Frequently Asked Questions

Am I going to Jail?

Punishment is up to the sentencing judge's direction 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. House Arrest or Work Release is usually determined by the sentencing judge.

I was not read my rights (Miranda warnings)

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 a question by police, and the answer incriminates the individual. If you answered incriminating questions and Miranda warning were not given, you could file a Motion to Suppress Evidence to have your statements thrown out of court. The case will not be dismissed for lack of Miranda warnings, but any incriminating statements that you may have made could be suppressed.

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. 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 for a first degree Misdemeanor or great cannot be expunged by a Judge until the individual turns 70 years of age. The only way to remove the conviction from a criminal record is to receive either a governor's or presidential pardon which are difficult to obtain. Some minor Misdemeanors may be eligible for expungement after 10 years.

FOR FIRST TIME OFFENDERS: THE ARD PROGRAM

Many of my clients are first time offenders who are concerned about how a criminal case will affect their lives in the future. Luckily, Pennsylvania has a program for people who have never been in trouble before. If this is a first offense (no prior criminal history) and the case involves a non-violent misdemeanor, you may be eligible for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, known as ARD. If ARD is approved by the District Attorney, you do not have to plead guilty, there would be no conviction, and the charges will eventually be dismissed after payments of fines (typically $1,500-$2,000), a probationary period (typically 6 months to 1 year) and possible community service. Typical crimes for which ARD is given include minor theft cases, Shoplifting, Possession of Narcotics for personal use, Driving under the Influence, and other minor nonviolent misdemeanor offenses. Once all of the conditions are met, and you stay arrest free during the period of probation, the charges are dismissed. Once dismissed, a Motion for Expungement can be filed resulting in all of the charges being officially removed from your record, including your mug shot, fingerprints and rap sheet. Some counties expunge automatically while in other counties, you (or your attorney) would have to file the motion to have your record expunged.

ARD is designed for people who made a mistake and who are not criminals. It gives you a chance to learn a lesson and earn your way out of having a criminal record affect you for the rest of your life. The benefit to ARD is that you do not have to admit guilt, you do not go to jail and you are never formally convicted of a crime. Once the case is expunged it will be like it never happened. 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 local District Attorney's Office so your attorney's relationship with the prosecution is extremely important.

PENNSYLVANIA CRIMINAL COURT PROCEDURE

1. PRELIMINARY HEARING/PRELIMINARY ARRAIGNMENT

The Preliminary Hearing is a hearing in which the evidence against you will be presented before the local District Justice. It is a very important stage in the process and should not be attended without an attorney. At this hearing, the prosecution must prove to the Judge that there is enough evidence to take the case to trial. 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 can range from unsecured bail (released on recognizance) to cash bail which would be required to be posted immediately. The Preliminary hearing usually occurs within 30 to 45 days after the charges are filed and can usually be postponed by an attorney, if necessary.

2. FORMAL ARRAIGNMENT

The Formal Arraignment is a procedural hearing that is scheduled approximately 30-60 days after the Preliminary Hearing in the County Courthouse. Depending on the county, your attorney may "waive" your appearance at this hearing which would excuse you from attending the Arraignment; other counties require that you appear for this hearing. At this hearing, a plea of not guilty is entered and you are given the formal charges against you.

3. PRETRIAL CONFERENCE/TRIAL DATE/ARD DATE

In certain counties, a Pretrial Conference is scheduled in which the prosecutor, defense attorney and the judge conference the case to determine of a case can be resolved by way of 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, then a Trail 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 of jury.