For years, authorities in West Chester and other boroughs across the state have worked together in efforts to dismantle Pennsylvania's “tough-on-crime” approach to prosecution and criminal legislation. But despite the great strides that have been made in this regard, criminal charges still have the power to completely alter all aspects of your future. For a small lapse of judgment, defendants have found themselves facing costly fines, lengthy terms of imprisonment, and a permanent criminal record that has been proven to severely limit convicted offenders' post-conviction lives for years to come.
With so much at stake, it's important for people who've been charged with a criminal offense to completely understand what they're up against. It's equally important for them to retain legal representation that can give them a fighting change in the criminal justice system. If you're in this predicament, don't fret. The Lento Law Firm has compiled relevant information that all West Chester defendants should know.
Understanding the Court System
West Chester is the county seat of Chester County. Therefore, if you've been charged with a crime in West Chester, it's likely your case will be heard in a Chester County courtroom.
Chester County District Court
There are 19 magisterial district courts scattered throughout Chester County. An individual charged with a crime - either a felony or misdemeanor - begins in the local district court of the jurisdiction in which the matter transpired.
At the district court level, the accused is entitled to a preliminary hearing. It is during these hearings where all allegations are brought forward, a complaint is processed, and bail is set for the defendant.
The Court of Common Pleas
Once the preliminary hearing is completed and bail is set for a defendant at the district court level, the matter is transferred to the Court of Common Pleas. At this level, an attorney files all relevant motions to defend the case. Diversionary programs may also be introduced at this stage in an effort to resolve the case. Lastly, the court of common pleas is ultimately where your trial will occur.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania
After a trial is heard, a defendant has the option to appeal a verdict to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. This is the same court that handles all criminal trial appeals throughout the entire state. It is at this court that a judge may overrule your verdict if any legal issues arose in your trial.
Areas of Defense
Regardless of the crime you've been charged with, you deserve a vigorous defense. The Lento Law Firm provides high-quality counsel in the following areas of criminal law:
- Juvenile offenses: a separate criminal justice system exists for minors charged and/or convicted with criminal offenses. Some examples of juvenile crimes include minor in possession (of alcohol), underage drinking, and the obtainment of a fake ID.
- DUI: driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol is not tolerated in West Chester.
- Drug charges: this is one of the most committed crimes in the state of Pennsylvania. The possession of a controlled substance, drug trafficking, the possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession with intent to deliver are drug offenses that lead to serious jail time in the state.
- Traffic offenses: contrary to popular belief, traffic offenses can warrant harsh consequences. If you compile multiple in a short period of time, you'll need an attorney to help you keep your driving privileges.
- Theft crimes: some of the most common criminal charges outside of traffic offenses in Pennsylvania are theft offenses.
- White collar crime: since these crimes usually involve large quantities of money, the legal penalties are often steep. Judges and juries have little sympathy for those who steal other people's identities, those who embezzle funds, and those who commit insurance fraud.
- Sex crimes: sex crimes are incredibly stigmatized in society, and a conviction will lead to a defendant's mandatory registration on a sexual offender registration.
- Violation of probation: a violationof probation can compromise your freedom. Don't just stand by and accept these consequences, contact the Lento Law Firm.
- Firearm/Weapon charges: severe punishments can come from being convicted of illegal ownership and/or use of firearms and other weapons, even if the weapon was solely for your personal protection.
- Violent crimes: cases involving violence are treated as open-and-shut cases in court. You need an attorney to ensure you have a chance at a fair trial.
- Internet/cyber crimes: With unlimited access to the internet came a massive uptick in cyber crimes.
- Federal crimes: most prosecutions occur at the state level in municipal or county courts. However, in cases where a criminal matter is classified as a federal offense, you'll need solid representation.
- Violation of parole: when a person is suspected of violating parole, their status as a parolee is in danger. Failing to meet the standards of parole may warrant increased parole time or incarceration.
If you've already been convicted of a crime, you can still do things to better your situation. Fortunately, offenders can clear their criminal record in West Chester by way of expungement. An expungement is the eradication of certain crimes on your criminal record, which means that they will no longer be seen in background checks by employers, housing agencies, schools or anyone who can look up your record on the internet. Although that is really good news for defendants hoping to start over, the state hasn't made things particularly easy for offenders. The expungement process is drawn out and notorious for having pretty stern eligibility requirements. But if you qualify, it can drastically improve the quality of your post-conviction life.
With the help of an attorney, you can navigate the expungement process effectively and keep from prolonging the process.
The Lento Law Firm Can Help
It's easy to feel like the cards are stacked against you when you've been accused of a crime. There are so many facets of your life that will be affected if convicted - your job, your relationship with your family, your reputation, and most importantly, your freedom. The good news is that you don't have to face criminal charges on your own. Skilled criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento has the experience to provide a solid defense for you. Don't face these charges alone, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.