Criminal convictions can have far reaching effects on a person's life, including incarceration, hefty fines and a permanent criminal record. Choosing the right attorney to represent you in court for your criminal case may be one of the most important decisions you may ever make. Experience is by far the most important factor you should look for in a criminal defense attorney.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
All Felony and Misdemeanor cases including:
White Collar Crime
All Felony and Misdemeanor cases
The first hearing is the Preliminary Hearing in which the evidence will be presented before the local District Justice in the township where the crime was alleged to have been committed. It is a very important stage in the process and should not be attended without an attorney. At this hearing, the prosecution must demonstrate to the District Justice that there is enough evidence to bind the charges over to the Court of Common Pleas in the County Courthouse. The District Justice does not determine guilt or innocence, nor does he or she impose punishment for the offense; the judge simply determines if there is enough evidence against you.
The District Justice will either hold the charges for court or dismiss the case if there is not enough evidence. Bail is typically set at the Preliminary Hearing, which could range from unsecured bail (released on recognizance) to cash bail which would be required to be posted immediately. The Preliminary Hearing usually occurs within 45 to 60 days after the charges are filed and can usually be postponed by an attorney, if necessary.
The second hearing is the Formal Arraignment in the County Courthouse and occurs approximately 30 – 60 days after the Preliminary Hearing. This hearing is a procedural hearing in which a plea of Not Guilty is automatically entered and you are served with the formal charges. Depending on the county, your attorney may be permitted to "waive" your appearance at this hearing which would excuse you from attending this hearing.
For First Time Offenders:
The ARD Hearing Date
If this is a first offense, you may be eligible for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, known as ARD. If ARD is approved by the District Attorney, the charges will eventually be dismissed after successful completion of community service, payment of fines and a period of arrest-free behavior (typically 6 months or 1 year). Once dismissed, the charges can be expunged resulting in all of the charges being officially removed from your record, including your "rap sheet", mug shot and fingerprints. The ARD hearing usually occurs approximately 2 – 6 months after the Preliminary Hearing, depending on the county.
ARD is designed for people who are not criminals and who made a mistake. It gives first time offenders a chance to learn a lesson and earn their way out of having a criminal record affect them for the rest of their lives.
People who get ARD do not have to admit guilt, do not go to jail, and are never found guilty or convicted of a crime. Once the case is expunged, an Expungement Motion can be filed to remove the charges from your official record.
As a former Senior Deputy District Attorney, I approved over 1,000 people for ARD, and as a defense attorney, I have assisted over 1,000 clients gain admission into this beneficial program. Admission into the ARD program is determined solely by the District Attorney so your attorney's relationship with the DA is extremely important.
Pretrial Conference/Trial Date
In some counties, a Pretrial Conference is scheduled in which the prosecutor, defense attorney and the judge conference the case to determine if a case can be resolved by a guilty plea or plea bargain. If the case cannot be resolved, then a trial date is then scheduled. If a county does not utilize Pretrial Conferences, a Trial date is given instead. On this hearing date, the case typically is resolved with admission into the first-time offender's program (if eligible), a plea of guilty, or a trial before a judge or jury. Most individuals who are convicted are sentenced on this date and, at sentencing, defendants are permitted to introduce evidence (character witnesses, medical records, proof of treatment, etc.) to assist the judge in deciding the appropriate sentence.
Am I going to Jail?
Punishment is typically up to the sentencing judge's discretion and is dependent upon two factors: the severity of the crime and prior criminal record. Sentences can range from fines and/or probation for minor misdemeanors to state prison time for serious felonies. Some charges, such as DUI and certain drug offenses, carry mandatory minimum sentences in which a judge has no discretion and is required to impose the length of incarceration that is determined by the law. Intermediate punishment such as House Arrest or Work Release is determined by the sentencing judge.
I have never been arrested before. What is going to happen to me?
If this is a first offense, and the crime is a non-violent offense, you may be eligible for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, known as ARD. If ARD is approved by the District Attorney, you will NOT have to plead guilty, you will not have a conviction on your record, and the charges are eventually dismissed. Your record can be then be expunged, including your mug shot and fingerprints.
I was not read my rights.
Contrary to popular belief, Miranda warnings are not required when someone is arrested. Miranda warnings are needed when an individual is in custody (not free to leave) and is asked an incriminating question by police. If you answered incriminating questions and Miranda warnings were not given, you could file a Motion to Suppress Evidence to have your statements thrown out of court. The case would not be dismissed but your statements could not be used.
Do I really need a lawyer?
Criminal convictions can have far-reaching effects on your life which could include your freedom and your employment. It is always best to go to court with an experienced local attorney, who has a good relationship with the prosecution, to fight for your rights. A local attorney will be more familiar with special county programs such as First Time Offender Programs, House Arrest, Work Release or Drug Court, to name a few. If you are found guilty of a criminal offense you could be faced with jail time, probation or parole, substantial fines and a lifelong criminal record, so the attorney that you choose to represent you is extremely important.
If I am convicted, can my record be expunged?
In Pennsylvania, the law states that a conviction cannot be expunged by a Judge until the individual turns 70 years of age. The only way to remove a conviction from a criminal record is to receive either a governor's or presidential pardon which are difficult to obtain.