What arguments can be made at a Philadelphia bench warrant hearing?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jun 27, 2017 | 0 Comments

People miss court in Philadelphia on any given day for various reasons, and when this happens, a bench warrant may be issued.  When defendant misses a criminal court hearing in Philadelphia, a bench warrant will be issued and the person may also have to defend against a contempt of court charge.

Contempt charges are not uncommon, and there are in fact many contempt verdicts each day, particularly at prison bench warrant hearings on State Road in Philadelphia.  Many other bench warrants and contempt charges are addressed at the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center, located at 1301 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107.  The Criminal Justice Center is also known as the "CJC."

In many contempt cases, severe sentences (30 to 60 days, 45 to 90 days, 90 to 180 days) are imposed for repeat contempt offenders.  Many bench warrant defendants have no valid reason for missing criminal court, but some do.  Whether a defendant has a valid reason or not to have missed court, the defendant's attorney must try to avoid, or at least minimize the potential consequences which can be severe.

What are legal argument that can be made at a bench warrant hearing?  What objections should be made at a contempt trial?

An effective defense attorney must present the necessary legal arguments and note the necessary objections at a bench warrant hearing or a contempt trial in Philadelphia.  The following legal arguments and objections should be made "on the record" when a defendant has a valid reason for missing court and/or is facing the prospect of a contempt sentence.

  • The defendant has the right to a public trial and not just a "video" trial pursuant to Rule 119 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure.
  • The "proof" presented by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office regarding the defendant's "failure to appear" (FTA) in court and the defendant's previous "FTA" history is improper.  Specifically, introducing the non-existent court file and having a court clerk read the defendant's prior FTA history is improper hearsay.  It is also a violation of the defendant's right under the "Confrontation Clause" of the United States Constitution and due process provisions of the United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution.
  • The case is not properly listed as a summary contempt case since the failure to appear occurred prior to the contempt hearing and summary contempt is not needed to immediately vindicate court authority.
  • The defendant's prior FTA history is only relevant / admissible at a bench warrant hearing to set bail and not at a contempt trial.
  • The defendant's defense attorney was provided insufficient notice of the defendant's contempt proceeding, insufficient time to interview the defendant regarding the bench warrant / contempt charge, and insufficient opportunity to present evidence relevant to the defendant's guilt or innocence.
  • The Philadelphia Court erred in denying the defense attorney's request for a continuance to allow evidence to be presented in support of the defendant's reason for missing court.
  • The defendant's contempt sentence must have a "minimum" and "maximum" date pursuant to the Pennsylvania court holding in Commonwealth v. Blain Cain, 637 A.2d 656 (1994)

All of the above legal arguments and objection should be made "on the record" in every contempt case where the defendant has a valid reason for missing court, is facing a significant contempt sentence, or any other case as appropriate.  The filing a post-sentence motion and/or possible appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court should be considered when a defendant is issued an improper contempt verdict and/or sentence.

Can a defendant "sign own bail" or be granted the "same bail to stand" (SBTS) at a Philadelphia bench warrant or contempt hearing?

A defendant who misses court in Philadelphia often will have many questions.  Immediate questions that may arise are, "How did this happen?  How do I surrender on a bench warrant in Philadelphia?"  In most instances, surrendering on a bench warrant requires a defendant to appear at the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center as early as possible on any weekday morning.  The defendant will be taken into custody at that time and a bench warrant hearing will be scheduled for later that morning before the Philadelphia Municipal Court judge who is assigned that week to Bench Warrant Court, which takes place in courtroom 403 of the Criminal Justice Center.  Related questions that often arise are, "What will happen at the bench warrant hearing in Philadelphia?  Will bail be set at the bench warrant hearing?  Will bail remain the same after a bench warrant hearing?"

An effective defense attorney will make strong arguments on a defendant's behalf at the bench warrant hearing in support of allowing the defendant to "sign own bail" (SOB) or allowing the "same bail to stand" (SBTS).  An effective defense attorney will also make strong arguments at a defendant's contempt hearing in support of a "Not Guilty" verdict or a "No Further Punishment" sentence after a guilty verdict.  Such arguments include:

  • The defendant has a verified excuse (for example, the defendant was in jail, in the hospital, at a funeral, and so forth) for failing to appear in court on the date the bench warrant was issued regardless of how many bench warrants were issued for the defendant in the past.
  • The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office (known as the "Commonwealth" Pennsylvania criminal court proceedings) offered no proof of person service (for example, a signed subpoena) on the defendant for the court date that was missed.
  • The defendant surrendered on the bench warrant.
  • The defendant surrendered on the bench warrant promptly after the warrant was issued.
  • The bench warrant is the defendant's first bench warrant on the case.
  • The case itself is non-serious and likely to result in a "Not Guilty" verdict or a probationary sentence in the event of a guilty verdict.
  • The history of the case reveals that trial in the underlying criminal case has been delayed by a Commonwealth witness failing to appear of otherwise by the Commonwealth in the past.
  • The defendant has a physical or mental health problem which would be affected by imprisonment on the bench warrant.
  • The defendant appear sympathetic or offers any sympathetic or otherwise equitable reason why he or she should not be fond guilty of, or sentenced on contempt.

Having to defend against criminal charges in Philadelphia is burdensome whether a person has been arrested before or is a first-time offender.  Even the most responsible person may miss court because of unavoidable circumstances.  Having a bench warrant issued because of a missed criminal court appearance can make a difficult burden more difficult yet because a bench warrant can lead to a contempt charge, and a contempt charge can lead to a significant jail sentence.

Philadelphia Attorney for Bench Warrant | Lawyer to Help Surrender on a Philadelphia Bench Warrant

Presenting the best possible defense to the issuance of a bench warrant and/or a contempt charge in Philadelphia is critical to achieving the best possible outcome.  Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today if you or a loved one is dealing with a bench warrant, would like to surrender on a bench warrant, or have any questions or concerns regarding the Philadelphia bench warrant/contempt hearing process.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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