Carbon County Pennsylvania has 4 Magisterial District Courts. Each of these courts is overseen by a magisterial judge elected for six years. It can be frightening if you have an upcoming hearing or trial in a Magisterial District Court in Carbon County. But if you understand how the Magisterial District Courts work in Carbon County, it can make the entire process easier. We've outlined some of the top questions our clients have about Magisterial District Courts in Carbon on this page.
What Is Magisterial District Court?
In Pennsylvania, the Magisterial District Courts are the first tier of the Unified Judicial System. In Carbon County, this court is where most people charged with a crime will appear in court for the first time. The Magisterial District Judge, or Magistrate, overseas civil matters for less than $12,000, traffic citations, landlord and tenant disputes, municipal code violations, and minor criminal cases. Magistrates also oversee indictments and preliminary
hearings for misdemeanors and felonies that will pass on to the Court of Common Pleas for trial.
What's the Difference Between Magisterial District Court and the Court of Common Pleas?
The Magisterial District Court in Carbon County typically oversees smaller cases, including traffic citations, small claims, civil suits involving less than $12,000, municipal violations and summary offenses, as well as criminal cases that result in fines rather than jail time. The Magistrate judges also handle preliminary hearings in more serious misdemeanor and felony criminal charges before proceeding to the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas.
The Court of Common Pleas is a trial court. In Carbon County, this court hears more complex civil cases involving more than $12,000 and more serious criminal matters that can result in jail time. Cases in the Court of Common Pleas are a matter of public record, meaning the court reporter's transcripts of trials and many hearings are part of the public court record. In Magisterial District Court, matters are not public records unless specifically requested.
However, even if your criminal case in Carbon County Magisterial District Court isn't a matter of “public record,” that doesn't mean that a conviction won't result in a criminal record. The court will still place the procedural record and any conviction and sentence into the Pennsylvania public court docket. Moreover, law enforcement agencies will have access to these records.
What Do I Do if I'm Summoned to Carbon County Magisterial District Court?
If you receive a summons for Carbon County Magisterial Court, you must appear in court. If you miss your hearing or trial, the Magistrate may issue a warrant for your arrest or rule against you. The Magisterial District Courts in Carbon County are at:
- 340 Center Avenue, Jim Thorpe, PA 18229-0356
- 401 Delaware Avenue, 2nd Floor Palmerton, PA 18071-1892
- 417 East Ridge Street Lansford, PA 18232-0203
- 71 W. Main Street Weatherly, PA 18255-0017
Take note of the address, date, and time on your summons or notice, and be sure to arrive early with plenty of time to park and go through security. You should also contact an experienced Pennsylvania defense attorney to review your options for the best possible defense.
Do I Need to Hire an Attorney for Carbon County Magisterial District Court?
While you have a right to an attorney in criminal matters under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you don't have to hire an attorney. However, it's a good idea to consult a professional. While you may consider the matter “minor,” a criminal conviction can have long-term consequences you can't foresee. A criminal conviction can affect child custody and visitation issues, prevent you from holding certain jobs and result in fines and jail time. With a criminal conviction, you may not be able to hold some jobs in finance, education, or those requiring professional licensing. A criminal record can also affect your ability to join the military and law enforcement agencies or prevent you from obtaining a security clearance.
Moreover, court hearings and trials aren't as simple as they seem on TV. Even in Magisterial District Court, a hearing is a formal court proceeding. Everyone participating must follow the rules of the court and the rules of evidence. A lack of legal training can seriously hamper your ability to cross-examine the state's witnesses, challenge evidence, or introduce your own evidence in court.
Aside from successfully navigating hearings and trials in Magisterial District Court, an attorney can help you prepare the best possible defense for your case. An experienced Pennsylvania criminal attorney will also understand the court's inner workings, be able to effectively negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf, and have the best knowledge to get your charges dismissed or reduced. Without an attorney, you could end up with an unnecessary conviction, hefty fines, and even jail time. An experienced attorney can help you successfully navigate the court system for the best possible outcome.
Can't I Just Plead Guilty? It's Not a Big Deal, Is It?
When you're facing a criminal charge in Magisterial District Court, it can be tempting just to plead guilty and avoid figuring out what seems like a complex criminal justice system. While appearing before a magistrate may seem “minor,” a conviction can still result in a criminal record. Even convictions for “minor” offenses can lead to jail time and fines. Before pleading guilty, you should always consult an experienced criminal attorney to ensure you understand the consequences of a conviction and how it might affect your personal life or your education and career.
Does Being Arrested Affect My Criminal Record?
If the police arrest you in Carbon County, that doesn't necessarily result in a “criminal record,” although there will be records of your arrest. If your attorney gets the charges dismissed, they won't appear as a conviction on your record. But any charge with a guilty plea or conviction will appear on your criminal record. Anyone with your full name can find your criminal record by searching public records. In some cases, Pennsylvania may automatically mandate sealing your record after a set period. However, not all sealings are automatic, and many private databases will still contain records of your arrest and conviction. It's best to consult an experienced
criminal attorney to see if you can have an arrest or conviction sealed or expunged in Pennsylvania.
What Happens at My Preliminary Hearing in Carbon County Magisterial District Court?
If you have a preliminary hearing scheduled at Carbon County Magisterial District Court, you and your attorney must appear before the Magistrate Judge. The court will determine if the state has enough evidence against you to proceed to trial at the hearing. After the state introduces the evidence against you, including any witnesses, your attorney will have the chance to cross-examine witnesses and challenge the state's evidence. Your attorney can also introduce evidence and witnesses supporting your case, although it's unusual to call the defendant to testify in a preliminary hearing.
The hearing is a good chance for you and your attorney to get a preview of the state's evidence against you. If the judge doesn't believe the state has enough evidence against you to proceed to trial, they may dismiss the charges. If the judge does believe the evidence is sufficient, the court will pass your case on to the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas to proceed. Your best chance of dismissal at the preliminary hearing stage is with an experienced criminal defense lawyer representing you.
Can I Participate in the ARD Program for Summary Offenses?
In Pennsylvania, some minor criminal offenses may be eligible for the Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition (ARD) program. If you don't have any previous convictions in the last ten years, you can apply to enter the ARD program. However, you essentially plead guilty and avoid Magisterial District Court entirely when you enter the ARD program. As part of the program, you'll have two years of supervision, similar to probation, pay fines, complete community service, and complete alcohol or drug treatment if needed. If you don't complete the ARD program, the prosecutor will remove you from the program and proceed with your original criminal trial.
While the ARD program can be helpful for many people, a summary offense is a minor offense, less serious than a criminal misdemeanor in Pennsylvania. These offenses are also sometimes known as non-traffic citations. You may have better options and a lesser period of community service, lower fines, and less supervised probation outside of the ARD program. An experienced criminal lawyer can advise you on the best course of action and may be able to negotiate a better deal than the Carbon County ARD program on your behalf.
Who Should I Call for Help if Summoned to Magisterial District Court in Carbon County, PA?
If you receive a notice of a hearing or a summons for Carbon County Magisterial District Court, your first call should be to a skilled criminal lawyer experienced in handling Magisterial Court matters. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team have been representing Pennsylvanians in Carbon County Magisterial District Court for years. They can help you too. Find out what they can do for you. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 today to schedule a case evaluation.