The Pennsylvania Crime Code distinguishes criminal offenses into three categories: summary offenses, misdemeanors, and felonies.
On the spectrum of serious crimes, summary offenses are the least severe. They're labeled as “non-traffic citations,” and essentially harmless crimes like disorderly conduct, low-level retail theft, and loitering are charged as summary offenses. In Berks County, summary offenses are handled much more leniently than misdemeanor and felony offenses, as they never warrant penalties of imprisonment or jail time.
Being charged with a misdemeanor or felony is much more stress-inducing than being charged with a summary offense. In these cases, it's important you understand you understand what to expect as far as the process and the penalties.
Misdemeanor charges are less serious than felonies. Depending on the crime committed, a conviction for a misdemeanor offense can result in a five-year prison sentence. Some examples of commonly committed misdemeanors in Berks County include:
Once you've been charged with a misdemeanor crime, the record detailing your arrest will be released. Shortly after the record's release, you'll receive a summons in the mail to appear in court for a preliminary hearing. The Berks County Preliminary Hearing will kickstart the criminal process that all defendants are required to go through.
A preliminary hearing is a first attempt for the prosecution to establish that there's an actual case. In this hearing, there will not be a verdict, its main function is to ensure that there's sufficient evidence to justify putting you on trial. The standard of evidence for this hearing is purposely low (probable cause), so don't panic if the burden of proof is met and your case progresses to the Court of Common Pleas. However, it is possible that the judge may conclude that there isn't enough evidence, and the case will be dismissed.
First-time offenders who've acquired non-violent misdemeanors sometimes will be eligible for alternative options like an ARD Program. If you qualify and complete the program, you can get your charges dismissed.
For a preliminary hearing and entrance into an ARD program, the assistance of an attorney is recommended.
When judges handle felony cases, defendants aren't granted as much leniency as they would in misdemeanor cases in Berks County. For example, if a person is charged with a felony, they may have a warrant out for their arrest instead of the typical summons. Also, people with felonies are likely to have high bail amounts.
A defendant should seek the help of an attorney as soon as they are arrested for felony charges. The sooner you can get an attorney involved, the higher the chance that you'll protect your rights and achieve justice.
Berks County Criminal Defense Attorney
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has represented many clients who've acquired both misdemeanor and felony charges. He understands that every case requires a thorough plan, strategy, and attention to detail. If you've been charged with a crime and are uncertain about what to do next, contact Joseph D. Lento today online or give him a call at 888-535-3686.