Montgomery County is a special place to visit or live, with its history, arts, culture, beautiful towns, and outdoor activities. Montgomery County is not, though, a great place to suffer a first-ever criminal charge. No place is.
While both the offense and arrest rates are lower in Montgomery County than across the entire state of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania crime-commission statistics show that Montgomery County still arrests about four-thousand persons each year. Those same statistics show that most Montgomery County arrests are for property crimes like larceny. However, several hundred arrests occur each year for crimes of violence right up to manslaughter and murder. Montgomery County's law enforcement and courts are well-staffed and well-equipped to prosecute crimes of all types aggressively.
Perils of a First Charge
A first-ever criminal charge carries special perils with it, of which the charging authorities are well aware. Fear, and the rushed, ill-considered, bad decisions that fear causes, is one such peril. Many first-time offenders believe that they have no choice but to go along with the charge, pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity without any counsel. They give up every important right, thinking that those rights make no difference.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The rights of a person charged with a first offense are critical to preserving options and opportunities for much better outcomes. Often, the only ones who save time and trouble with a guilty plea are those who brought and will administer and hear the charges--the police, prosecutors, judge, and court staff. They may all be ethical professionals, but they still depend on guilty pleas to clear countless case files and crowded dockets. By contrast, an early guilty plea without counsel may cost the defendant enormous losses that the defendant could, with a little patience and resolve, and with competent counsel, have entirely avoided.
Learn Your Options
Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento helps first-time offenders realize their best possible outcomes. First-time offenders should be learning whether they can avoid a conviction with jail or a fine, and all the harmful consequences that flow from a criminal history like job loss, loss of a license, and shame before friends and family. That's where the Lento Law Firm comes in.
First-time offenders in Montgomery County generally face two main options, either to:
(1) fight the criminal charge through traditional trial-court procedures described below that the U.S. Constitution and Pennsylvania constitution guarantee, leading to a plea to a reduced charge or even to the dismissal of all charges; or
(2) accept entry into Montgomery County's state-authorized diversion program, also described below, for qualifying nonviolent offenses, a program that, when completed under supervision, results in dismissal of the qualifying charges.
Experienced and trustworthy Pennsylvania attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm is an aggressive advocate and knows the ins and outs of Pennsylvania's diversion programs. The Lento Law Firm helps first-time offenders pursue all available options for the best outcome.
Montgomery County Criminal Procedures
Montgomery County, constituting Pennsylvania's 38th Judicial District, has twenty-four full-time judges on its Court of Common Pleas, supported by thirty more Magisterial District Judge courts. Montgomery County's court system offers first-time offenders the following traditional criminal-law procedures:
- Preliminary arraignment before the magisterial district judge, usually within hours of the arrest on the charge, at which the defendant learns the charge;
- Preliminary hearing before the magisterial district judge, usually within a few days but up to two weeks after preliminary arraignment, at which the court determines whether the prosecution has evidence showing probable cause that the defendant committed the charged offense;
- Formal arraignment in the Court of Common Pleas thirty to sixty days after the preliminary hearing, when after hearing the charge and procedural rights to counsel and a jury, the defendant enters a plea and the judge sets bail;
- Pre-trial conference in the Court of Common Pleas forty-five to sixty days after formal arraignment, when the judge addresses potential trial issues and the prosecution typically offers a plea that the defendant may accept to or reject;
- Trial if necessary in the Court of Common Pleas, either before a jury if demanded or the judge if not demanded, when each side makes opening statements, presents and challenges evidence, and makes closing arguments, and the jury deliberates to verdict;
- Sentencing if the court convicts or defendant pleads guilty, when each side presents evidence and arguments on appropriate terms for incarceration, fine, restitution, or other punishment and rehabilitation, and the court imposes sentence; and
- Appeals if either side finds factual or legal grounds to challenge the case's outcome.
Counsel's Important Role
A skilled and experienced trial attorney like Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm plays an important role in helping first-time offenders navigate and make the best use of the above traditional criminal-case procedures. Aggressively defending a criminal charge is not for the faint of heart, nor for novices. Criminal defense lawyers must not only know the court's complex rules and procedures but also know the strategy for their sound use and have the courage to stand up and fight.
The constitutional and statutory rights that aggressive trial counsel may pursue, rights that Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm helps first-time offenders preserve to effectively deploy, include:
- the right to counsel;
- the right to challenge the sufficiency of the prosecutor's evidence;
- the right to bail and freedom while awaiting further procedures;
- the right to a fair trial before an unbiased jury of one's own peers;
- the right to an unbiased judge;
- the right to a speedy trial;
- the right to challenge the prosecution's evidence;
- the right to present one's own witnesses and evidence;
- the right to a fair sentence; and
- the right to appeal unconstitutional or otherwise unjust procedures.
Diversion as an Option
First-time offenders, though, have another, often-better opportunity when facing qualifying charges for nonviolent offenses. Montgomery County offers the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program terms for which Pennsylvania's legislature adopted and Pennsylvania's Supreme Court approved. As the program's introduction recites, ARD has the goal of rehabilitating the charged offender outside of court procedures. In short, ARD allows first-time offenders to avoid the often-costly and uncertain criminal procedures described above.
To qualify for ARD, though, takes more than merely showing up. The first-time offender wishing to pursue ARD's efficiency and relative certainty in Montgomery County must complete both a waiver of legal rights and a program application. The rights waiver includes giving up the right to a preliminary hearing, formal arraignment, jury trial, and speedy trial. For instance, completing diversion can take up to two years, significantly longer than the one-year period within which a criminal case must ordinarily go to trial.
Montgomery County's ARD-program application requires more than basic contact information. Applicants must verify accurate information on criminal history, family status, education, employment, and military history. Perhaps most significantly, though, applicants must also write a personal statement advocating why the Common Pleas Court should grant them the benefit of the ARD program. A strong personal statement may include such circumstances as the applicant's:
- goals, values, and commitments;
- ability to recognize, reflect, and reform;
- social-support system and other resources;
- skills, affinities, ambitions, and interests;
- personal experiences and achievements; and
- ability to contribute to society on program completion.
Counsel's Important Role in Diversion
The advice and assistance of experienced counsel in completing a strong ARD application can be essential to qualify for ARD. Participating in ARD is not a right. Rather, ARD participation is more like a privilege. Montgomery County's ARD Chief and District Attorney may recommend for or against ARD participation before the Common Pleas Court judge decides. Don't lose this opportunity simply for lacking wise and timely assistance.
Negotiating an ARD program's specific requirements can also be a tricky business. A large part of the ARD program's purpose is to make the required terms properly rehabilitative, such as treatment for drug addiction or domestic violence. Participants should not have to jump through unnecessary hoops that only distract and frustrate participants from true rehabilitation. Getting the judge, ARD Chief, District Attorney, and others to understand the participant's individual needs can take the kind of strong reputation and relationships that attorney Joseph D. Lento has in Montgomery County.
Experienced counsel can also help ARD participants ensure that they document their program completion. Participants who do not complete the court's requirements once again face the original criminal charges. Don't get into a situation of qualifying for diversion, only to throw the opportunity away for failure to timely complete and document program requirements. ARD participants who do complete the program can get their life back on track without the burden of conviction.
Get Help Now
You can readily see from all of the above that first-time offenders in Montgomery County especially need and deserve trustworthy and experienced legal counsel. The procedures are too complex and the stakes too high to handle the matter without skilled representation. Pennsylvania attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped innumerable clients charged with first-time offenses get the charges reduced or dismissed, saving families, careers, reputation, and freedom. Receive your case evaluation from the Lento Law Firm by calling (888) 535-3686 or going online now.