Domestic violence charges in Pennsylvania are nothing to be taken lightly. While the threshold of probable cause is higher for most other types of crimes, when law enforcement responds to a domestic violence call, they must make an arrest. If you are charged with a crime, the next step is the arraignment process--a critical step for your case and one in which you need skilled legal representation to make sure your rights are protected.
Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer in PA
Having an experienced Pennsylvania domestic violence attorney in your corner is your best hope of a positive outcome when you're charged with a domestic violence crime. At your arraignment, a good attorney can negotiate for the best terms for bail, work on plea agreements, and even work to get the charges dismissed before your case ever goes to trial. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience helping domestic violence defendants navigate the complex process of facing criminal charges. To schedule a consultation, call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686.
The Arraignment Process for Domestic Violence Crimes in Pennsylvania
Generally speaking, the arraignment is the beginning part of the pre-trial process in which your case is "set-up" for trial, and all the details are put in place. You're formally read the charges against you, the judge sets your bail, and you have the opportunity to plead to the charges before a decision is made on whether to bring the case to trial. In the State of Pennsylvania, the arraignment process actually consists of three steps: preliminary arraignment, preliminary hearing, and formal arraignment.
Once you've been charged with a domestic violence crime, you will be brought before a magisterial judge within 72 hours of your arrest for a preliminary arraignment. This is a very brief hearing at which the judge will inform you of your rights (including the right to have an attorney, if you don't already have one), advise you of the charges against you, and set the terms for bail. You will not enter a plea at this time.
For domestic violence cases, the judge will typically also issue a Stay Away Order (SAO) during the preliminary arraignment, which forbids you from having any contact with or coming near the alleged victim. This is similar to a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA), which the victim may obtain against you separately, and you may have both a PFA and SAO against you simultaneously. Like a PFA, it is a criminal offense to violate a Stay Away Order. The primary difference is that a final PFA stays in effect for up to 3 years, while the SAO is intended to last only until the end of your trial (or, if you're convicted, the end of your sentence).
The next step in the arraignment process is the preliminary hearing, which takes place within 3-10 days of your preliminary arraignment. The main purpose of this hearing is to determine whether there is enough evidence against you to take your case to trial. The prosecutor doesn't have to prove your guilt but must at least show probable cause for taking the case to trial. This is your first opportunity for your attorney to present your side of the story; it may also be an opportune time to negotiate a plea bargain if you and your attorney feel this is the best course of action.
If the judge determines there is not enough evidence to take your case to trial, the charges will be dropped (along with the Stay Away Order), and you'll be free to go. Otherwise, your case will be forwarded to the Court of Common Pleas for trial.
Within 30-60 days of your preliminary hearing, you'll appear at the Court of Common Pleas for your formal arraignment. The judge will once again read the charges against you, and this time, you'll be asked to enter a formal plea (presumably "not guilty"). If you plead not guilty, the judge will advise you of your right to submit certain pre-trial motions and request that certain evidence be excluded from the trial.
Why You Need a Good Domestic Violence Defense Attorney for Your Arraignment
While the arraignment may seem to be little more than a formality, it's actually a key moment because it is during this process that the court decides whether to take your case to trial. In other words, it's the best possible time to work to have your domestic violence charges dismissed. If you face your arraignment alone, your chances of going to trial are very high. A criminal defense attorney who is experienced with domestic violence cases will understand what's at stake, what prosecutors and judges are looking for, and how to present the best arguments for having the charges reduced or dismissed. In many cases, a skilled attorney can get your case resolved without ever going to trial.
How an Attorney Can Help During Your Arraignment Process
Navigating the arraignment process for a domestic violence crime can be difficult, especially if you don't have any prior experience with the criminal justice system. Having a good attorney in your corner during your arraignment can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case on several fronts. An experienced domestic violence attorney can:
- Negotiate for the most lenient terms when setting bail
- Present evidence to support rescinding a Stay Away Order, if one is issued
- Negotiate plea agreements, if applicable--and advise you on whether a plea agreement being offered by prosecutors is a good move
- Negotiate for reduction or dismissal of charges
- File pre-trial motions and requests for exclusion of evidence
Call an Experienced PA Domestic Violence Attorney Today
If you've been charged with a domestic violence crime in Pennsylvania, it's important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away, preferably in time to guide you through your arraignment process. The sooner you can get started on your defense, the better your chances of achieving a favorable outcome. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 for a consultation.