Being charged with a criminal offense can be a frightening and difficult time for you and your family. The criminal prosecution process is complicated and the consequences to your future and even your freedom can be severe. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney like Joseph D. Lento by your side can make a huge difference for you, not only in the outcome of your case, but on your and your family's peace of mind during the entire process.
When charged with a crime in Schuylkill County, you can be sure that the District Attorney will not waver in pursuing legal proceedings against you. Because the process of being a defendant in a criminal case in Schuylkill County can be so confusing, what follows is some information about the types of criminal cases typically heard there, and the court procedures that you are likely to follow if charged with one of the more serious offenses.
What to Expect
The procedural parts of the prosecution of criminal cases in Schuylkill County can be complicated, and it may sometimes seem as though they are never-ending. The process will of course vary from case to case, and will also be different depending on the class of your offense. Title 18, Chapter 1, Section 106 describes the various classes of criminal offenses in Pennsylvania. Generally, these can be grouped as follows:
Types of Offenses:
- Summary Offense: A summary offense carries penalties of up to 90 days' imprisonment. These are the least serious type of offense among the three classes. They are almost always tried at the preliminary (and district judge) level, unless combined with other charges that are more serious. Hearings of summary offenses are often called summary hearings, rather than preliminary hearings. If you are convicted of a summary offense, you might be given the chance to participate in something called a Summary Diversion Program. If you successfully complete the program, it can lead to your offense being expunged from your record.
- Misdemeanor: Misdemeanors are more serious than summary offenses, but they are less serious than felony crimes. Misdemeanors have sentence ranges that run from one to five years, depending on the crime and the class of the offense. There are three categories of misdemeanors: third, second, and first degree, with a first-degree misdemeanor being the most serious of the three. Preliminary proceedings in misdemeanor cases are heard by the district courts, but later proceedings and trials are before the Court of Common Pleas.
- Felony: A felony is the most serious class of offense. Penalties for felonies can run from seven years in prison to more than ten years, depending on the crime and the class of felony. As with misdemeanors, there are three classes of felonies: third, second, and first. And as with misdemeanors, a first-degree felony is the most serious. Here too, the early parts of a felony case are heard by the district judge, and later proceedings and trials are conducted by the Court of Common Pleas.
There are a number of steps involved in the hearing and trial process for both misdemeanor and felony cases. This is what you are likely to experience in Schuylkill County if you are a defendant in a criminal case:
The Preliminary Arraignment
For misdemeanor and felony charges, the case will begin with your being arrested by police. You will be held by police until your preliminary arraignment, which will take place either in person or via teleconference before one of Schuylkill County's seven Magisterial District Judges.
At the preliminary arraignment, the district judge will decide whether you must post bail and, if so, how much your bail will be. Because Pennsylvania has not made significant changes to its laws relating to cash bail, many defendants in Schuylkill County are required to post cash bail to be released from custody before their trials. There are a number of factors that the district judge will consider before setting bail, such as how severe the charges are against you, whether you live or work in Schuylkill County, your past criminal record, whether you support any dependents, and if you appear to be a danger to the community. In any case, if you are represented at this stage by an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento, you stand a better chance of having your bail set at a lower amount or even eliminated entirely – though of course it depends heavily on your personal circumstances as well.
At the preliminary arraignment the district judge will also give you a date for your preliminary hearing, and you will also receive a copy of the complaint filed against you by the police.
Your next court date will typically be a preliminary hearing, which is where the district judge hears some of the evidence that the government has against you so that the judge can decide whether the government has a “prima facie” case against you. This basically means a case that appears to meet the legal requirements for the crime or crimes you're charged with committing. The court at this stage will assume that the government's evidence is true; it makes no credibility determinations at this point. So while you have an opportunity to present your own evidence at this stage, in many cases it won't help you to do so if the government's evidence satisfies that prima facie test.
Whether or not to present evidence at a preliminary hearing is something that an experienced criminal defense attorney like Joseph D. Lento can help you decide. In many cases, it might make sense not to do so, and to save any evidence in your favor for a later proceeding
If the district judge rules that the government has met its prima facie burden, then your case will proceed to a new court, the Court of Common Pleas, for further proceedings including any trial that may take place. But if the district judge rules that the government hasn't met its prima facie burden, the judge can dismiss the case against you at this point.
Another option you have at the preliminary hearing is to waive the entire proceeding. If you do this, you accept that the government's evidence against you satisfies that prima facie standard, but you don't waive any of your rights to challenge the evidence later or to otherwise defend yourself at trial against the charges filed against you. Whether you waive the preliminary hearing or not is a question of tactics that a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento can help you with. If you decide to waive the preliminary hearing, your case will be forwarded to the Court of Common Pleas as it is when the judge holds the hearing and finds that the government has met its prima facie burden.
As noted, future proceedings in your case will take place before a different court, the Court of Common Pleas (unless the district judge dismisses it). District Courts typically do not more serious criminal cases, but will handle many other types of less-serious cases such as small claims, landlord-tenant cases, traffic cases, and minor crimes.
Whenever you are required to appear for a hearing or for trial, it's a good idea to make sure you have given yourself plenty of time to get to the location of your hearing – which may take place before a district judge at the judge's office, or at the Schuylkill County Courthouse. Make sure you have the correct address and office or courtroom, and either use a mapping app if you're comfortable with that or plan your route your route ahead of time. And remember that it's usually a good idea to arrive early, especially if you need to meet with your attorney beforehand to go over any important questions or strategies.
This is actually a document, not a court appearance, but it's an important document worth learning about. The “criminal information” will describe in detail the charges against you; it's prepared by the district attorney's office and will include much of the information that was in the original police complaint, but will also set forth some of the relevant acts and evidence that supports the charges against you. It will also specifically state where and when those acts took place. This will be used by the court and the prosecution and your attorney as a guide to the criminal charges and the case against you.
Next, you may be formally arraigned in the Court of Common Pleas before a judge of that court. This is a different court and judge from the one you appeared before in earlier stages of your case. In Schuylkill County it's located at the Schuylkill County Courthouse at 401 North Second Street in Pottsville. Parking is available in the parking lot behind the courthouse, with the entrance at the corner of North Second Street and Sanderson Street.
Alternatively, you may not see a judge at all. Sometimes formal arraignments are handled rather informally, and an assistant district attorney manages them. In these less formal proceedings, all defendants who appear (whether in person or by their attorney) will automatically enter a “not guilty” plea. The prosecutor will also provide you or your attorney with a copy of the criminal information. Note that if an attorney represents you, you may not have to appear for the formal arraignment, whether it's “informal” or not, particularly where you are going to waive the reading of the charges.
Call of the List
At some point your case is likely to be scheduled for a procedure known as Call of the List. Here you will appear before a judge of the Court of Common Pleas and will enter a plea such as guilty or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, you or your attorney can ask the court to list the case for trial, or depending on where things stand with your investigation or negotiations with the district attorney, you may ask the judge for a continuance to another Call of the List date. Note that it's not at all unusual to ask for a continuance where your attorney is attempting to negotiate a plea with the prosecutor, or where you and your attorney have more investigation to do, or where the prosecution has not yet turned over all of the evidence you're entitled to receive from it about your case. Having the assistance of an able and experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento can help you decide at what point your case is ready to be heard.
At one of your Call of the List conferences, the judge will set a trial date (unless you and the district attorney have agreed to dispose of your case). Jury trials in the Court of Common Pleas in Schuylkill County take place during what are called trial terms, which are blocks of time the court sets aside to hold jury trials. Trial terms in Schuylkill County are scheduled roughly every other month for two-week periods each. In Schuylkill County, Court of Common Pleas criminal trials are conducted at the Schuylkill County Courthouse at 400 S 8th St., Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, 17042.
If your case is a jury trial, the jury will be selected before your trial date; in Schuylkill County, jury selection dates in criminal cases are set in advance, usually just before the beginning of each jury trial term. Your jury will be made up of 12 citizens from Schuylkill County who will hear the evidence in the case from both sides as well as arguments from the prosecution and the defense. The judge will give the jury legal instructions that explain to them what laws and rules to apply to their deliberations. The jury will (usually) render their verdict based on that evidence, the arguments, and the law. (At times juries cannot decide, but this typically does not happen.)
You and your lawyer may decide it is in your best interest to waive a jury trial. There is more scheduling flexibility for a non-jury trial, since a jury does not need to be selected. In a non-jury trial, it is the judge who hears the evidence, listens to the lawyers' arguments, and then delivers the verdict. Whether or not it makes sense for you to waive your right to a jury trial is a tactical decision that you should make with the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento.
When a defendant is convicted of a crime, the court will deliver a sentence. In most cases, however, this will be delayed and the Schuylkill County Probation Department will prepare a “pre-sentence investigation report.” The purpose of this report is to give the judge some background about the defendant, including any past criminal record, and information about the range of sentences legally available for the crime or crimes the defendant has been convicted of committing. The defendant may have to meet with an officer from the Schuylkill County Probation Department as part of this process.
The report will be provided to the judge for use in connection with sentencing the defendant, and while the defendant will not be allowed to see the pre-sentence report, the defendant's attorney will usually be allowed to read (but not copy) it.
Another good reason to retain the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento is to help prepare for the pre-sentence investigation. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is also skilled in developing and presenting arguments in favor of a lower sentence.
Unless the defendant is sentenced immediately after conviction (which may happen for lesser crimes), there will be another court date for sentencing. This will most likely be before the same judge who tried the case at the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas.
Depending on the crime, the judge may let victims share with the court how their lives were affected by the crime. After that the court will impose a sentence, which typically will begin immediately. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help even at this point, by providing the court with arguments and alternatives in favor of a more lenient sentence.
A defendant who has been found guilty and who has been sentenced may appeal the conviction to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. An appeal will typically challenge either the sentencing or rulings made by the court, and will ask the Superior Court to overturn the verdict, or sometimes to send the case back to the Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings. Note that the Superior Court will not re-try the case; instead it relies on the record of the trial below (the transcripts, evidence, and pleadings filed by the lawyers), and it will rule based on the trial record and the arguments presented by the defendant and the prosecution. The Superior Court has three locations: Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh.
Decisions of the Superior Court may be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Supreme Court grants only a very small number of the many petitions for allowance of appeal that are submitted to it by defendants each year.
Types of Criminal Offenses
Representing clients with criminal charges entails a great amount of patience, attention, and experience. Although Schuylkill County has public defense attorneys available for certain defendants who qualify based on income, a private attorney can generally commit more attention, detail, and time to providing you with a solid defense in court. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has a vast criminal defense background in areas such as:
- Violation of Parole/Probation: If you have been charged with violating the terms of your probation or parole it could mean you return to jail, or possibly face serious restrictions on your daily life if you remain free. An experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento can guide you through the hearings and negotiate with the court and government on your behalf.
- Juvenile Offenses: Perpetrating a crime in Schuylkill County can have weighty consequences for the juvenile and their families. Joseph D. Lento has substantial experience in representing juveniles in their court proceedings in Schuylkill County Juvenile Court and elsewhere, and will bring that knowledge and expertise to help the defendant and their family defend against the charges and understand the juvenile justice process in a stressful time.
- Expungement/Record Sealing: Depending on the conviction or arrest, after a specific amount of time has expired, you may be able to ask the court to expunge or seal your record. This is not an automatic process, and navigating it can be cumbersome and confusing. Joseph D. Lento has the expertise to help you through the process of petitioning for the removal or sealing of previous convictions and/or arrests.
- White Collar Crime: If you have been indicted for committing one or more types of fraud, the underlying circumstances are typically complex and defending against them requires an alert eye and a lot of experience. Joseph D. Lento has both, and can help you craft your defense and investigate the case for evidence and witnesses that can testify on your behalf. Whether or not you are a white collar professional, you deserve a strong defense to white collar crime charges because being convicted of any crime can significantly hurt your ability to earn a living.
- Sex Crimes: If you have been accused of a sex crime, you need the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento as soon as possible. The impact that a conviction can have on your life is severe, resulting not only in significant jail terms, but also in having to register as a sex offender and be subject to continued monitoring after your release. These are not charges you want to face alone.
- Property Crimes: Theft and vandalism are typical examples of property crimes, and if you have been accused of any of them you should contact Joseph D. Lento, who has substantial experience defending others charged with similar crimes in Schuylkill County and elsewhere.
- Violent Crimes: Violent crimes involve some degree of bodily harm to the victim and can occur with or without a weapon. These crimes are prosecuted heavily and often result in harsher sentencing. If you have been accused of a violent crime in Schuylkill County, you should contact Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm immediately. They have the experience and knowledge you need to defend yourself against these types of charges.
- Drug Crimes: Possession of certain controlled substances can lead to criminal charges in Pennsylvania. It is not unusual for there to be substantial questions about the admissibility of the evidence that the prosecution attempts to introduce against defendants in these kinds of cases. You need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento to make sure you present the strongest defense possible to these kinds of charges.
- Domestic Violence: Domestic violence cases frequently result from complex scenarios where finding the truth can be a difficult task. If you have been charged with domestic violence, an experienced defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento can ensure that your side is properly presented to the court, and that your accuser's account is fairly tested.
- Protection From Abuse Orders: A Protection From Abuse (PFA) order issues from the Court of Common Pleas in response to a petition, typically from an alleged victim of abuse. They can be very broad, preventing the alleged abuser from doing things such as having firearms, visiting children, or living in their own home. If you are the subject of a PFA hearing, you need the services of an attorney such as Joseph D. Lento who has substantial experience representing clients in hearings of this type all over Pennsylvania.
- Traffic Offenses: Traffic offenses rarely result in criminal charges; however, several tickets can accumulate quickly and cause elevated insurance premiums or even revocation of one's license. If you find yourself in that position, Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can help you negotiate with the Schuylkill County prosecutor to attempt to reduce the impact these offenses can have on your driving record.
- DUI: A simple return home from a night out can result in DUI charges. An adept attorney such as Joseph D. Lento can challenge these charges and work on your behalf toward the best possible outcome.
An Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
When you're facing a criminal trial in Schuylkill County, the ramifications can be severe and could impact your life for years to come. You want an attorney who can fight by your side and bring their years of experience to work on your behalf. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm care passionately about their clients. They have many years of experience helping their clients achieve the best possible outcome in criminal matters in Schuylkill County and across Pennsylvania. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges in Schuylkill County, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today at 888-535-3686 or reach us online.