
My client was found NOT GUILTY of those charges.
I only write about this case after I read the article attached below on how our State is not effectively using rape kits or failing to test the rape kits that are in storage. How many people are sitting in jail and prison because the system refuses or neglects to test its own evidence? The article goes on to talk about inadequate communication may be a reason for the problems.
I wonder how the “communication” issues would have affected my client had the rape kit been taken and thrown in a storage closet for the next 10 years. We have the technology and the budget to utilize our scientific evidence, but for some reason, those who are facing decades of incarceration don’t deserve a level playing field according to our State.
Juvenile Lifer Injustice
You may be surprised to learn that some courts are applying a 2012 sentencing statute while sentencing juvenile lifers who were convicted prior to the enactment of the law. The statute specifically states that it only applies to those convicted after 2012. So how can a juvenile lifer be sentenced under that particular sentencing scheme? It’s happening, but it isn’t happening with uniformity.
In Allegheny County the District Attorney’s Office is taking a hard line. They are not negotiating with any juvenile lifer regardless of the circumstances. Every juvenile lifer will receive either a maximum term of life or a term of life without parole. This is not the case in other counties across our state. Why, because there is no sentencing scheme enacted to provide the courts with guidance.
Representing criminal defendants and juvenile lifer clients is a very difficult job. The job becomes even more difficult when our laws are not applied equally or are applied retroactively. This is a prime example of why clients get so frustrated when I tell them that “This is the law, but this is what happens”.
The fight for Mr. Cristina is not over for me. My court appointment to represent him as a juvenile lifer may be over, but I’m not throwing in the towel. I strongly believe that the sentence he received was illegal and that the court had the ability and discretion to sentence him, or any juvenile lifer prior to 2012, to a term of time served.
There are hundreds of juvenile lifer cases in Pennsylvania and thousands across the country. Hopefully our Supreme Court will one day address how courts handle the mandatory “life” tail that is being imposed as a mandatory juvenile lifer sentence.
Sentenced to life at 17, Pittsburgh man now 57 could be out in months
Jeffrey Cristina has spent 14,803 days in jail or prison since his arrest and conviction for second-degree murder at 17, and will spend at least a few more months awaiting parole.
Cristina, 57, was one of about 480 Pennsylvania inmates eligible for resentencing after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory sentences of life without parole were unconstitutional for all juveniles sentenced as adults. On Wednesday, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani gave him a new sentence of 20 years to life, making him immediately eligible for parole but waiting to move through that process.
“He’s done everything society asked him to do, and then some,” Mariani said.
Mariani said that given Cristina’s spotless record over more than four decades in prison, he would have considered releasing him Wednesday with time served, but a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling indicated that for former “juvenile lifers,” the sentence has to include an upper limit of life in prison.
On the stand, Cristina testified that he had held several jobs in prison mentoring juvenile convicts and helping them send books and messages to their families; he earned professional licenses and accreditations; and held positions of trust that let him do odd jobs outside prison walls.
Cristina and two co-defendants were charged with homicide for the December 1975 robbery of Frank Slazinski, 83, in his Lawrenceville apartment over $15 and a portable television. Slazinski, who was recovering from another robbery days earlier, died four days after the attack from a broken windpipe and pneumonia, according to newspaper accounts at the time.
Cristina said one of his co-defendants had been bullying him and his family since they moved from Brookline to Lawrenceville in his parents’ divorce, and he went along with the robbery in the hope that it would offer some relief from the torment.
“I’m sorry for what happened to Mr. Slazinski and his family,” he said. “At the time, I wasn’t strong enough physically or mentally to handle that situation.”
Deputy District Attorney Ronald Wabby Jr. said his office tried to find members of Slazinski’s family to testify about the impact the crime had on them but could not reach anyone after so long.
Cristina’s family members who testified on his behalf said they were disappointed in Mariani’s ruling, having hoped for immediate release.
“The family is fighting over who would get him first,” said his niece, Heather Taylor. “I hope the parole board will see everything he’s done over the last 40 years and let him come home and have some kind of life.”
She said she is concerned the parole process would be dragged out and delay her uncle’s release for months or years. Steve Townsend, Cristina’s attorney, said the parole process could start in December at the earliest. He called Cristina, Taylor and Cristina’s brother to testify and submitted his client’s letters of recommendation — including a 1993 recommendation for commuting his sentence that was dropped in the change of administrations between Govs. Bob Casey and Tom Ridge — as evidence to be considered by the parole board later.
“In his case, his turnaround time should be much quicker than everyone else,” Townsend said.
Cristina is among the first of about 40 juvenile lifers convicted in Allegheny County to be resentenced. Judge Donna Jo McDaniel this month sentenced Kristopher Heggins, now 36, to 30 years to life, with credit for the 16 years he’s served since his conviction for second-degree murder in the 1997 killing of a minister in Highland Park.
Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer.
Judge keeps one of Pennsylvania’s ‘juvenile lifers’ in prison, reluctantly
By Karen Kane / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani couldn’t have made it more clear Wednesday morning: He believes Jeffrey Cristina — one of Pennsylvania’s so-called “juvenile lifers” — should be released immediately from prison. But the judge essentially bumped the case to the state Board of Pardons, saying he believes that the controlling law in Pennsylvania prevents him from doing what he’d really like to do.
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Cristina slowly shook his bowed head in apparent disappointment. And perhaps disbelief.
“We really thought he’d be coming home today,” said Cristina’s niece, Heather Taylor of Harrison, sobbing after the hourlong hearing.
She wasn’t alone. Many in the crowded courtroom were shedding tears, including some who were apparent strangers.
Cristina, 57, has been in prison since 1976, after he was convicted of second-degree murder in the beating death of an elderly man. He denies he participated in the beating and the judge acknowledged “there’s a lot of dispute” about Cristina’s role in the death.
But, Judge Mariani noted, that is largely irrelevant to his judicial assessment of the situation: In sum, the judge said he believes that Cristina’s original sentence as a 17-year-old to “life without parole” is unconstitutional.
Further, he said that in his 36-year legal career — including 11 years on the bench — he never has seen anyone with as good a prison record as Cristina’s, calling him an ideal convict who hasn’t had a single infraction, who has taken advantage of every educational program available to him, and who has worked as mentor and tutor to other prisoners during the past four decades.
And the judge noted that in 1993, the state Board of Pardons unanimously recommended commutation for Cristina. But, it was denied by former Gov. Bob Casey.
Judge Mariani appeared to be frustrated.
“I wish I had the ability to sentence him to time served … I have to abide by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,” he said, referring to a 2013 court case, Commonwealth vs. Batts, that essentially makes a 2012 sentencing statute retroactive. It pertains to juveniles convicted of first- or second-degree homicide. The statute establishes life in prison as the upper end for a defendant age 15 or older.
Judge Mariani said he believed he was required to make the top end of Mr. Cristina’s new sentence “life” with the bottom end at 20 years. Since he has already served 40 years, Cristina now can apply for parole. The next application period is December. If granted, he would be released from prison but would be court-supervised on parole for the rest of his life.
Cristina’s attorney, Steven C. Townsend, said he was disappointed and frustrated. He said he appreciated the judge’s sympathy for his client but disagrees that the judge’s hands were tied.
Assistant district attorney Ronald Wabby Jr. agreed with Judge Mariani’s assessment of the legal situation, but he did not lobby the judge for any particular sentence.
It has been a long haul for Cristina and his family. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 found in Miller vs. Alabama that mandatory life terms for juveniles are unconstitutional. Defense attorneys across Pennsylvania began seeking resentencings for their clients.
Cristina originally was slated to have a hearing before Judge Mariani in April 2013, but it was postponed while the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether Miller should be retroactive. That happened in January in Montgomery vs. Louisiana.
In February, a state appellate court ordered that nine defendants across the state — including four from Allegheny County — have their cases sent back for resentencing.
Judge Mariani said Cristina can be “held up as an example of what every prisoner should be doing in prison.” He said he reluctantly keeps him behind bars “under the constraint” of state legal precedent.
“He was a juvenile. There’s some issue as to who actually committed the homicide. He’s been a law-abiding convict and then some … I’ll say it plainly, I recommend he be paroled,” the judge said.
He allowed testimony Wednesday.
Andrew Cristina, Jeffrey Cristina’s older brother, said the pair grew up in a home where violence was served up daily. The boys’ father was abusive in every way, said the 63-year-old. He said his parents divorced, and the boys and a sister moved from Brookline to Lawrenceville, where Jeffrey Cristina got in with a bad crowd.
Cristina also took the stand.
He testified he was sorry for the victim and his family and said he wished he hadn’t gone that night with his co-defendant but said the man was a bully.
He acknowledged the physical and verbal abuse by his father, testified to by his brother. Then, in answer to a question from his attorney, Cristina said prosecutors at the time of his trial offered a juvenile conviction that would have sent him to the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center until he was 21. “My father didn’t allow me,” he said.
He has been behind bars ever since, currently at the state prison in Somerset.
Karen Kane: email@example.com or at 724-772-9180.
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