Lehigh County Criminal Court
Court of Common Pleas. A person facing criminal charges in Lehigh County will be under the jurisdiction of the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, located in the Lehigh County Courthouse at 455 West Hamilton Street in Allentown, PA. This court holds jurisdiction over any and all matters of law within the county's cities, townships, and boroughs. The Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas' Criminal Court Division is responsible for bringing any accused persons through the criminal justice process, from arraignment all the way through sentencing, which may include probation and parole. The Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas' Criminal Court Division is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Friday, other than major holidays. Call (610) 782‑3014 for scheduling and general information.
Judges. Lehigh County's Court of Common Pleas has ten full-time judges and two senior judges. The Court assigns each full-time judge to one or more of the court's divisions. Those divisions include not only the Criminal/Juvenile Division but also a combined Civil/Motion/Family Court Division and an Orphans' Court Division. An administrative judge ensures that all criminal cases get assigned to a judge of the Criminal/Juvenile Division. Once assigned to your criminal case, your criminal court judge is likely to handle all stages of your case, including probation and parole violations and post-conviction relief, unless retiring or facing transfer to another division. The Court of Common Pleas also oversees adult and juvenile probation, a Protection from Abuse (PFA) Office, and other offices. The Court of Common Pleas also administers the fourteen offices of the County's Magisterial District Court.
Magisterial District Court. The Lehigh County Magisterial District Court system aids the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas with handling the County's many criminal cases. Each of the Magisterial District Court's fourteen districts has its own magisterial district court judge. The District Court's magisterial judges sit in Allentown, Emaus, Slatington, Bethlehem, Whitehall, and Coopersburg. Lehigh County offers a lookup map to determine the location of your magisterial district court judge. Do not mistake your location when appearing in the Magisterial District Court at an early stage of your criminal proceeding.
Lehigh County Criminal Court Procedures
The Court Conducting the Procedure. Depending on the stage at which it resolves, your criminal case may proceed from the Magisterial District Court to the Court of Common Pleas. The Magisterial District Court issues arrest warrants, conducts preliminary arraignment advising the defendant of the charges and setting bail, and preliminary hearing. The Magisterial District Court resolves some cases at a preliminary hearing and dismisses other cases. The Magisterial District Court binds over to the Court of Common Pleas those cases not dismissed or resolved, setting a formal arraignment date in the Common Pleas Court.
The Common Pleas Court then conducts the formal arraignment, giving the defendant a copy of the criminal information, confirming the defense counsel's appearance, advising of time limits for discovery and pretrial motions, and entering a plea. The Common Pleas Court may also divert the case into the Lehigh County Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. If instead, the case continues in the Common Pleas Court, then the Court addresses pretrial matters, sets a trial date, and conducts trial or accepts a plea. The Common Pleas Court also sentences defendants found guilty of charges and hears any post-trial motions. Appeals to Pennsylvania's appellate courts are possible from the Common Pleas Court.
ARD Program. Lehigh County participates in Pennsylvania's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) Program. The ARD program permits some first-time offenders charged with non-violent crimes to expunge the conviction so that, if they complete and document completion of all program terms and conditions, they have no criminal record. The ARD program, while advantageous to some, is not for everyone. Do not enter the ARD program without seeking advice from an experienced criminal defense attorney. You must waive important rights to enter the ARD program. Your ARD program completion is not guaranteed. Under Lehigh Rule of Crim. Proc. 320, Lehigh County's ARD program requires the defendant to complete all conditions, pay all program fees, and pay all costs and restitution to obtain the conviction's expungement.
Local Rules. Many local jurisdictions in Pennsylvania have their own local customs, practices, and rules. You need an attorney who knows those local customs, practices, and rules. Lehigh County is no exception. Lehigh County maintains many local rules of criminal procedure supplementing Pennsylvania's Rules of Criminal Procedure. Your expert Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney should research and must know those local rules. A few of Lehigh County's many local rules of criminal procedure include:
- Private Criminal Complaints. Lehigh Rule of Crim. Proc. 506 permits the private complainant who files a criminal complaint to demand a review by a judge of the Court's Criminal Division if the District Attorney dismisses the complaint.
- Approval of Criminal Complaints. Lehigh Rule of Crim. Proc. 507 requires that the District Attorney approve criminal complaints that police make out for dozens of specific offenses enumerated in the rule. Police officers may not generally make out their own criminal complaints, requiring the Court to proceed on those complaints, without review and approval of the District Attorney.
- ARD for Juveniles. Lehigh Rule of Crim. Proc. 300 permits the County's juvenile court to offer summary ARD treatment only for underage drinking offenses under 18 Pa.C.S. §§6307, 6308, and 6310.3.
- Percentage Bail. Lehigh Rule of Crim. Proc. 528 provides for a cash bail deposit of ten percent of the amount the Court sets for bail but in no event less than twenty-five dollars. Additionally, bail bond companies are required to obtain approval before offering services satisfying bail terms in the Lehigh County court system.
- Bail Agency. Lehigh Rule of Crim. Proc. 530 designates Lehigh Valley Pretrial Services, Inc. as the bail agent and authorizes the agency to establish its own rules and regulations.
- Continuances. Lehigh Rule of Crim. Proc. 542 permits the Magisterial District Court to grant continuances of a preliminary hearing only for up to twenty-one days from the date of the first scheduled hearing.
Lehigh County Criminal Defense
When you are facing criminal charges in Lehigh County, it can feel like your world is crashing down. Criminal charges are often highly complex in nature and carry severe consequences. Local rules, customs, and practices in Lehigh County may seem different than what you had expected. For these reasons, your freedom and rights should only be left in the hands of an experienced and capable attorney who knows Lehigh County and who will stand up for you when the stakes are high. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has had extensive experience practicing law in Lehigh County. A sample of his experience is reflected in the following areas:
- DUI: Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs is a common crime seen in the courtrooms of Pennsylvania. While these cases may seem simple in nature, the reality is that they are complex, and many times, riddled with errors in evidence collection performed by law enforcement. An attorney can help leverage such mistakes and strongly defend against DUI charges.
- Traffic Violations: While some mistakenly believe that traffic violations are harmless beyond a fine, these offenses can add up and may even result in loss of license or high insurance premiums. The services of a defense attorney can help.
- Drug Offenses: When a person is accused of possessing or delivering drugs, the Lehigh County District Attorney's Office will often press for a quick resolution and will expect an easy conviction. However, like any criminal case, there may be weaknesses in the prosecution's case, and a practiced criminal defense attorney can take advantage of these weaknesses to bolster a strong defense.
- Violent Crime: Crimes that involve any bodily injury or harm to a person with or without the use of a weapon fall under the category of violent crime. As would be expected, these crimes are prosecuted vigorously.
- Sex Crimes: Sex crimes are treated with a high degree of severity by the courts. Mounting defenses to these crimes often requires a deft, experienced hand to avoid what can potentially be lifetime consequences.
- Domestic Violence: Domestic violence is an emotional and complex branch of law that can stretch beyond the realm of criminal court. A defense attorney can help you negotiate these matters.
- Protection from Abuse Orders: Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act authorizes the courts to issue restraining orders between family and household members. While the restraining orders aim to prevent sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking, they can also interfere with access to housing and personal effects and child custody or parenting time.
- Property Crimes: Theft, trespassing, vandalism, and the like all fall under the blanket of property crimes. These crimes can, at times, be difficult to defend against. However, a well-practiced attorney will always strongly defend against such charges.
- Juvenile Offenses: Committing a juvenile crime in Lehigh County can have profound consequences for the young person and their family. An attorney experienced with Lehigh County Juvenile Court can help during a difficulty in a family's life.
- White-Collar Crime: Crimes that involve matters such as fraud, embezzlement, and forgery are commonly known as “white collar” crimes, as they deal with financial information and often disputed large amounts of money. These crimes require a strong defense and are best left to an experienced attorney.
- Expungements/Record Sealing: Once a person has concluded any sentencing assigned by the court, they may be eligible to expunge or seal their records. An attorney can help make the expungement process successful.
- Violation of Probation: If a person has been convicted of a crime, they may be offered probation. However, negotiating terms and violations can be difficult. A defense attorney can help.
Lehigh County Criminal Defense Attorney | Criminal Defense Lawyer in Allentown
Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately defends clients in Lehigh County and has represented countless clients in diverse criminal matters. He does not settle for the easiest outcome and instead prioritizes his clients' well-being. Attorney Lento has the knowledge, skill, experience, and commitment for your best available criminal defense in Lehigh County. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges in Allentown or Lehigh County, PA, then contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today at 888-535-3686.