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Metal thefts for drug crimes targeted with new Pennsylvania law

Proposed regulations in Pennsylvania could lead to a new theft category designed to prevent residents from stealing valuable common metals. Authorities say that much of the metal is sold for scrap so that the defendants can engage in drug crimes. The new regulations would expand legal penalties for those who steal “secondary metal” — copper, aluminum and several others — along with utility lines or pipes. Defendants are often accused of taking wire, cable and pipe that is used in important infrastructure such as electrical utilities, mass transit and railroad efforts. Lawmakers say the additional penalties are required to prevent theft of specialized metals, the lack of which could lead to catastrophic infrastructure failures. Disruption of utility services could occur. A serious accident could also happen if a streetlight or gas line is out of commission because wire or pipe is missing. New penalties would be based upon the estimated value of the metals that are stolen. The charges could range from third-degree misdemeanor for small amounts of metal, all the way to a third-degree felony for metal worth more than $1,000. Current law categorizes metal theft under a more general umbrella, which requires a higher threshold to reach felony status. For example, goods must cost $2,000 or more in order for the theft to be considered a third-degree felony at this time. Lawmakers say they began to consider the expanded measures after a series of thefts between 2012 and 2013 that were used to allegedly pay for heavy drugs for three defendants. Two of those defendants are still awaiting trial, while the other received nine to 23 months’ time in a county jail for a criminal conviction for felony burglary. Criminal defendants accused of stealing metal could face more serious penalties for theft crimes, which could lead to serious, long-term consequences. Those facing a criminal trial for such theft charges may benefit from consulting a Pennsylvania attorney to learn more about these legal changes. Tightened restrictions could lead to a different criminal defense strategy for some defendants. Source:  Montgomery News, “Proposed bill would establish the crime of metals theft in Pennsylvania” 13 February 2014

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