The First Judicial District of Pennsylvania based in Philadelphia is home to the Court of Common Pleas and Municipal Court. Both venues hear criminal cases; however, the Municipal Court only handles criminal cases where the maximum possible sentence of incarceration is five years. This District sees a tremendous volume of criminal cases. In 2017, the Common Pleas Court alone processed more than 11,000 new criminal cases.
Philadelphia is been among the most progressive court systems for implementing alternative sentencing options and diversionary programs. The Diversion Courts Unit recognizes that certain categories of offenders have lower rates of recidivism when their cases are diverted to programs that provide treatment and rehabilitation. Examples include the Accelerated Misdemeanor Program, DUI Treatment Court, Mental Health Court, and several others.
Understanding Summary Offenses
Relatively minor crimes are generally summary offenses, which are less serious offenses than misdemeanors. These may be heard by a magisterial district judge in a municipal court. Many of these offenses are minor traffic infractions such as speeding or failing to observe a traffic signal or device. Other examples include underage drinking, shoplifting, and disorderly conduct.
Often summary offenses are issued directly by police officers. The citation is often similarly handed to the offender like a traffic ticket. They may also be issued through the mail in the form of a summons. Summary offense citations typically will contain a date and time when the offender must appear in court for a hearing.
Philadelphia's Summary Diversion Program
Defendants that have been charged with a summary offense may be eligible for the Summary Diversion Program if they have not participated in the program in the past. Those charged with Cruelty to Animals, Criminal Mischief, and most weapons-related offenses are also ineligible. Any offenders that were issued citations from the following agencies are also ineligible:
- Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
- Department of Agriculture
- Vehicle Fraud Investigations
- Department of Revenue
Those who choose to participate in the Summary Diversion Program will have their court proceedings paused. They are required to attend a Summary Diversion Program Class that is conducted on a Saturday. A $200 fee is required and must be paid on the day of the class. Those who complete the program can have their charges dismissed.
Defendants that are charged with underage drinking or presenting false identification will have their charges reduced to disorderly conduct. These individuals will also not be subject to a driver's license suspension. Any participants that fail to satisfy the program requirements may have their case referred back to the court for the original criminal proceedings.
Expunging a Summary Diversion Case in Philadelphia
In addition to making certain a defendant's rights and interests are protected from the start of the case until the finish, a private attorney can immediately file an expungement for a Philadelphia Summary Diversion case as soon as the defendant completes the Summary Diversion class. An expungement hearing will be set approximately 30 days after filing and in almost all instances, the attorney can attend to the expungement hearing so that the defendant does not have to appear.
As such, an expungement can be granted within approximately 1 month instead of depending on the Philadelphia Court system to take these steps on a defendant's behalf, having to wait 6 months at an absolute minimum to file for an expungement, and hoping that no issues arise in what amounts to a critical step in the process for anyone, but especially working professional and Philadelphia college students among others.
Legal Representation for Criminal Cases in Philadelphia
Being convicted of a criminal offense can result in significant penalties including a jail sentence, large fines, probation, and more. It is strongly recommended that those facing criminal charges seek assistance from an attorney that focuses on this area of legal practice. Joseph D. Lento is a seasoned defense lawyer that delivers results. Please contact the office today at (215) 535-5353 for a complimentary case evaluation.