If you're facing a matter before a Magisterial District Court in Schuylkill County, you're undoubtedly wondering what to expect? What is a Magisterial Court, and do you need a lawyer? Will you face jail time? Before you head to court, it's a good idea to learn more about the courts in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, and what you can expect before a magistrate. On this page, we'll answer some of our clients' most common questions about the Schuylkill County Magisterial District Court.
What Is Magisterial District Court?
Pennsylvania's state court system has tiers of courts, with the Magisterial District Courts making up the first tier. Magisterial Court is where most Pennsylvania offenders will face a judge for the first time. Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, has 7 Magisterial District Courts, with a magistrate judge elected by the people heading up each district court.
The Magisterial District Courts are located at:
619 West Oak Street
Frackville, PA 17931
301 Second Street
Port Carbon, PA 17965
209 North Warren Street
Orwigsburg, PA 17961
19 North Pine Street
Tremont, PA 17981
33 South Main Street.
Shenandoah, PA 17976
320 East Broad Street
Tamaqua, PA 18252
410 N Centre, Suite 1
Pottsville, PA 17901
Magistrate judges handle less serious criminal and civil cases, including:
- Traffic citations
- Minor criminal cases
- Civil lawsuits with less than $12,000 at issue
- Preliminary matters in civil and criminal cases
Preliminary matters handled by magistrate judges include preliminary hearings, motions practice in civil suits, and indictments for misdemeanors and felonies in criminal cases before the cases proceed to the Court of Common Pleas.
What's the Difference Between Magisterial District Court and the Court of Common Pleas?
Magisterial District Courts in Schuylkill County handle smaller cases such as small claims, civil lawsuits involving less than $12,000, traffic cases, and less serious criminal cases. Magistrate judges will typically handle criminal cases where the conviction will result in a fine instead of jail time, including crimes like shoplifting, trespassing, harassment, or reckless driving.
If you have a case in Magisterial District Court, the matter won't be a public record unless you request that it be so. In other words, the court won't include the court reporter's transcript as part of your case record. However, not including a transcript of the matter doesn't mean that you won't have a criminal record for a criminal conviction in this court. The procedural record and the Magistrate's verdict will be a matter of public record. The public, the Pennsylvania state police, and other law enforcement agencies will have access to these records.
The Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas is a trial court. This court handles more serious criminal cases that can result in jail time and more complex civil matters involving more than $12,000. In the Court of Common Pleas, the parties involved in civil cases or the defendant in a criminal trial can request a jury verdict. The trial will also be a matter of public record.
If I'm Summoned to Appear in Schuylkill County Magisterial District Court, What Do I Do Next?
If you receive a notice of a hearing or a summons to appear in Schuylkill County Magisterial District Court, you'll need to go to court. Be sure to note the date and time of the hearing or appearance and arrive early, with plenty of time to find parking if necessary. If you miss your hearing, the court could issue a warrant for your arrest or rule against you in a civil matter. You should also consult an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney. An attorney can review your case, explain your options, and help you build a
defense. Your attorney can also appear at hearings and trial with you and speak on your behalf to the Magistrate.
Do I Need to Hire an Attorney for Magisterial District Court?
As with most courts in the U.S., you can represent yourself in Schuylkill County Magisterial District Court. However, under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you do have a right to an attorney in a criminal matter. You don't have the same constitutional right to a lawyer in a civil matter, but it is a good idea to have one representing you in court.
Even in Magisterial District Court, a court hearing and a trial are formal court proceedings. When you appear before the court, you will need to follow the court's rules. Moreover, during a hearing or at trial, you'll need to comply with the rules of evidence when presenting your case or challenging the state's case against you. The procedures involved in a criminal trial can be challenging to navigate without a legal background. That's why your best chance of success lies with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal attorney representing you. A lawyer can help:
- Develop a strong defense
- Review and challenge the state's evidence or witnesses against you,
- Subpoena witnesses for trial
- Represent you at trial, cross-examining the state's witnesses and challenging the state's evidence
- Negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf to dismiss or lower the charges or to negotiate a better sentence
Hiring an attorney can ensure you have the best possible outcome in your case, avoiding or reducing unnecessary jail time or hefty fines.
Can't I Just Plead Guilty and Get it Over With?
When you're charged with a crime, especially if you consider it a “minor” crime, it can be tempting to simply plead guilty, take the punishment, and move on with your life. However, it's a good idea to discuss any criminal
charges with an experienced Pennsylvania attorney before you decide to plead guilty. Even for a minor violation, a conviction will result in a criminal record. Having a criminal record can have lasting consequences that you may not foresee. A criminal record can affect child custody matters, your career, professional licensing, education, your ability to work in certain professions like law enforcement, the military, or law enforcement. You could also face fines and jail time with a guilty plea in Schuylkill Magisterial District Court. An experienced criminal lawyer can explain your options and explain the possible consequences of a criminal conviction.
Does Being Arrested Give Me a Criminal Record?
Just being arrested in Schuylkill County won't necessarily give you a criminal record. If the state or a court dismisses your charges or your attorney negotiates dismissal, your arrest won't be on a criminal record. However, a guilty plea or a conviction for any criminal charge, including traffic charges, will be on your record. Criminal records, including traffic convictions, are public and easily searched online. Anyone who has your full name can search for your criminal record in Pennsylvania.
In some cases, the state may automatically seal your criminal record after a designated period. However, law enforcement agencies will still have access to these records. Moreover, many professional licensing organizations will still require disclosing these records. It's best to consult an experienced Pennsylvania attorney about disclosure, sealing, and expungement of a criminal record.
What Happens at My Preliminary Hearing in Schuylkill Magisterial District Court?
For criminal charges that involve the possibility of jail time, your case may go to trial in the Court of Common Pleas. However, before reaching that step, you will first have a preliminary hearing in the Schuylkill County Magisterial District Court. The preliminary hearing will help the Magistrate decide if the prosecution has enough evidence against you to proceed with a trial against you. The state will present the evidence and witnesses against you, and your attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses and challenge the evidence against you. The preliminary hearing is a good first look at what the state will introduce against you at trial.
If the magistrate judge believes the evidence against you is sufficient, they will transfer the case to the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas to proceed. If the Magistrate believes the evidence against you is insufficient, they may dismiss the charges against you. Again, your best possible chance of dismissal at this stage is with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Can I Participate in the ARD Program for Summary Offenses?
If you don't have any prior convictions in the last ten years, you may be able to participate in a unique alternative program in Pennsylvania for summary offenses and less serious misdemeanors. A “summary offense” in Pennsylvania is typically an offense that is less serious than a misdemeanor. Sometimes these offenses are also called non-traffic citations. The state's Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition (ARD) program may allow you to waive your preliminary hearing and trial, circumventing Magisterial District Court.
Entering the ARD program means entering a guilty plea and beginning a supervisory period of two years, like probation. You'll complete community service and alcohol or drug treatment if necessary. If you don't complete the ARD program, the state will schedule your original charges for trial. Before applying for the ARD program, you should consult an experienced Pennsylvania criminal attorney. For summary offenses, you may have other options for a better disposition based on the severity of your charges.
Where Can I Turn for Help if I am Summoned to Magisterial District Court in Schuylkill County?
If you are facing a hearing or trial in Schuylkill County Magisterial District Court, you should consult an experienced Pennsylvania criminal attorney as soon as possible. The skilled professionals at the Lento Law Firm have been
representing Pennsylvanians for years. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team will zealously fight for your rights in court. Call them at 888-535-3686 to schedule your case evaluation today.