Northampton County Court Process
Court of Common Pleas. Northampton County is Pennsylvania's Third Judicial District. The Northampton County Court of Common Pleas, located at 669 Washington Street in Easton, is responsible for holding all authority over matters of law within the county. The Court of Common Pleas' main phone number is (610) 829-6500. The criminal division of the Court of Common Pleas handles criminal matters from formal arraignment through pretrial hearings, jury or bench trial, sentencing, probation, and parole negotiation, if necessary. The Court of Common Pleas gives priority to criminal cases over the Court's other matters. But the Court of Common Pleas is a very busy court, also hearing money damage actions, family matters including divorce, child custody, and child support, juvenile cases, and estate matters, adoptions, and property disputes. The Northampton County Court of Common Pleas currently has nine judges.
Criminal Process. Beginning late in 2010, the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas focused on the arraignment and pretrial conference to resolve more of the average 4,500 new criminal cases entering its system each year. Northampton County's Court of Common Pleas urges the prosecuting District Attorney and opposing criminal defense counsel to work to resolve criminal cases at those early stages to reduce the cost and delay of pending criminal charges. Since then, the Court of Common Pleas has resolved an average of eighty percent of its criminal cases without trial. Northampton County's Court of Common Pleas requires all those arrested for DUI to apply for the ARD or ASP programs at arraignment or in the pretrial process if intending to take advantage of either program. The Court gives specific trial dates then to those defendants declining diversion.
District Courts. Magisterial District Courts of the Third Judicial District aid the Court of Common Pleas. Northampton County's District Courts hear an average of 70,000 cases each year. The Magisterial District Courts issue search and arrest warrants at the earliest stages of criminal proceedings. After the arrest and charge of a criminal defendant, Magisterial District Courts can conduct preliminary hearings in criminal cases and enter a plea after a plea bargain. They also set bail for the release of arrested defendants. The Magisterial District Courts can also decide summary criminal cases. Otherwise, the Magisterial District Courts bind cases on probable cause over to the Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings, including trial. The Magisterial District Courts can also hear emergency protection from abuse (PFA) applications.
Part or all of your criminal matter may be in the Magisterial District Court rather than the Court of Common Pleas. Northampton County offers a lookup map to locate your Magisterial District Court from among the County's more than a dozen districts. District Courts are in Bethlehem, Easton, Walnutport, Wind Gap, Nazareth, and Bangor. The Magisterial District Courts are open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. The District Courts close for New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Day, Good Friday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
Summary ARD Program. Northampton County participates in Pennsylvania's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) Program. The ARD program permits some non-violent, first-time offenders to expunge conviction and thereby avoid the criminal history that goes with conviction. A criminal history can affect jobs, careers, education, and many other rights, privileges, and benefits. Northampton County's ARD program offers diversion for some first-time offenders for the following crimes: public drunkenness; harassment; disorderly conduct; retail theft; purchase, consumption, possession, or transportation of intoxicating beverages by a minor; misrepresentation of age to secure liquor by a minor; carrying a false identification card; use of tobacco in schools; disorderly conduct; and harassment and criminal mischief for juvenile defendants.
Local Criminal Court Rules. Northampton County's Court of Common Pleas maintains local rules of criminal procedure to supplement the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure. Those local Northampton County rules include:
- Nominal Bail. Local Rule of Criminal Procedure N527 provides that a defendant released on his own recognizance or on nominal bail is subject to the rules and regulations of the Northampton County Office of Pretrial Services as surety and bail agency for the defendant.
- Types of Bail. Local Rule of Criminal Procedure N528 provides that a defendant for whom the Court has set bail must execute the bail bond and deposit with the issuing authority or the Clerk of Courts Criminal ten percent of the bail amount but in no event less than fifty dollars. Corporate sureties or professional bail bondsmen or agents may not post this deposit for bail. The defendant may post real property as bail under certain terms and conditions.
- Arraignment. Local Rule of Criminal Procedure N571.101 provides that when a preliminary hearing concludes with a bind over of the defendant, or when the defendant waives a preliminary hearing, the District Attorney must notify the defendant in writing within fifteen days of the formal arraignment date in the Court of Common Pleas. The defendant's attorney may waive arraignment, but otherwise, the defendant must appear.
- Pretrial Discovery. Local Rule N573.101 requires the District Attorney's office to file written answers to the defendant's Rule 573 Informal Request for Pretrial Discovery within ten days of receiving the request. The same rule extends the defendant's time to file a Rule 573A motion to compel discovery and Rule 578 motion for other relief until ten days after receiving the District Attorney's response to the defendant's informal request for pretrial discovery.
Criminal Defense in Northampton County
When you are facing charges in Northampton County, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, most often through the Northampton County District Attorney's Office, will prosecute you with all the resources available to it. Criminal charges can carry serious, and oftentimes unforeseeable, consequences. While the court can offer a public defender, an experienced private attorney will be able to dedicate much more time and attention to your case. Your selection of a skilled private criminal defense attorney can strongly influence the final outcome of criminal charges. Joseph D. Lento is a highly experienced and skilled practicing attorney who has handled a wide array of criminal cases. His prior experience includes:
- Drug Crimes: Drug crimes, such as those involving marijuana, are simple in nature but complex in court prosecution and defense. Many times, a defendant's rights were violated during the search or seizure, but the police and prosecutor will not admit to this. A defense attorney can stand up for your rights in court.
- DUI: While many DUI cases seem simple from the outside, these cases actually have several avenues of defense that a defendant may pursue. A skilled defense attorney will be able to assist with his.
- Traffic Offenses: Traffic offenses are often considered minor nuisances by the general public. However, these nuisances can add up to become a thorn in one's side. A defense attorney can help prevent this from happening.
- Violent Crime: Crimes that injure or harm individuals are generally considered crimes of violence. The consequences escalate depending on the harm that was done and whether a weapon was used. These often arise out of complex situations, and a skilled defense attorney can point this out in court.
- Property Crime: Crimes involving theft, vandalism, or trespass are all considered forms of property crime. A skilled defense attorney will be able to hoist a strong defense against these charges.
- Domestic Violence Cases: Pennsylvania law takes a two-fronted approach to domestic violence, and defendants may find themselves experiencing complications in family court and criminal court. A defense attorney can help your chances when facing these charges.
- Protection from Abuse Orders: Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act authorizes the Court of Common Pleas to issue orders restraining family and household members from sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking. The orders, while laudable, can interfere with housing, child custody or parenting time, and access to personal effects.
- Sex Crimes: Crimes such as rape and sexual assault are prosecuted very diligently and may cause a person to face heavier sentencing.
- Record Sealing/Expungement: When convicted of a crime, after a sentence is served, a person may wish to clear their name. This can be complex for records in Northampton County. An attorney can help make this process easier.
- Juvenile Offenses: Committing a juvenile crime in Northampton County can have profound consequences for the young person and their family. An attorney experienced with Northampton County Juvenile Court can help during a difficult time in a family's life.
- Violation of Probation/Parole: Upon conviction, a defendant may be offered probation or parole upon certain conditions. However, this area of the law can be a legal minefield. An attorney can help guide defendants through these situations.
If you or a loved one is facing any of the above criminal charges or other criminal charges not described above, then contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the expert team at the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.