Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

A good friend of mine–also a client– paid a surprise visit to my office last week. I greeted him with a smile and a handshake, “How are you doing?”

“Well”, he said rather sheepishly, “I’m not totally sure. I think I got arrested.”

“You think you got arrested?” I said, sliding back in my chair. “What is it you think you got arrested for, exactly?”

My friend sighed as he related his tale. He had been riding in a car with a friend who had just bought the car less than a week earlier. While going through the Armstrong tunnel, they had been pulled over because the license plate on the car had been transferred, but had not yet been registered in the automatic plate reader system used by the police (a device that views plates and instantly displays registration information). In other words, the plate didn’t match the car it was on.

The police will approach this type of situation as a potential stolen car, and the possibility of weapons exists as well. They will approach it accordingly.  Needless to say, my friend was rattled by the experience.

He had no weapons, of course, but the police said they smelled weed. Sure enough, my friend had a very small amount of weed and a pipe. The driver was not cited, as the car eventually checked out, but my friend was, as he related it, “detained until they could write it up.”

They kept him there for about ten minutes, then released him, saying he would receive a summons in the mail.

My friend was beside himself. “I’m so sorry man. I hate to even bother you with this, but I think I need your help.”

I looked at his paperwork and said, “You weren’t arrested, my friend. You were only cited. This is basically like getting a speeding ticket.”

My friend was shocked. “Really? I don’t have to go to court?”

Smiling, I pointed out the fact that the ‘charge’ had been reduced to a disorderly conduct charge, with the fine amount already determned. This is fairly common in marijuana possession cases, except in the past, my friend would have had to make a court appearance with his attorney to get the charge reduced. Small amounts like this are pretty much a burden on the system, taking time away from more important cases for both police and Judges, and this is being reflected by a willingness on the part of the justice system in Allegheny County to voluntarily make marijuana possession a low policing priority.

A disorderly conduct charge allows the defendant to simply plead guilty by signing a ticket, and avoid further problems by paying the fine within ten days. No court, no jail time.

“The police must have liked you” I laughed.

“Actually, they thanked me for being respectful and cooperative, and said they were going to cut me a break,” he replied.

They certainly did cut him a break, but it’s a break that has become more common.

Coming on the heels of the pamphlet released by the City of Pittsburgh PD, advising citizens about the best ways of interacting with police, I find this situation shines light on two very important developments.

The first is, Marijuana has indeed become a very low priority for law enforcement. The attitude of most people that weed is very benign has filtered into the legal system– even where it is still illegal.

The second is, the experience of my friend (who by the way, is a long-haired musician who dresses like he’s homeless) demonstrates that showing respect for the officers when dealing with police can make all the difference, even when you look, to them at least, like you might be trouble from the start.

Showing respect when getting arrested can also make it easier to defend you, should the need arise. Don’t make a bad situation worse.

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