If you've been charged with a criminal offense in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, it's probably a very difficult and unsettling time for you and for your family. You may find yourself in the middle of a complicated and somewhat intimidating criminal justice process that can have serious and long-term consequences for your future and possibly for your freedom. It can be an enormous help to have an experienced and aggressive criminal justice attorney like Joseph D. Lento at your side, to help guide you through the process and defend you against the charges that you face.
Because it's a given that the Carbon County district attorney is going to aggressively pursue a conviction in your case, and because the entire process can be very confusing, it may be helpful to have a better understanding of what happens from the point of arrest on. This will provide you with some general information about what the process is like and what you can expect as a defendant in a criminal case in Carbon County.
What to Expect
Criminal court procedures can be complicated and sometimes cases will go on for weeks or months. The process varies from case to case, depending on the facts of the case and the seriousness of the charges. A first step to understanding what's going on it to learn a bit about the different classes of criminal offenses in Pennsylvania, which are described in more detail in Title 18, Chapter 1, Section 106 of the Pennsylvania statutes. More generally, these can be grouped as follows:
Types of Offenses:
- Summary Offense: A summary offense is one that can result in up to 90 days' imprisonment. A summary offense is the least serious of the three classes of offense, and are usually tried at the district court level, which is the first or lowest level of courts that try criminal cases. The judges in the district courts are known as Magisterial District Judges. The hearings held by these judges of summary offenses are sometimes referred to as summary hearings. If you are convicted of a summary offense, you may have the opportunity to participate in a Summary Diversion Program which, if completed successfully, can result in your conviction being expunged from your record.
- Misdemeanor: A misdemeanor is more serious than a summary offense, but less serious than a felony. Sentences for misdemeanors range from one year to five years, depending on the type of crime and the class of offense. And there are three classes of misdemeanors: third, second, and first, with first-class misdemeanors being the most serious. District courts will hold some of the preliminary proceedings in misdemeanor cases, but will forward cases that are on a trial track to the Court of Common Pleas.
- Felony: Felonies are the most serious class of offenses, and can result from seven to more than ten years in prison depending on the crime and class of felony. There are also three classes of felonies, and as with misdemeanors the most serious is a first-class felony. As with misdemeanors, the early parts of felony cases are heard by a district judge, and later stages move to the Court of Common Pleas.
The steps involved in the hearing and trial process for misdemeanor and felony cases in Carbon County are similar to those that take place in other counties in Pennsylvania. Here is what you may experience in Carbon County if you are a defendant in a misdemeanor or felony criminal case:
The Preliminary Arraignment
Your misdemeanor or felony case will begin, of course, with you being arrested by the police, who in all but the lowest-level cases will hold you until your preliminary arraignment. The preliminary arraignment will take place either in person or via videoconference before one of Carbon County's four Magisterial District Judges.
At your preliminary arraignment, the district judge will decide whether you will have to post bail in order to be released before your trial and, if so, how much that bail will be. Many defendants will have to post bail because, unlike some other states, Pennsylvania has not made significant changes to its laws relating to cash bail. The district judge will usually take a number of things into account besides the seriousness of your crime when deciding whether you will need to post bail or how much your bail will be. These can include where you live or work (within or outside of Carbon County); if you've been convicted of crimes in the past; whether you've skipped bail in the past; and whether you appear to be a danger to the community. An experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento can help you make the best arguments possible in favor of no bail or a reduced bail, though the final decision rests with the district judge.
In addition to the bail determination, the district judge will also set a date for your preliminary hearing, and you will also receive a copy of the police complaint filed against you.
Next you will typically have a preliminary hearing before the district judge, who will hear some of the key evidence that the government has against you. The judge then makes a determination whether the government has what is called a “prima facie” case against you, which is a case that appears to meet the legal requirements for the crime or crimes you're charged with. The court is required at this point to assume that the evidence the government says it has against you is true; there are no credibility determinations made at this early stage. Because of this it is often not helpful for the defense to offer its own counter-evidence at this stage of the proceedings, though there may be circumstances where an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento may decide it is beneficial to do so.
If, according to the district judge, the government has met its prima facie burden, then your case will be transferred to the Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings, including trial (if the case does not settle). However, if the judge decides that the government has failed to meet prima facie burden, the judge can dismiss the case against you at this point.
You may also waive the entire preliminary hearing, in which case you accept that the government's evidence against you satisfies that prima facie standard. It's important to know that if you do waive the preliminary hearing, you don't give up any of your rights, such as the right to challenge the prosecution's evidence, the right to introduce your own evidence, or the right to defend yourself against the charges. The government still bears the burden of proving you guilty by a reasonable doubt. Whether you decide to waive the preliminary hearing is a question that a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento can help you with. If you decide to waive the preliminary hearing, it will be treated the same way as if the judge finds the prosecution has met its prima facie case, and your case move on to the Court of Common Pleas.
Whether your case is still at the district court stage or has moved on to the Court of Common Pleas, it is vitally important that whenever you are required to appear in person for a hearing or for trial you make sure you know exactly where you are supposed to be and when – including the building name, the street address, and the room number. Give yourself plenty of time to get there early, in case your attorney wants to meet with you ahead of time to discuss what's going to happen, or if you have questions about your case. If you're not sure of where you're going, then use a directions app or map out your destination in advance.
The Criminal Information is not a court appearance; it's an important document that tells you exactly what the prosecution is charging you with, and includes some basic factual information such as what you are accused of having done, when and where you're accused of having done it, and what crime or crimes you are being accused of having committed as a result. It will be similar to but different than the police complaint against you, because the district attorney will prepare it. The court, the prosecution, and your own defense attorney will use this document as sort of a blueprint of the charges against you.
You may next find yourself at a formal arraignment before a new judge, a judge of the Court of Common Pleas, different from where you appeared during the earlier stages of your case. The Court of Common Pleas in Carbon County is located at the Carbon County Courthouse at 4 Broadway, Jim Thorpe, PA 18229. Parking is available in the Jim Thorpe Municipal Parking lot at 1 Susquehanna Street, a short walk from the court. At a formal arraignment, charges against you will be read aloud (though you can waive this without penalty to you), and you will have the opportunity to enter a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty.” In most cases, defendants at this stage will plead “not guilty.”
It's also possible that this stage may not be a formal appearance in front of a judge at all. Sometimes the formal arraignments actually rather informal, with no judge present, and are instead handled by a district attorney. In this kind of a proceeding, because there is no judge, all defendants will automatically be treated as though they have entered a “not guilty” plea. You or your attorney will also receive a copy of the criminal information in your case, if you have not received one already. In many cases, if you are represented by an attorney you may not have to appear for the formal arraignment, whether it's “informal” or not.
Call of the List
The next stage in the criminal case process is something called the Call of the List. At this hearing you will appear before a judge of the Court of Common Pleas and will either plead guilty or not guilty. Where you plead not guilty, you or your attorney may ask that your case be listed for trial, or you may ask for a continuance, which means you will come back at a later date and possibly schedule the trial date then.
It is not unusual at all for there to be several continuances in a criminal case; sometimes it's because the defense is still investigating the case, sometimes it's because the prosecution hasn't yet given the defense all of the information about the case that the defense is entitled to receive, and sometimes your attorney is still negotiating with the prosecutor on your behalf. An aggressive and experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph P. Lento can make sure your case is not tried until you have had a full and fair opportunity to develop your defense and to negotiate with the prosecution.
When your attorney and the prosecutor are ready to set your case for trial, the judge will set a trial date at one of the Call of the List conferences, unless of course your case will be disposed of without a trial. Jury trials in the Court of Common Pleas in Carbon County take place during what are called trial terms, which are blocks of time set aside by Court of Common Pleas judges for trials. There are trial terms set aside every month of the year except July. In Carbon County, Court of Common Pleas criminal trials are conducted at the Carbon County Courthouse at 4 Broadway in Jim Thorpe.
If your case is a jury trial, the jury will be selected before the trial. Your jury will consist of 12 citizens from Carbon County, sometimes with alternate jurors as well in case of emergencies. The jury's job is to hear all of the admissible evidence in the case from both the prosecution and the defense (if the defense elects to introduce evidence; remember, the prosecution has the burden to prove guilty beyond a reasonable doubt). The jurors will also hear arguments from prosecution and the defense in favor of, or against, conviction. The judge will give the jury legal instructions called the “jury charge” that explains the laws and rules that apply to their deliberations. After deliberating, the jury will (usually) state their verdict based on that evidence, the arguments, and the law. (At times juries cannot decide, but this usually does not happen.)
There is an alternative to a jury trial; you and your lawyer may decide it makes more sense in your case to have the judge decide your case. If that happens (and the prosecution does not object), then it will be the judge who hears the evidence, listens to the lawyers' arguments, and then delivers the verdict. Whether or not it makes sense for you to waive your right to a jury trial is a critical tactical decision that should be made with the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento.
If the defendant in a criminal case is convicted, the judge will deliver the sentence. In most cases, however, sentencing will be delayed and the Carbon County Adult Probation and Parole Department will prepare a “pre-sentence investigation report.” This report gives the judge important background about the defendant, including the defendant's criminal record, and information about the range of legal sentences available for the crime or crimes that the defendant has been convicted of. Note that in some cases the defendant will be required to meet with an officer from the Carbon County Adult Probation and Parole Department as part of this process.
The pre-sentence investigation report will be given to the judge to use when the defendant is sentenced. The defendant won't be allowed to see this, but the defendant's attorney usually will (but won't be allowed to copy it).
Having the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento during the pre-sentence investigation phase can be very helpful to a defendant who is preparing for an interview with the Carbon County Adult Probation officer. In addition, attorney Joseph D. Lento is also skilled in developing and presenting arguments in favor of a lower sentence.
Except where the defendant is sentenced immediately after conviction (which can happen for lesser crimes), there will be another court date set for the sentence to be imposed by the judge. In almost all cases, this will be before the same judge who tried t case at the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas.
In cases where the crime is particularly serious, the judge may allow victims speak or submit written statements at sentencing about how their lives were affected by the crimes. The court will then impose a sentence, which in most cases will start immediately. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney can help a defendant even at this point, because there are often strong arguments that can be made in favor of a more lenient sentence.
In cases where a defendant is guilty of a crime and has been sentenced, the defendant may appeal the conviction to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. An appeal is not a re-do of the trial; instead it is a more focused proceeding that will challenge specific rulings made by the trial court, or the sentence imposed, and will ask that the Superior Court either reverse the conviction or, sometimes, send the case back to the Court of Common Pleas for a new trial or further proceedings. The Superior Court will rely on the record of the trial below (the transcripts, evidence, and pleadings filed by the lawyers), and it will rule based on that information and the written and any oral arguments presented by the defendant and the prosecution. The Superior Court has three locations: Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh.
Decisions of the Superior Court may be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Supreme Court grants only a very small number of the many petitions for allowance of appeal that are submitted to it by defendants each year.
Types of Criminal Offenses
Representing clients with criminal charges entails a great amount of patience, attention, and experience. Although Carbon County has public defense attorneys available for certain defendants who qualify based on income, a private attorney can generally commit more attention, detail, and time to providing you with a solid defense in court. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has a vast criminal defense background in areas such as:
- Violation of Parole/Probation: If you have been charged with violating the terms of your probation or parole it could mean you return to jail, or possibly face serious restrictions on your daily life if you remain free. An experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento can guide you through the hearings and negotiate with the court and government on your behalf.
- Juvenile Offenses: Perpetrating a crime in Carbon County can have weighty consequences for the juvenile and their families. Joseph D. Lento has substantial experience in representing juveniles in their court proceedings in Carbon County Juvenile Court and elsewhere, and will bring that knowledge and expertise to help the juvenile and their family defend against the charges and understand the juvenile justice process in a stressful time.
- Expungement/Record Sealing: Depending on the conviction or arrest, after a specific amount of time has expired, you may be able to ask the court to expunge or seal your record. This is not an automatic process, and navigating it can be cumbersome and confusing. Joseph D. Lento has the expertise to help you through the process of petitioning for the removal or sealing of previous convictions and/or arrests.
- White Collar Crime: If you have been indicted for committing one or more types of fraud, the underlying circumstances are typically complex and defending against them requires an alert eye and a lot of experience. Joseph D. Lento has both, and can help you craft your defense and investigate the case for evidence and witnesses that can testify on your behalf. Whether or not you are a white collar professional, you deserve a strong defense to white collar crime charges because being convicted of any crime can significantly hurt your ability to earn a living.
- Sex Crimes: If you have been accused of a sex crime, you need the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento as soon as possible. The impact that a conviction can have on your life is severe, resulting not only in significant jail terms, but also in having to register as a sex offender and be subject to continued monitoring after your release. These are not charges you want to face alone.
- Property Crimes: Theft and vandalism are typical examples of property crimes, and if you have been accused of any of them you should contact Joseph D. Lento, who has substantial experience defending others charged with similar crimes in Carbon County and elsewhere.
- Violent Crimes: Violent crimes involve some degree of bodily harm to the victim and can occur with or without a weapon. These crimes are prosecuted heavily and often result in harsher sentencing. If you have been accused of a violent crime in Carbon County, you should contact Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm immediately. They have the experience and knowledge you need to defend yourself against these types of charges.
- Drug Crimes: Possession of certain controlled substances can lead to criminal charges in Pennsylvania. It is not unusual for there to be substantial questions about the admissibility of the evidence that the prosecution attempts to introduce against defendants in these kinds of cases. You need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento to make sure you present the strongest defense possible to these kinds of charges.
- Domestic Violence: Domestic violence cases frequently result from complex scenarios where finding the truth can be a difficult task. If you have been charged with domestic violence, an experienced defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento can ensure that your side is properly presented to the court, and that your accuser's account is fairly tested.
- Protection From Abuse Orders: A Protection From Abuse (PFA) order issues from the Court of Common Pleas in response to a petition, typically from an alleged victim of abuse. They can be very broad, preventing the alleged abuser from doing things such as having firearms, visiting children, or living in their own home. If you are the subject of a PFA hearing, you need the services of an attorney such as Joseph D. Lento who has substantial experience representing clients in hearings of this type all over Pennsylvania.
- Traffic Offenses: Traffic offenses rarely result in criminal charges; however, several tickets can accumulate quickly and cause elevated insurance premiums or even revocation of one's license. If you find yourself in that position, Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can help you negotiate with the Carbon County prosecutor to attempt to reduce the impact these offenses can have on your driving record.
- DUI: A simple return home from a night out can result in DUI charges. An adept attorney such as Joseph D. Lento can challenge these charges and work on your behalf toward the best possible outcome.
An Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
When you're facing a criminal trial in Carbon County, the ramifications can be severe and could have a significant and impact your life for years to come. Your family will also suffer, even if you don't spend time in jail. You must have a criminal defense attorney who will fight by your side and bring their years of experience to work on your behalf. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm care deeply about their clients. They have many years of experience helping their clients achieve the best possible outcome in criminal matters in Carbon County and across Pennsylvania. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges in Carbon County, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today at 888-535-3686 or reach us online.