If you have been charged with a crime, or have been questioned by law enforcement, it is extremely important that you know your rights and promptly get help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer. We have successfully defended cases in Philadelphia and Delaware counties.
Our firm offers a variety of affordable payment options in including flat fees and payment plans. Fees are structured around the nature of the charges and the anticipated level of work.
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If you have a DUI there are options! You can choose to fight the charges or even negotiate a deal.Whether it’s an alcohol or drug related DUI (75 Pa.C.S. § 3802) or driving while suspended DUI related (75 Pa.C.S. § 1543(b)) you could be facing significant fines, license suspension, a criminal record, and time in prison. Our attorneys can counsel you on whether it is prudent to fight these charges or negotiate with the Commonwealth to minimize the consequences. DUI cases can also be highly technical and provide a host of opportunities to challenge the Commonwealth’s collection of evidence, preservation of evidence, and interpretation of evidence. In many cases it is worthwhile to try to suppress this evidence rather than simply accept a plea. Speak to one of our attorneys; we will look over your case for free even if you ultimately choose not to hire our firm.
Summary offenses are the lowest tiered crimes in Pennsylvania, generally decided by a district justice. They include motor vehicle code violations as well as more significant non-traffic crimes such as disorderly conduct (18 Pa.C.S. § 503), underage drinking (18 Pa.C.S. § 6308) and harassment (18 Pa.C.S. § 2709). Summary offenses can result in fines and in some cases jail. More problematic is the long term risk that a conviction would appear on a criminal background check interfering with employment, custody, travel, or housing prospects. Don’t try to handle these on your own, consult with one of our attorneys.
A misdemeanor is a middle classification of crime, representing less serious offenses than felonies. Pennsylvania law recognizes three degrees of misdemeanors. A third degree misdemeanor can carry a sentence of 6 months to one year imprisonment and a fine of up to $2,500. Examples of third degree misdemeanors (i.e. M3) include harassment, trespass, disorderly conduct, loitering and prowling, or selling liquor to minors. A second degree misdemeanor can carry a sentence of one to two years imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000. Examples second degree misdemeanors (i.e. M2) include simple assault, reckless endangerment, manufacture or sale of false identification, false reports to law enforcement authorities. Finally, examples of first degree misdemeanors (i.e. M1) include possessing instruments of a crime, terroristic threats, indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children, or bookmaking.
Outside of Murder offenses, felonies represent the most serious crimes. Like misdemeanors, Pennsylvania law recognizes three degrees of felonies. A third degree felony (i.e. F3) can carry a term of imprisonment up to seven years and carry a fine of up to $15,000. Examples of third degree felonies include stalking, interference with the custody of children, concealment of the whereabouts of a child, arson-reckless burning, criminal mischief, criminal trespass, or robbery. A second degree felony (i.e. F2) can carry a term of imprisonment up to ten years and a fine of up to $25,000. Examples of second degree felonies include home improvement fraud, aggravated assault, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, and forgery. A first degree felony (i.e. F1) can carry a term of imprisonment that exceeds ten years and a fine of up to $25,000. Examples of first degree felonies include assault upon a law enforcement officer, kidnapping, weapons of mass destruction, rape, and burglary.
An expungement of a criminal record is a proceeding to remove reference to a prior criminal proceeding. Typically, expungements are sought to clear a person’s background for employment purposes or to allow them to purchase a firearm. When an expungement is granted, the record will appear as if no conviction ever occurred. In general, misdemeanors and felonies cannot be expunged in Pennsylvania unless the individual participated in a diversionary program such as ARD or is at least 70 years old and has been free from arrest for period of ten years or that individual has been dead for at least three years. 18 Pa.C.S. § 9122. However, a law enacted in February 2016 could allow certain low level misdemeanors to be sealed from the public (e.g., employers, landlords, etc.) after ten years without any new charges. Note, this ten year period does not begin to run until the probation has been served. Summary offenses, on the other hand, are capable of expungement in much shorter time. To qualify, the individual must be free from conviction for five years following the subject conviction. 18 Pa.C.S. § 9122(b)(3). Additionally, juvenile offenses are also subject to expungement provided the individual is at least 18 years old and five years has lapsed without any misdemeanors or felonies. 18 Pa.C.S. § 9123. Of course, acquittals and dismissals are also subject to Expungement. Certain misdemeanors are now eligible to have the record sealed.
Understanding Criminal Court Procedures
1. First Step: the Preliminary Arraignment
Once arrested, the very first interaction with the Court will be at the Preliminary Arraignment. Usually held before a Magisterial District Court Judge, the preliminary arraignment is where you will be provided with a copy of the complaint and warrant (if applicable) and informed of the type of release on bail. Bail is essentially money that you secures your release from jail during the criminal proceedings. Many first time offenders will have unsecured bail which means not money need be posted. At the preliminary arraignment, the District Judge will also set the date and time for the next step of the process, the preliminary hearing (approximately 10-21 days later). See Rule 540.
2. Second Step: the Preliminary Hearing
Also held before a Magisterial District Court Judge, the preliminary hearing is not a trial; rather, it is an opportunity for the accused to challenge the Commonwealth’s evidence. At the preliminary hearing, the accused also has a right to counsel, the right to cross examine witnesses, the right to inspect the physical evidence, the right to call their own witnesses, and the right to offer their own evidence. The accused even has the right to not have a preliminary hearing if they properly inform the Judge of a waiver. At the preliminary hearing, the Magisterial District Court Judge shall determine from the evidence presented whether there is a prima facie case meaning that (1) an offense has been committed and (2) the defendant has committed it. A “prima facie case” essentially means the government must provide some measure of proof that the accused probably did the crime and is the person who did it; it is a lesser standard than the one used at a trial where the Commonwealth must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Note that hearsay evidence is often permitted at the preliminary hearing. If the District Court Judge concludes that the Commonwealth has met its burden, then the matter will be bound over for trial at the Court of Common Pleas. See Rule 542.
3. Third Step: The Formal Arraignment
This is the first step that will actually occur in the Court of Common Pleas. Here, the Court will advise the defendant of the charges that were bound over from the Magisterial District Court and advise the accused of the date of the pretrial conference and assignment of the judge. Importantly, the completion of the formal arraignment kicks of several significant deadlines including the right to ask the Commonwealth for a copy of all evidence it has in its possession and the right to challenge the constitutionality of certain charges or actions by law enforcement (by filing an Omnibus motion). Like the preliminary hearing, the accused is capable of waiving the formal arraignment, but must properly notify the court of the intent to do so. See Rule 571.
4. Fourth Step: The Pre-Trial Conference
The pretrial conference is basically an opportunity for the parties to meet with the Court and each with other prior to trial to determine if there are any outstanding issues that can be resolved before the trial. Each Court (and even each judge) handles these conferences differently. For the most part, the pretrial conferences resolve discovery issues and anticipated problems with the admissibility of evidence and witnesses. If an Omnibus Motion has been filed or if a diversionary program like ARD was approved by the Commonwealth, the Court can address these matters at the Pretrial Conference. The Judge will also set forth the date of trial and any other pretrial deadlines at this conference. See Rule 570.
5. Fifth Step: Trial
Unless you have done anything to cause delay, the trial should be held within 365 days of the filing of the Complaint. Generally, you have a right to select either a jury trial or a non-jury trial (i.e. a trial before a judge only). Alternatively, you can enter a guilty plea or related no contest plea where you do not admit guilt but admit that there is enough evidence to convict you. At the trial, the Commonwealth has the burden of proving your guilt. They will present evidence and witnesses attempting to reflect your guilt; you have the opportunity to present your own witnesses and evidence demonstrating your innocence. Each party may also cross examine the others witnesses (i.e. subject them to scrutiny by questioning them). The standard of conviction is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Essentially, if there is any doubt as to the Commonwealth’s claim that you are guilty, and that doubt is reasonable, then the Commonwealth must go beyond that doubt to convict you. In other words, if the jurors or judge have no doubt as to the defendant's guilt, or if their only doubts are unreasonable doubts, then the prosecutor has proven the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and the defendant could be pronounced guilty. See Rule 600.
6. Sixth Step: The Sentencing Hearing
If you have been convicted of a crime, or pled guilty, the Court must impose a sentence in accordance with the expectations of the legislature (i.e. the mandatory minimum sentences). In some limited circumstances, the Judge can reject the mandatory sentence. Generally sentences involve time in jail but can also include probation, electronic home monitoring (house arrest), fines, community service, stay away from the victim, restitution to the victim, or enrollment in a drug and alcohol treatment program. The length of a sentence is also dependent upon a number of factors including any prior record and whether the crime was committed with aggravating circumstances. See Chapter 303.