When an individual is charged with a crime in York County, it's expected that the government will relentlessly follow legal procedures in prosecuting the case. You don't want to face these criminal charges on your own, as it can be frightening, overwhelming, and complicated. The York County Court will process the prosecution of criminal charges within its criminal division. The good news, though, is that you don't have to deal with it on your own. An experienced attorney, such as Joseph D. Lento, can help you navigate everything so that it's less stressful. In addition to helping to ease the burdens associated with being charged with a crime, Attorney Joseph D. Lento will also fight for a fair process and the best possible outcome.
What to Expect
The legal procedures for criminal cases in York County can be involved and extended depending on the severity and nature of the charges. Here's a brief overview of the legal process you can expect if facing charges.
First, though, let's make sure you understand the main classes of offense in Pennsylvania, as the process changes slightly, depending on the class of offense. Title 18, Chapter 1, Section 106 outlines the different classes.
Three classes of Offenses
Summary Offense: Summary offenses generally stay at the preliminary (and the Magisterial District Judge) level. They are typically cases that can result in up to 90 days imprisonment and are the least serious type of offense.
Misdemeanor: A misdemeanor generally moves on to the Court of Common Pleas after the preliminary hearing with the district judge. A misdemeanor is more serious than a summary offense and can carry a sentence between one year and five years, depending on whether it's first, second, or third degree, with first-degree misdemeanors being the most serious.
Felony: A felony is the most serious class of offense. Like misdemeanors, they will move forward to the Court of Common Pleas after a preliminary hearing. Felonies carry the most severe sentences: between seven and more than ten years imprisonment, dependent on the severity of the crime (and its classification as first, second, or third degree, again with first-degree being the most serious).
Before the Hearing
Unless the crime is not serious, the case will begin when you are arrested by police. You will then be taken to the Central Booking facility located in the York County Judicial Center and will be housed there until the preliminary arraignment.
The preliminary arraignment takes place before a Magisterial District Judge, and in York County is likely to be via videoconference. There are 19 Magisterial District Judges in York County located in various parts of the county. While all of them keep a schedule of regular business hours, there are typically judges available ‘on-call' after hours to handle preliminary arraignments in the evenings and on weekends and holidays. If you are arrested late at night, however, you may have to wait until the next morning for your preliminary arraignment.
At your preliminary arraignment the district judge will set your bail, if any. Pennsylvania has revised its cash bail laws the way many other states have, and as a result in York County you may be required to post bail if you want to be released from jail before your trial. Whether you are required to post bail and, if so, how much it will be depends on a number of factors that the district judge will consider. These include how severe the crime is that you've been arrested for; whether you live or work in the area, or have strong ties to York County; if you have been convicted of any other crimes; and whether it appears to the judge that you may be a danger to the community. Having the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento at this stage can be very helpful because he is very familiar with this process and what is important to district judges considering bail applications, and can argue on your behalf for a lesser bail amount or for no bail at all, if your circumstances support that.
The district judge will also give you a date for your preliminary hearing, and you or your attorney will receive a copy of the complaint against you that the police have filed with the court. The preliminary hearing will also be before the district judge.
The preliminary hearing will be held at the appropriate Magisterial District Judge's office—there are nineteen magisterial districts throughout York County—and this hearing will determine whether the Commonwealth has established a prima facie case demonstrating a crime has been committed and that you, the accused, were involved. The government can present evidence at this hearing in support of its charges against you, and you have the right to introduce evidence on your behalf. The district judge, however, does not decide whether evidence or witnesses are credible, only whether the evidence presented is sufficient to support the charges, so it's not unusual for the defendant in these proceedings not to introduce evidence.
You have the option to waive the preliminary hearing. If you do so, the case will move forward to the next stage, the formal arraignment. It's important to note that if you waive the hearing you do not give up your rights to defend yourself against the charges, and you do not admit to having committed any crime you are charged with.
If the district judge decides that the government has failed to support any charge against you, the judge can dismiss those charges. If, on the other hand, the judge decides that the government has made what is called a “prima facie” case against you, the judge will assign the case to the Court of Common Pleas for the next set of proceedings, including trial. if a prima facie case has been shown by the prosecutor. The court will give you the dates for your Formal Arraignment and Pretrial Conference at this time.
If your case moves forward, you will no longer be appearing before the Magisterial District Judge, but will instead appear before a judge of the Court of Common Pleas. The district courts have limited jurisdiction and do not handle trials of the more serious types of criminal cases. The district courts also hear other types of cases, such as small claims, landlord-tenant cases, traffic cases, and more minor crimes.
When you attend your preliminary hearing, you want to make sure that you have allowed enough time to get to the correct courthouse or district judge's office, depending on where it is held. Make sure you have the right address, and plan for parking, potential traffic issues, or anything else that might lead to arriving late. It is critical that you are not late for the hearing. You want to have time to meet with your attorney beforehand and review any important questions or strategies.
This next stage of the criminal case against you does not involve appearing in court, but it is an important part of the criminal process. The prosecutor will prepare what is called a “criminal information” against you. This will list in detail what charges the government has against you. And while it won't disclose all of the government's evidence or witnesses that the government may introduce at trial, it will lay out the particular acts the government says you have committed that make up the crime or crimes with which you are charged, including when and where they took place. It will also specify what laws you are alleged to have violated. It's a very important document, because it tells you and the Court of Common Pleas what you're being charged with and why. It's something you and your attorney will receive, and will help guide your attorney in preparing your defense.
Following the preliminary hearing, the Formal Arraignment is conducted to provide a formal notice of charges against you, to advise you of pretrial rights such as the right to request evidence, file pretrial motions, and enter a plea. In York County, the Formal Arraignment is held most Fridays at 9 a.m. in Multipurpose rooms 5009 or 5010 at the York County Judicial Center.
While it is called a Formal Arraignment, in York County it is actually handled rather informally. There typically will not be a judge present presiding over it; instead it is usually managed by an assistant district attorney. As a result, all defendants who appear will by default enter a plea of “not guilty” to their charges. This is where you and your lawyer will receive a copy of the Criminal Information filed against you. If you are represented by a lawyer, you will likely not have to appear at the formal arraignment; your lawyer can do so on your behalf. Here, as with the other stages of a criminal case, having an experienced lawyer such as Joseph P. Lento representing you can alleviate personal stress and ensure all information available will be used to support you as the defendant.
Pretrial Conferences in York County are held once a month, and this is the time in which you appear before a judge to enter a guilty plea or to list the case for trial. Many cases are scheduled for each time slot, so plan on being present in court all morning or afternoon, depending on the pretrial conference time and date.
You and your attorney do have some control over this process going forward. If you plead not guilty at the pretrial conference, you and your attorney can ask the court to set a trial date. If you and your attorney are still investigating the charges against you or are negotiating with the prosecution to resolve your case without a trial, you can ask the court to continue the case and set another pretrial conference date. Many times the prosecution will agree to this, at other times it may not consent and the judge will decide. An experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento can help you investigate your case, negotiate with the prosecution, and if necessary decide at what point your case is ready to be heard.
Afterward, a trial date is then set. As the accused, you have a right to a jury trial in every case in which you are charged with an offense that carries more than six months' imprisonment. Criminal trials have 12 jurors, who are selected from a pool of citizens of York County. The jury will hear the evidence in your case from both the prosecution and the defense sides. You and your attorney may choose to introduce evidence, or not – the prosecution bears the burden to prove its case, and sometimes you and your attorney may decide that it has failed to do so. The attorneys for the prosecution will make arguments in favor of conviction, and your attorney will argue for your acquittal. After that, the judge gives the jury legal instructions about how the jury is to apply the law to the evidence in the case. The jury will deliberate and, in most cases, will render a verdict.
In York County there is a two-week trial term (one week in July) set aside by the Court of Common Pleas each month for jury trials. Because trials do not take a fixed amount of time, you need to be flexible on the assigned date and must be available to come in to court with as little as one-hours' notice. This is another important reason to obtain a knowledgeable and experienced defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento who has the ability to handle sudden schedule changes. The pretrial conference and trials are held in the York County Judicial Center located at 45 N George St, York, PA 17401. The closest parking lots are the West Philadelphia Street parking garage at 24 West Philadelphia Street, and the Market Street parking garage at 41 East Market Street.
In some cases, a defendant will waive a jury trial and elect to have the judge hear the evidence and arguments and decide the case. If the prosecution does not object and the judge agrees, the case will then be heard by a judge and the trial may be scheduled for a time outside of the two-week trial term set for jury trials. Whether or not to have a jury in your case is a tactical decision that an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento can help you make.
If you are found guilty of any crime with which you have been charged, whether you plead guilty or are found guilty by the jury, York County Probation Services will prepare what is called a pre-sentence investigation report. You won't see the pre-sentence investigation report; it is for the judge's use, but your attorney will be allowed to review it (but not make a copy).
As part of this pre-sentence investigation process you may have to meet with the York County Probation Officer assigned to prepare the report. You can expect to be asked questions by the officer about your family history, work record, prior criminal convictions if any, and other factors relevant to sentencing.
This is another good reason to retain counsel to help you in these matters, as an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you prepare for the pre-sentence investigation, and will work with you to develop arguments in favor of a lower sentence.
When you are sentenced, in particular for more serious crimes, the judge may give any victims an opportunity to speak or to offer written impact statements about the effect the crime had on their lives. The judge will then pronounce sentence, with usually begins immediately but in certain instances may be delayed. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help with the sentencing process, by providing arguments and alternatives in favor of a more lenient sentence.
After the judge pronounces the sentence, a defendant has 10 days to ask the judge to reconsider. This can be a tough motion to win, because there need to be grounds for such a request. For example, one reason might be that the judge made a mistake and considered information that should not have been considered, or that the judge failed to consider something that should have been taken into account when rendering the sentence. Another reason to ask the judge to reconsider is that there is additional information that is relevant but that did not make it into the pre-sentence investigation report. In any event, a request for reconsideration of a sentence is something that an experienced criminal defense counsel such as Joseph P. Lento can advise on and help with.
If there was a trial – whether to a jury or only to the judge – and the defendant has been found guilty, the defendant can appeal the conviction to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. This has to be done within 30 days of the date of sentencing, or within 30 days after the court has denied or resolved any post-sentencing motions. Note that this is not a re-trial; witnesses and evidence are not presented to the appeals court. Instead, the Superior Court will only examine specific issues the convicted defendant believes the Court of Common Pleas decided wrongly. The Superior Court rules on criminal appeals based on the transcript of the trial and evidence introduced and pleadings filed there, as well as the arguments on appeal made by the defendant and the prosecution. The Superior Court has three locations: Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh.
It is possible to appeal further the decision that the Superior Court makes on the original appeal. This would be to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, grants only a very small number of the many petitions for allowance of appeal that are submitted to it by defendants each year. It is unlikely that any given request to the Supreme Court for an appeal to be heard will be granted by the Court.
Types of Criminal Offenses
Representing clients with criminal charges entails a great amount of patience, attention, and experience. Although York County has public defense attorneys available for defendants, a private attorney can commit attention, detail, and time to craft a solid defense in court for their clients. An experienced lawyer will be able to focus on your case rather than being overwhelmed by having an overabundance of cases. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has a vast criminal defense background in such areas as:
Violation of Parole/Probation: Claims of a probation violation can precede far worse consequences and possibly involve extended supervision from the county, even without imprisonment. A criminal defense attorney can guide a defendant through the hearing developments for these situations.
Expungement/Record Sealing: After a set amount of time has elapsed, an individual may request to expunge criminal offenses from their record. The expungement route can be hard to navigate alone; however, an attorney can help to ensure the timely removal of charges, convictions, and even arrests.
DUI: A simple return home from a night out can result in DUI charges. An expert attorney can challenge these charges and work on your behalf toward the best possible outcome.
Traffic Offenses: Traffic offenses do not usually result in criminal charges or penalties; nonetheless, several tickets can quickly amass and cause expensive insurance premiums and even more severe penalties like the suspension of an individual's driver's license.
White Collar Crime: When a person is indicted for methods of fraud, the circumstance is typically complex and requires an alert eye for not only investigation but also to defend against these charges.
Sex Crimes: Sex crimes can result in significant sentencing and may require registration as a sex offender, which can result in extensive restrictions after conviction. Despite innocence, simply being accused of sex crimes can dramatically impact an individual's life without the aid of an experienced defense attorney.
Property Crimes: Theft and vandalism are typical examples of property crimes. Charges such as these are characteristically complex to defend, and the accused should secure a capable attorney.
Violent Crimes: Violent crimes frequently involve some degree of bodily harm carried out upon another person and can occur with or without a weapon. These crimes are prosecuted heavily and often result in harsher sentencing.
Drug Crimes: Although medical marijuana is legal in Pennsylvania, illegally possessing any controlled substances can lead to criminal charges. Often, an improper method of obtaining evidence for these crimes occurs, and a sharp attorney can underscore these instances in court or beforehand in negotiations with the prosecutor.
Domestic Violence: Cases of domestic violence can arise from complicated relationship dynamics between individuals. Having a defense attorney represent you in these complex cases will secure that your narrative is accurately presented and heard.
Protection From Abuse Orders: A Protection From Abuse (PFA) order is typically issued is in response to a petition from an alleged victim of abuse. PFA's are issued by a judge from the Court of Common Pleas. A PFA can be very broad, and can include restrictions such as preventing the alleged abuser from having firearms, visiting the accused's children, or living in their own home. If you find yourself involved in a PFA hearing, you should the services of an attorney such as Joseph D. Lento who has substantial experience representing clients in hearings of this type all over Pennsylvania.
Expert York County Criminal Defense Attorney
When you're facing a criminal trial in York County, the consequences can be long-lasting and severe. It's important to have a lawyer 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 and getting the best result possible. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges in York County, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today at 888-535-3686 or reach us online.