If you or a loved one has been charged with one or more criminal offenses, you want to make sure that you do not have to navigate the challenges alone. When a person is charged with a crime in Lebanon County, the court and the prosecution will not waver in pursuing legal proceedings against you. An experienced attorney will be able to assist you with all of the complexities of your case. What follows is some information about the types of criminal cases typically heard in Lebanon County, and the court procedures you are likely to follow if you are charged with one of the more serious offenses.
Types of Criminal Offenses
Representing clients with criminal charges entails a great amount of patience, attention, and experience. Although Lebanon 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 Lebanon 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 Lebanon County Juvenile Court and elsewhere. He 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; 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 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 them you should contact Joseph D. Lento, who has substantial experience defending others charged with similar crimes in Lebanon 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 Lebanon 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 correctly 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 Lebanon 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.
What to Expect
The legal proceedings for criminal cases in Lebanon County can be intricate and prolonged, and the process will vary depending on the class of your offense. Title 18, Chapter 1, Section 106 outlines the different classes of offense in Pennsylvania.
Types of Offenses:
- Summary Offense: Summary offenses are cases that carry up to 90 days imprisonment and are the least serious type of offense among the three classes. They usually are tried at the preliminary (and district judge) level. These hearings, in turn, can be referred to as summary hearings, rather than preliminary hearings. If convicted of a summary offense, you may be offered an opportunity to participate in a Summary Diversion Program which, after completion, can result in the offense being expunged from your record.
- Misdemeanor: A misdemeanor is more serious than a summary offense, but considered less serious than a felony. These crimes can carry a sentence between one year and five years, depending on whether they are categorized as first, second, or third-degree. After the preliminary hearing with the district judge, most misdemeanors move to the Court of Common Pleas.
- Felony: Felonies carry the most severe sentences of the three classes of offense. Defendants could face between seven and "more than ten" years of imprisonment, based on the severity of the crime and how it is classified — first, second, or third degree. Subsequently, felonies are the most serious class of offense. And, like misdemeanors, they will move to the Court of Common Pleas after a preliminary hearing.
The hearing and trial process for misdemeanor and felony cases involve a number of steps. This is how it works in Lebanon County if you are a defendant in a criminal case:
The Preliminary Arraignment
For misdemeanor and felony charges, the case will begin with the you being arrested by police. You will be taken to the Lebanon County Central Booking facility, located within the Lebanon County Municipal Building, and you will be detained until the preliminary arraignment. The preliminary arraignment will take place at the municipal building before one of Lebanon County's six Magisterial District Judges.
During the preliminary arraignment, the Magisterial District Judge will determine whether you must post bail and, if so, how much your bail will be. Unlike a number of other states, Pennsylvania has not made significant changes to its cash bail laws, and many criminal cases will require the defendant to post bail in order to avoid staying in jail until trial. The amount set for bail depends on several factors, like the severity of the crimes, your previous criminal history, if you are considered a danger to the community, etc. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento representing you can, in many cases, help reduce or even eliminate the amount of bail set by the judge.
In addition to setting bail, the court at the preliminary arraignment will set the date for your preliminary hearing, and will give you (or your attorney) a copy of the criminal complaint in your case.
The next court date is typically the preliminary hearing. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is for the Magisterial District Judge to hear the evidence that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has against you, and determine whether the Commonwealth has what is called a “prima facie” case – basically, a case that, based on the evidence and assuming the evidence is true, appears on its face to meet the legal requirements for the crime or crimes being charged. You will also have the opportunity to present evidence in your favor at the preliminary hearing, which is another reason to have an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento representing you.
If the judge decides that the prosecutor has met the prima facie standard, then your case will be forwarded to a higher court called the Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings. If, on the other hand, the judge determines that the Commonwealth has not made a prima facie case against you, the judge will dismiss the case.
You also have another option at the preliminary hearing, namely, to waive the entire proceeding. This saves the court from having to conduct the preliminary hearing, but does not mean that you accept the evidence introduced against you, or that you admit to the crimes charged. Whether or not to waive the preliminary hearing is sometimes a tactical matter, and having experienced defense counsel such as Joseph D. Lento in your corner can help you decide whether to do so. If you do waive the preliminary hearing, then the case is forwarded to the Court of Common Pleas as it is when a hearing is held and the judge finds that the Commonwealth has made a prima facie case against you.
This is likely to be your last appearance before a Magisterial District Judge. If your case is moving on to the Court of Common Pleas, the remainder of the proceedings will occur there. District Courts typically do not try the more serious criminal cases. Instead, the District Courts hear a variety of other cases such as small claims, landlord-tenant cases, traffic cases, and minor crimes.
In Lebanon County, preliminary hearings are held every Thursday at the Lebanon County Municipal Building, which is located at 400 S 8th St Lebanon, Pennsylvania 17042.
When you attend a hearing, you want to make sure that you have allowed enough time to get to the courthouse. Plan for parking, potential traffic issues, or anything else that might lead to arriving late. Parking is available to the rear of the building and on the west side of 8th Street, south of the main court. You want to have time to meet with your attorney beforehand and review any important questions or strategies.
This isn't a specific court appearance, but it is an important step in the prosecution of the case against you. The “criminal information” is a specific type of document that sets forth the exact charges against you. It won't list all of the evidence or the testimony the Commonwealth has against you, but instead will set forth the relevant acts that the Commonwealth alleges you did, when and where you allegedly committed those acts, and what specific laws you are accused of violating as a result. The criminal information is an important document, because it tells the court and the defendant exactly what the Commonwealth is charging you with, and it sets the stage for the future steps in the case.
Next, you may be formally arraigned in the Court of Common Pleas before a judge of that court. This will be a different judge and court from the ones for the preliminary hearing (though in Lebanon County it will be at the same location, at 400 S 8th St. in Lebanon). At the formal arraignment, you can elect to have the charges in the criminal information read aloud, or you can agree to waive that right (again, with no effect on your guilt or innocence). In many cases where an attorney represents a defendant, the defendant will waive the reading of the charges and may not even have to appear in court that day.
Call of the List
Usually, on the first Tuesday of the month, cases are scheduled for a procedure known as Call of the List. At this proceeding, you can enter a plea such as guilty or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, you can ask the court to list the case for trial, or request a continuance to have your case recalled for another Call of the List date. It is not unusual to request a continuance in cases where your attorney is attempting to reach a plea bargain with the prosecutor. This could also happen when you and your attorney are still investigating the case or are awaiting additional evidence that may help you defend against the charges. An experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento can help you decide at what point your case is ready to be heard.
Subsequently, a trial date is then set. Cases are scheduled for trial in the Court of Common Pleas during what are called trial terms, which are blocks of time the court sets aside to hold trials. Trial terms are typically scheduled once each month for a one- or two-week period of time. In Lebanon County, Court of Common Pleas criminal trials are conducted at the same location as earlier criminal proceedings, 400 S 8th St., Lebanon, Pennsylvania, 17042.
If you have chosen to have your case tried to a jury, the jury will consist of 12 citizens from Lebanon County who will hear the evidence in the case from both sides, along with arguments from both the prosecution and the defense. The jury will receive legal instructions from the judge on what laws to apply to their deliberations and will render a verdict based on that evidence, the arguments, and the law.
Some defendants waive a jury trial. Non-jury trials can be scheduled at any time, and at these trials it is the judge, not a jury, who renders a verdict after examining testimony and evidence and hearing the arguments of counsel. Whether or not to have a jury trial is a tactical decision that is best made with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento.
In cases where a defendant is found guilty, Lebanon County Probation Services will prepare what is called a pre-sentence investigation report. This report provides the court with background about the defendant including any past criminal record, and the range of sentences legally available for the crime or crimes they were convicted of committing. The report will be provided to the defendant and to the judge for use in connection with sentencing the defendant.
Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas typically sentences guilty defendants on Wednesday mornings. At the sentencing, victims may offer verbal or written impact statements sharing how their lives were affected by the crime. After that the court will impose a sentence, which typically will begin immediately. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help even at this point, by providing the court with arguments and alternatives in favor of a more lenient sentence.
If the defendant has been found guilty and the court has imposed a sentence, the defendant may file an appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court that challenges either sentencing or rulings made by the court. The Superior Court will not re-try the case; instead the appeal will identify the issues the convicted defendant believes were wrongly decided by the Court of Common Pleas, and the Superior Court will rule based on the trial record and the 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.
A Lebanon County Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
When you're facing a criminal trial in Lebanon County, the ramifications can be severe and could impact your life for years to come. You want an attorney who can 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 passionately about their clients. They have many years of experience helping their clients achieve the best possible outcome in criminal matters in Lebanon County and across Pennsylvania. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges in Lebanon County, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today at 888-535-3686 or reach us online.