Have you received a summons to appear before the Magisterial District Court in Dauphin County? If you've got a hearing scheduled before this court, you may wonder what to expect and what you need to do. At the Lento Law Firm, we believe that you should be empowered when you walk into court, so we've compiled a page detailing some basic facts that should help.
What is Magisterial District Court?
The Magisterial District Court is the lowest tier of Pennsylvania's Unified Judicial System. If you (or a loved one) are charged with a crime, and if you are first-time offender in particular, this will likely be where you first experience the PA judicial system. In Magisterial District Court, judges supervise minor criminal cases, traffic citations, preliminary hearings, and some civil lawsuits.
Is There a Difference Between Magisterial District Court and the Court of Common Pleas?
Yes! While Magisterial District Courts oversee smaller claims that can result in fines or lesser consequences, and they are also the starting point for even the most serious criminal charges, the Court of Common Pleas for Dauphin County is a trial court that hears more costly civil and criminal cases at the trial stage. In some instances, a case may be resolved altogether at the Magisterial District Court, but in many instances, the case will proceed to the next level, which is the Court of Common Pleas in Harrisburg.
What Should I Do if I've Been Summoned to Appear in Dauphin County Magisterial District Court?
The very first thing you should do when you receive a summons is to reach out to a professional Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney. Your attorney will set up a meeting with you to go over the details of your case and begin to help you build a solid defense. Take note of the details associated with the summons, such as the time, specific place, and date, and plan that into your schedule. Make sure you build extra time into your schedule on your court date: Ideally, you should be there 10-15 minutes early, just to make sure you don't miss your appearance. (There could be harsh repercussions if this happens.)
Before I Appear in Dauphin County Magisterial District Court, Do I Need an Attorney?
Ask yourself this simple question: Is there anything at stake in your claim or case?
If there is, it's worth it to hire an attorney. While you don't technically have to in Magisterial Court, it's in your best interest to do so. Your defense attorney will have years of specific training and experience that they'll be able to put to work in your favor. They will know how to work with the court, how to converse effectively with the judge and other attorneys, and when to make important statements and arguments. With a qualified attorney on your side, you may be able to get the charges against you dismissed or reduced.
You may be tempted to just plead guilty. If ‘getting it over with' in this way seems attractive, discuss your case with a lawyer. The consequences of pleading guilty can affect the rest of your life. By doing so, you create a conviction against yourself. This conviction can go on your record, result in fines, or even jail time. This can affect your life in the short-term and, in the long-term, make it difficult to move, get a new job, or work with seniors or children.
If I Get Arrested, Will That Go in My Criminal Record?
Not necessarily. Your attorney may be able to get the charges against you dismissed. If you receive a conviction or plead guilty, however, the offense will end up in your record. Anyone with your full name will be able to search the public record to learn about your convictions. In the last few years, Pennsylvania law has changed to allow some relief (such as automatic record sealing after a certain period of time). It's key to remember, though, that record sealing is not the same as expungement. If at all possible, you need to work to make sure that these potential convictions do not hit your record.
What Should I Expect at My Preliminary Hearing at the Dauphin County Magistrate Court?
At your hearing, you will stand before the judge. You will be joined by your attorney, the prosecution, the complainant, and/or the arresting officer. The prosecution will state their evidence. Your attorney will present your defense. There may be an opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses present. The Dauphin County Magistrate will review all of the relevant information and decide whether the defendant must stand trial and whether the case will go to the Court of Common Pleas. Alternatively, the Magistrate may decide to dismiss your charges.
You may be able to participate in the Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition (ARD) program if you are a first-time offender with no prior convictions. However, you need to realize that ARD will not immediately erase your charges and it can still have a large effect on your future. Participation in ARD will generally require the proceed to the Court of Common Pleas in Harrisburg. In addition, this may not an option if you're facing a summary offense, although there may be similar alternatives to avoiding a conviction for a summary offense. Your attorney may be able to help you avoid a more positive outcome without the formalities of the ARD program. Make sure you discuss potential options with your attorney, so you're aware of all of the relevant paths forward and what may be involved.
Who Should I Call for Timely Assistance if I Need to Appear Before the Magistrate District Court in Dauphin County, PA?
When preparing to stand before the Magistrate District Court, you need to make sure that you have an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney by your side. Preferably, you need to speak with a professional who has specific experience with the Dauphin Country court. That's why you need to call the Lento Law Firm. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience representing clients in Dauphin County and throughout Pennsylvania. He knows how to work with the Magisterial Court, and he's ready to put that targeted expertise to work for you. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 today for more information about the services we can provide.