Are Motions to Lift a Detainer an Emergency in Philadelphia Under the Coronavirus Shutdown Rules?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Mar 25, 2020 | 0 Comments

Courts in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania are still grappling with the fallout of shutting down to slow the spread of the coronavirus. While courts have closed their doors to the public, they still provide essential services and have left the doors ajar to motions and hearings that amount to an “emergency.”

In the past few days, they have had to decide what amounts to an emergency. Recently, they determined that Motions to Lift Detainers are included.

What are Detainers?

A detainer is a request from a law enforcement agency to continue to hold – or detain – someone who is already in custody, or else notify the agency when that person is set to be released. While the subject of the detainer is already being held, the agency making the request often has another violation in mind.

Detainers are especially common in three scenarios:

  1. People who are on probation and who get arrested for a crime can be held without bail under a detainer filed by their probation officer;
  2. People who are on probation and who incur a technical probation violation (such as a failed drug screen, missed appointment, and so forth) may be detained by their probation officer pending a violation of probation hearing before the probationer's "back" judge (the judge who sentenced the defendant); and
  3. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) frequently uses a detainer to begin the deportation process of an immigrant who is being held by a law enforcement agency

Philadelphia Courts: Motions to Lift Detainer are Emergencies

On March 20, 2020, the court system in Philadelphia decided that motions to lift these detainers on probationers who have been arrested are emergencies that could be heard right away, so long as they comply with a stricter procedural formatting that lets judges review them quickly.

This comes as an important exception to the court closures. Probationers who, for example, have been arrested face potential charges for whatever they have been arrested for, plus the probation violation. It is the probation violation, though, that creates the detainer and holds the probationers behind bars while the charges springing from the new arrest are resolved. If the arrest amounts to nothing and they are not charged or are acquitted, they are released without even a hearing.

A Crucial Step Towards Emptying Jails and Slowing the Spread of COVID-19

Detainers on probationers who have been arrested are always problematic because they hold people in jail without the possibility of posting bail for weeks or months, for no other reason than that they are on probation at the time.

While the practice as a whole should be put to an end, it is especially crucial to hear motions to lift those detainers, now. Jails have been described as a “disaster waiting to happen” as the coronavirus spreads. Giving probationers who are kept behind bars by a detainer the ability to challenge that detainer – and letting judges hear that motion to lift, right now – can reduce the odds of a major outbreak in Philadelphia jails, and can get probationers out of jail when there is little reason for them to be in there, in the first place.

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento

Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who can help inmates file a Motion to Lift Detainer throughout Pennsylvania, including in DelawareBucksChester, or Montgomery County. Call his law office at (215) 535-5353 or contact him online.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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