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Questions About Our Firm
It is preferable, but not essential, to meet in person before a hearing. Modern technology allows us to discuss your case over the phone, manage payments, and share important documents remotely by various means of communication.
However, this does not mean that you cannot meet with us prior to your hearing. Our team is always willing to meet with our clients in our office whenever we are available to discuss their case. Should you decide that you want to come to our office, it's important that you call ahead and schedule an appointment. Otherwise there may not be an attorney available to you for some time, if we are helping other clients in the office or in Court.
Whether we meet in advance or not, we always plan to meet our clients at the court 30 minutes prior to a hearing. At this time we will go over any documents that need to be completed, tell you what is likely to occur at the hearing, and discuss any changes from the previously discussed strategies and plans for your case.Our offices are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. We can also schedule an evening or weekend appointment if you are not available during regular business hours.
As a client of Manchester and Associates, we will provide you with copies of any court notices or orders requiring your appearance through the mail. In addition to this, we also call all clients a week ahead of any previously scheduled Court dates, to remind them of their court date and to let them know which attorney will be present at the court hearing. Should you have any questions as to when or where your next court date is our staff will be happy to help you out.
You will also receive a scheduling notice from either the Court Administrator’s office or through an order from the judge presiding over your case. These notices and orders are mailed to your address recorded with the courthouse and mailed from the Court Administrator’s office. On a printed scheduling notice from the court, in the middle of the page, is the date, time, and location for where to appear. If you received an order the date, time, and location will be written into the order itself. Make sure you read all of your mail regarding your case carefully so that you can plan accordingly to appear at all times.
Should you change your residence at any time while your case is pending it is very important that you let your attorney know so that we can inform the court of your change of address. This ensures that you are following your bail conditions which require you to keep the court informed of your current address and that you will continue to receive your mail from the courthouse. In addition, we can update our information as well, so you will also receive our letters about your case.
A preliminary hearing is normally the first step in the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania. Depending on the crime(s) charged there may have already been a Preliminary Arraignment; if not this will be part of the Preliminary hearing. At a preliminary hearings, the commonwealth's District Attorney needs to convince the Magisterial District Judge that there is enough evidence for your case to proceed to the next level of court. The level of proof required is very low: The DA only needs to show that it is more likely than not that a crime occurred and that is more likely than not that the person charged is the person who committed that alleged crime. Despite the low level of proof necessary for the case to move forward, this is an important proceeding where an experienced attorney can learn many things about the case and possible defenses against the charges.
Everyone who has been charged with a misdemeanor or felony in the state of Pennsylvania will have some type of bail set against them to ensure their cooperation with the criminal justice system. Bail may be ROR (released on your promise to come back); unsecured (you owe money if you don’t appear); or cash bail (you must post bail in order to stay out of jail while your case progresses).
Preliminary Hearings are held in two different ways across Pennsylvania. The first way is that your hearing will be held at the local magisterial district court office for the jurisdiction that the offenses are alleged to have occurred in. The second way in which a preliminary hearing is held is through what is called central court. This is where all the magisterial district courts in one county combine all their cases together on one date at a central location. This location is usually the county courthouse. Sometimes hearings are held at the first scheduling date and sometimes a specific hearing date must be requested. Our team of attorneys have experience practicing in many counties in Pennsylvania and will be able to guide you through the preliminary hearing process in the best way for your case.
Once you receive charges in the mail the Criminal Court process starts very quickly. It is our opinion that you should always hire an attorney to represent you any time you have been charged with a criminal offense. No one should go into a criminal case unrepresented. Our team of attorneys know the laws and defenses and how to apply them to the particular facts of your case.
For most cases in Pennsylvania you will have received your charging documents in the mail. One packet is sent through regular mail and an identical packet is sent through certified mail. Once you have received those packets your first court date is usually within thirty days. In this short window of time there are two important things that you will have to do. First, you should contact an attorney to represent you and discuss your case thoroughly with them. Next, if the police did not already fingerprint you, you will have a fingerprint order in your paperwork and will have to get that taken care of before your first court date.
Your first court date is when we start to build the defenses for your case. In certain cases, it is the time to start plea negotiations with the District Attorney so you can get a favorable disposition. In addition, you need to have arguments ready for when the Court is determining your bail. Improper arguments and failure to address bail appropriately can result in a monetary bail which could result in you going to jail. An experienced attorney will be able to discuss all these situations with you and determine how best to proceed in your particular case.
The preliminary hearing is the first time that you have the opportunity to challenge the evidence the police are alleging in your case to justify the filing of criminal charges against you. It allows a defendant or their counsel to cross-examine the witnesses and present evidence in their defense.
The burden is on the Commonwealth to show what is known as a prima facie case. A prima facie case consists of evidence, read in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, that establishes it is more likely than not that a crime was committed and that it is more likely than not that the person charged is the person who committed the crime. Ultimately, there are two takeaways necessary for understanding the prima facie burden of proof that the Commonwealth must have at the preliminary hearing. First, the judge must accept all of the evidence presented as if it were true, regardless of how likely or convincing it might be at trial, which means that the credibility of witnesses is not at issue at this stage. Second, because the level of proof is so low, the judge is not determining your guilt or innocence at this hearing. This hearing is only for the Magisterial District Judge to determine if your case should proceed to the next level of court. For the defense, it is the first opportunity to hear the basic evidence the Commonwealth presents and start to make a determination of how strong the case against you really is. While a person may “waive” a preliminary hearing and go right to the next level of court, in some cases having the hearing is the first step in a strong defense. An experienced criminal defense attorney is in the best position to review your case and decide which course of action is in your best interests.
Generally, the next Court date that you will be given is called the Formal Arraignment. This is the first time that you will be required to go to the main Court of Common Pleas courthouse in the County. You may have already been there depending on how that specific county handles their preliminary hearing. From this point forward you will not return to the Magisterial District Court office. Your case will always be handled at the Court of Common Pleas. The Formal Arraignment is an important date for a few reasons. First, this date is for the Court to inform you of the charges that the District Attorney Office is alleging against you and the elements of those charges. This date is also important as it starts the time for the filing of certain documents with the Court. From this date, you have seven days to file a bill of particulars with the Court for the District Attorney Office. You have fourteen days to file for discovery with the District Attorney Office. The last deadline is you have thirty days to file omnibus motions with the Court. Should you fail to file inside any of these timelines that Court can dismiss your filing for no other reason than being late. In addition, you will also be asked to enter a plea, we usually recommend a not guilty plea at this point, and you will be placed on the trial list. In some cases, we might recommend that you fill out a waiver of the formal arraignment. This is a written document that explains the deadlines in your case, enters a not guilty plea for you, and requests a trial in your case. Whether or not to ask for a waiver of arraignment is a decision you will make with your attorney.
After the Formal Arraignment, each county has its own procedure to move cases forward to the next step. Some Counties request status dates where you inform the Court of what is happening in the case and discuss the case with the District Attorney Office. Others have Pretrial days where you must tell the Court if your case if ready to go to trial. This is called by several names such as Pre-Trial Conference, Trial List review, Last day to Plea, and Criminal Conferences, among others.
After this next step, your case will be heading in one of three directions. If you entered into a plea agreement, then you will be scheduled for sentencing. If you told the court that you are going to trial, then you will be scheduled for either Jury Selection if you are entitled to a jury trial or for a Non-Jury trial also known as a Bench trial if you are not entitled to a jury trial. If you told the court you needed more time to prepare for your case, your case will be scheduled for another pre-trial proceeding at a later date.