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What is a Fugitive of Justice Charge in Pennsylvania?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Aug 25, 2017 | 0 Comments

Pennsylvania is called the "Keystone State" for a reason.  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as it is officially known, is bordered by Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, New York, and New Jersey.  Many people travel to Pennsylvania for business and pleasure, and many more people travel through Pennsylvania on their way to other places.  Most people's time in Pennsylvania will be uneventful, but when a person is "wanted" by law enforcement in another state and this comes to the attention of Pennsylvania authorities, that person will be arrested and charged with a "fugitive of justice" charge, also known as an "FOJ" charge, which is codified under Title 42 Section 9134 of the Pennsylvania Statutes.

42 § 9134 - Arrest Prior to Requisition reads as follows:

Whenever any person within this Commonwealth shall be charged on the oath of any credible person before any judge or issuing authority of this Commonwealth with the commission of any crime in any other state, and, except in cases arising under section 9127 (relating to extradition of persons not present in demanding state at time of commission of crime) with having fled from justice or with having been convicted of a crime in that state and having escaped from confinement or having broken the terms of his bail, probation or parole, or whenever complaint  shall have been made before any judge or issuing authority in this Commonwealth, setting forth on the affidavit of any credible person in another state that a crime has been committed in such other state and that the accused has been charged in such state with the commission of the crime, and, except in cases arising under section 9127, has fled from justice or with having been convicted of a crime in that state and having escaped from confinement or having broken the terms of his bail, probation or parole and is believed to be in this Commonwealth, the judge or issuing authority shall issue a warrant directed to any peace officer commanding him to apprehend the person named therein wherever he may be found in this Commonwealth and to bring him before the same or any other judge or issuing authority who or which may be available in, or convenient of, access to the place where the arrest may be made to answer the charge or complaint and affidavit, and a certified copy of the sworn charge or complaint and affidavit upon which the warrant is issued shall be attached to the warrant.

Ultimately, when a person is wanted for committing a crime, or for some other alleged violation, and has fled to another state, they are referred to as a "fugitive from justice." In order to return the person to the state where they are being charged, a process known as "extradition" must take place.  Pennsylvania is one of the states in the country that have entered into the "Uniform Criminal Extradition Act," which streamlines the process of extradition which is explained below.

What does "commitment to await requisition" mean in Pennsylvania?

A person can be a fugitive from another state for various reasons; for example, a person can be a fugitive for having been charged with committing a crime in another state, for having violated his or her probation or parole in another state, or for missing a court date in another state.

If, for example, a fugitive from justice is driving through Pennsylvania, and is stopped by Pennsylvania law enforcement (such as the local police or the Pennsylvania State Police), that person will be arrested if it becomes known to Pennsylvania law enforcement that the person in question is wanted by law enforcement in another state.  When it appears to Pennsylvania authorities that the person who is wanted in another state has fled from justice, the judge or magistrate must, by a warrant reciting the accusation against the person, commit the accused to the county jail.  This is known as a fugitive's "commitment to await requisition" by the "demanding" state (the state from which the fugitive is wanted).

It is important to note that "flight" is not a prerequisite to extradition if the offense charged in the demanding state was caused by an act committed outside the demanding state - 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9127.

How long will a fugitive who is wanted in another state have to spend in jail while awaiting extradition from Pennsylvania?

By law, the (initial) commitment of the accused person should not exceed 30 days.  This commitment enables the arrest of the accused to be made under a governor's warrant after a requisition of the executive authority of the state having jurisdiction of the offense (the "demanding" state), unless the accused posts bail as authorized by Pennsylvania law until he or she is legally discharged from Pennsylvania custody.

The purpose of this 30-day rule is to “prevent a person from languishing in jail without a judicial supervision.”  (People who are facing a fugitive of justice charge in Pennsylvania and their families should understand that this 30-day commitment will in many instances last longer than 30 days for reasons explained below.)

What happens at the extradition hearing in Pennsylvania?

At the extradition hearing, also known as the "FOJ" hearing, the fugitive can either: 1) challenge his or her extradition to the demanding state; or 2) agree to his or her extradition by "waiving" the FOJ hearing.  If the fugitive agrees to be extradited by waiving his or her extradition hearing, the demanding state will be notified, and will make arrangements to come and get him or her from Pennsylvania.

If the extradition is challenged by the fugitive's application of a writ of habeas corpus, the FOJ case will be scheduled for a hearing within 30 days, during which time a governor's warrant must be secured. If 30 days passes without this happening, the demanding state can be granted a 60-day extension to secure a warrant from the governor. If the demanding state does not produce the governor's warrant within the required time period, the fugitive will be released from Pennsylvania custody.

What is a writ of habeas corpus and what does it have to do with a Pennsylvania fugitive of justice charge?

Habeas corpus" literally means to "produce the body," and a writ of habeas corpus is a court order to a person or agency holding someone in custody (such as a prison warden) to deliver the imprisoned individual to the court issuing the order and to show a valid reason for that person's detention.

What takes place at a FOJ hearing in Philadelphia?

After a person is arrested in Philadelphia for being a fugitive of justice from another state, the person will have his or her preliminary arraignment where bail will be set as deemed appropriate by the bail commissioner.  The preliminary hearing takes place in the basement of the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center (the "CJC"), located at 1301 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107.  If bail is set, it is generally set respectably high.  The defendant will thereafter be scheduled for a court date in courtroom 805 of the CJC.  The Honorable Tracy Brandeis-Roman of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas presently presides over courtroom 805.

If bail is set high, a formal motion to reduce bail can be filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.  As with the fugitive of justice case itself, Judge Brandeis-Roman will also preside over a bail reduction hearing.  Although not impossible, getting bail lowered on FOJ cases in Philadelphia requires a strong argument for the request to be granted.)

At this first court date, which is the "FOJ" hearing, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, through the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office which is prosecuting the fugitive of justice case, will inform the court whether a governor's warrant has been obtained.  If a governor's warrant has not been obtained at the first court listing, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office will ask that the FOJ hearing be continued for 30 days.  If a governor's warrant has been obtained at the first court listing (which is unlikely due to the time constraints involved in doing so), the court will hold a hearing to verify that the person arrested in Philadelphia is in fact the person wanted by the demanding state.

If the court does not hold this hearing at the first court listing because the governor's warrant has not been obtained at that time, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office will continue to ask that the FOJ case be continued to allow their office to obtain the governor's warrant (up to 90 days).  Generally, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas will grant such a request, and generally, fugitive of justice cases in Philadelphia will precede along a standard timeline as follows:

  • The first court listing in courtroom 805 will take place shortly after the defendant's arrest and preliminary arraignment on the FOJ charge.
  • The second court listing will take place approximately 30 days thereafter (a total of approximately 30 days after the defendant's arrest).
  • The third court listing will take place approximately 30 days thereafter (a total of approximately 60 days after the defendant's arrest).
  • The fourth court listing will take place approximately 30 days thereafter (a total of approximately 90 days after the defendant's arrest).

If and when the governor's warrant is obtained, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas will determine if the person accused is in fact the person wanted by the demanding state.  This can take place at the first, second, third, or fourth court listing in courtroom 805.  If the Philadelphia Court is satisfied that the person accused is in fact wanted by the demanding state, the Philadelphia Court will order that the fugitive from justice be extradited to the demanding state. 

If the Philadelphia Court is not satisfied, as noted above, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office can either: 1) be granted an extension of time to obtain additional information / documentation to verify the allegation that the accused is in fact the person wanted by the demanding state (bearing in mind the time periods allowed by Pennsylvania law; explained further below); or 2) have their request for an extension of time denied (which would be the likely outcome if the governor's warrant has not been obtained within 90 days).

If the governor's warrant has not been obtained by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office within 90 days, and it there are no other matters holding the defendant, whether wanted by another state or not, the defendant should be released from Philadelphia jail.  (A related consideration is that a defendant facing such circumstances can be re-arrested to have the fugitive of justice matter addressed again if certain conditions are met; explained further below).

Can a person post bail while facing an extradition hearing in Pennsylvania?

Unless the criminal offense with which the accused is charged is shown to be punishable by death or life imprisonment under the laws of the state in which it was committed (the demanding state), a person charged with being a fugitive of justice may be released on bail on sufficient sureties as the judge or magistrate decides is appropriate to the circumstances of the case, conditioned on the accused's appearance and surrender to be arrested on the warrant of the governor of Pennsylvania. 

In other words, if a person posts bail while awaiting a Governor's warrant for his or her extradition, the person has two options: 1) return to the demanding state on his or her own to address the outstanding issue (for example, the bench warrant and/or criminal charge); or 2) wait in Pennsylvania until the governor's warrant is secured and thereafter surrender to Pennsylvania authorities to be extradited to the demanding state to address the outstanding issue(s).

There is no provision for release on bail of a person arrested and held for extradition on the warrant of the governor of the asylum state, but neither is there a prohibition against such bail.  In addition, defendants arrested on a governor's warrant can also be released on bail.

Can the 30-day fugitive of justice commitment be extended?

For people facing an FOJ charge in Pennsylvania and their families, unfortunately, the initial commitment to custody after being charged can be extended, and is often extended.  This is known as an "extension of commitment."

If the defendant is not arrested under a governor's warrant by the expiration of the time specified in the warrant or bond (which cannot be longer than 30 days as noted above), a judge or magistrate may discharge the defendant from Pennsylvania custody or recommit him or her for a further period of time not exceeding more than 60 days.

As with a fugitive's initial commitment, the defendant may be released on bail but only for a period not to exceed 60 days after the date of the new bond.

Although there is no Pennsylvania statutory law which requires a hearing be held by a judge in the applicable common pleas court before a defendant may be recommitted for another period of up to 60 days, Pennsylvania court precedent has imposed such a requirement.

The Pennsylvania court presiding over the FOJ case has broad discretion in determining whether to grant the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (the authority prosecuting the FOJ case) the additional 60 days.  In addition, the Pennsylvania court presiding over the not required to hold a full evidentiary hearing on the defendant's guilt or innocence, the admissibility of the evidence, or other issues which must be properly raised in the state demanding the defendant's extradition.   The only issue to be determined at such a hearing is whether the defendant is “needlessly ‘languishing in jail.”  Commonwealth v. Heilman, 289 Pa.Super. 314, 433 A.2d 83 (1981)

In most extradition cases in Pennsylvania, the court will liberally grant a request made by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for recommitment of the defendant.

What happens if the time for holding a person on a fugitive warrant expires?

A person arrested and held pending demand for extradition and arrest on a governor's rendition warrant (the warrant issued by the governor of the state to which the fugitive fled - Pennsylvania in this instance) is entitled to be discharged from custody or released on bond if both the original and extended time for holding the defendant, as limited by law or as specified in the bond, have expired without the defendant being arrested on a governor's warrant.  (If the powers that be do not do so on their own, the procedure for seeking such a discharge is a petition for writ of habeas corpus.)

Can I be re-arrested for an FOJ charge after being discharged?

If a defendant has been discharged from a fugitive warrant (a warrant of arrest for a fugitive from a state or territory of the United States other than Pennsylvania), there is no prohibition against re-arrest on a new warrant.  However, there must have been a discharge from the detainer and a new warrant obtained in order to re-arrest past the original and extended time period (90 days).

When does the time period for the demanding state to obtain a governor's warrant start?

The applicable time period for the demanding state to obtain a governor's warrant for the prospective extradition of the defendant starts on the defendant's date of arrest.  The lodging of a fugitive warrant on one already arrested constitutes an arrest under the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act. 

It should be noted that the time period required by law, although specified, is not always strictly enforced.  An effective defense attorney will make sure that the time periods as allowed by law are not overlooked or ignored to the detriment of the defendant. 

For example, when the governor's warrant did not arrive within 30 days of arrest and the hearing to recommit the defendant was not held until the 32nd day, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that the delay was minimal, and as a result, the defendant was not entitled to relief.  A 15-day delay after the allowable 90-day period did, however, entitle a defendant to relief even when the defendant was serving a sentence on an unrelated case.

If I am facing a FOJ charge and released on bail, do the same time periods apply?

Since the purpose of the provision of the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act which allows a defendant to be released on bail is not to restrict the time within which a governor's warrant must be executed, but rather, to prevent an unreasonably lengthy period of commitment, one released on bail is not necessarily entitled to discharge if the time limitations are passed.

Once a defendant has been arrested under the authority of a governor's warrant, the legality or illegality of any irregularity in the proceedings to hold the defendant for arrest becomes moot. 

For example, when an alleged fugitive from justice filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging that his 30-day (or additional 60-day) commitment had expired, and at the hearing on the habeas corpus the governor's warrant and requisition papers were produced, the petition for habeas corpus and the issues raised within were rendered moot.

Pennsylvania courts have also held that when, at a hearing on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the alleged fugitive raised the claim that 30 days had elapsed since his arrest on a fugitive warrant, no 60-day extension had been requested or granted, and no governor's warrant produced, the court could, at that hearing, grant the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania a 60-day extension.

How will a fugitive be returned to the demanding state?

The return of a fugitive to the demanding state, whether through agreement by the fugitive's waiver, or as a result of a hearing, can be done in several different manners. In most instances, however, a law enforcement officer from the demanding state will go to Pennsylvania bring him or her back.

Philadelphia Attorney for Fugitive of Justice Charge | Lawyer for Pennsylvania FOJ Charge

Being wanted on criminal charges or for a probation or parole violation is burdensome enough, and being wanted on criminal charges or for a probation or parole violation in another state while living, visiting, or traveling through Pennsylvania can complicate an already difficult situation. 

If you or a loved one is facing a fugitive of justice charge in Pennsylvania, or the prospect of an extradition hearing in Pennsylvania, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, or Northampton County, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Joseph D. Lento has nearly a decade of experience fighting for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, as well as New Jersey. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has nearly 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.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania and New Jersey attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations – the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, or New Jersey should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.

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