The Criminal Process In Pennsylvania – WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
CRIMINAL DUI CHARGES
The Criminal Process begins with the filing of criminal dui charges, usually by the police. The charges are usually brought before a district justice accompanied by an Affidavit of Probable Cause which is the police officer’s account (usually biased and inaccurate) of the incident. You are then either arrested or issued a summons to appear at a preliminary hearing. If you are arrested bail is set, otherwise bail will be set at your preliminary hearing.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT LAWYER
What is your lawyer’s preliminary evaluation of the case against you? What defenses are available to you? What is the best defense strategy?
Within a very short time, usually ten days or so, you will have a “Preliminary Hearing”. This is not a trial to determine your guilt or innocence but is a very important step in the process. At the preliminary hearing an attorney from the District Attorney’s Office, the police officer who filed the charges and any witnesses against you will be there along with the District Justice. Unfortunately, at this proceeding the District Attorney need only demonstrate to the District Justice that a crime was probably committed and that you probably committed it. This is a very low threshold to meet and may result in your case being held for further proceedings in court. However, in some instances an experienced and knowlegeable attorney can have the charges reduced and disposed of at this first hearing, resulting only in a small fine. In more complicated cases, it is very important for your lawyer to hear and question the police officers’ and/or witnesses’ account of what they claim happened in order to assess how best to proceed with your case.
If your case is held for court from the preliminary hearing this means you will now appear in the Court of Common Pleas in the main courthouse in your county. Your next court date, the formal arraignment, will involve you being formally notified of the charges against you and, in some instances a plea bargain or alternative disposition of your case may be discussed.
The vast majorities of criminal cases do not go to trial, but are settled through negotiation. Determining a fair plea bargain is both an art and a science. This is where your Attorney’s knowledge and experience are essential. The first factor includes a careful evaluation of the strength of your case and evaluation of the odds of winning or losing at trial. Then, given your odds at trial, you and your attorney need to balance your uncertain sentence, (if convicted at trial) with the certain sentence of the deal / offer if you plea and “cut your losses”. What sort of offer does your attorney believe the prosecution will make? What can your attorney do to improve the prosecution’s offer? What counter-offer are you prepared to make? What can reasonably be expected? What is the standard range in similar cases? Can you do better? Consider your “maximum sentence exposure” if you go to trial and lose compared to taking a plea bargain.
Are there any Sentencing Alternatives to standard Jail that you may be eligible for, such as probation, electronic home detention, alternative housing, or community service? Are there any standard or creative Probationary Terms that are preferable to you which will satisfy the prosecution and court’s concerns and allow you to receive a lesser sentence, easier to accept? Some clients want to avoid fines, others want to keep their driver’s license, others want to avoid jail. If your attorney fully
understands your needs and goals, he can craft an alternative sentence that protects your most
important concerns and hurts you the least.
– Legal Defenses (Due Process and your constitutional rights)
Is your attorney ensuring that you are being given Due Process and that your constitutional rights are not being violated? Sometimes you can win a case on a legal point. Considerations include:
1. Did the police conduct a search where evidence was seized from your home, car or
person? If so, can the legality of the search be to challenged by a Motion to Suppress? (i.e.
– Is the evidence against you inadmissible – and thus can your case be dismissed?)
2. Did the Police detain you or arrest you? Did the Police question you and, if so did you
make a statement to the police? Were you properly “Mirandized” If not, is this statement
(and any evidence it lead to) admissible at trial or can it be suppressed? How damaging is it
to your case? How will your defense strategy change based on the admissibility of the
evidence or statements?
3. Are there any legal issues with the charges filed? Can you demur to the complaint? Are
the charges based on events that happened more than 1 year ago? More than 3 years ago?
Can you bring a Motion to Dismiss for a violation of your right to a speedy trial or some
other constitutional right?
As an American, you have the right to a fair trial where you are presumed innocent. You can demand either a jury trial or a non-jury trial. At a jury trial, 12 of your fellow citizens will determine whether or not you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a non-jury trial, a judge will listen to the facts of your case and decide whether or not you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Trials are highly technical and requires an experienced attorney who has a high degree of legal knowledge and the power to pursuade.