THE CRIMINAL PROCESS: PART III – COUNTY COURT PROCEEDINGS

If your case is sent to the county court after the preliminary hearing your first matter will be the formal arraignment.  At the arraignment you will appear (with your attorney) and be given your formal charges in the form of what is called an “information”.  This paperwork will list all your charges and the date the alleged crime was committed.  The judge or possible a court clerk will ask you how you plead.  Normally you will tell that person you will “stand mute” and a plea of not guilty will be entered.  It is very rare that a plea of guilty is entered at that time, even if that is what you want to do.  Also the judge or clerk will give you your next hearing date called a “pre-trial conference”.  That hearing will usually be two-four weeks from the arraignment.  (If you did not have an attorney the Court will expect you to be at the pre-trial conference with an attorney).

ACCELERATED REHABILITATIVE DISPOSITION  (ARD)

If this is your first criminal charge and the offense is not very serious (homicide, sexual offense, etc) you will be eligible for the ARD program.  You will apply to the District Attorney who has complete discretion to allow you into the program.  Normally you must have had no prior record or, if you have a record, it is more than 10 years old.  The benefit of the program is that you will be given probation for 6 months-two years (usually one year).  If you successfully complete the program the charges will be dismissed and you may apply to have the arrest expunged.

The conditions for successfully completing the program are as normally as follows:  1). No criminal conduct during the probationary period; 2) community service (usually 16-32 hours. 8 hours per day); 3) costs of program (about $800-$1000 dollars plus $35.00 per month while on probation.  If you violate any of these conditions (especially if you get a new arrest) you will be taken off the program and go back onto the trial list for a trial or a plea of guilty.

Successful completion of the program allows you to petition the court to expunge the record.  If successful no one but the DA (or the Department of Motor Vehicles in the case of a DUI) will know you were on this program or were arrested.  The DA will know since if you get a new charge after completion of the program you will not be eligible again unless 10 years have gone by). Keep in mind that Pennsylvania has a rule that when someone is arrested the DA has one year from the date of the arrest or complaint to bring you to trial.  By applying for ARD you waive this rule so, if you violate the conditions of the program you can still be tried even if the year has gone by after being taken off the ARD list.

 

PRE-TRIAL CONFERENCE

If you are not eligible for ARD you will appear before a judge at a pre-trial conference with your attorney.  Prior to this hearing your attorney will have contacted the DA and been given all relevant information to your case; i.e., police reports names of witnesses, etc.  At the hearing one of three things will likely occur.  If you believe the police have violated your rights with an illegal search or taken your statement illegally you may file a motion to suppress that evidence to make it difficult or impossible for the DA to try the case, thus dismissing the charges.  The hearing on your motion will probably be heard at this conference.  Second, you may decide to accept a plea bargain from the DA.  Normally the DA will offer a plea to a lesser charge or lesser sentence than might be possible if you had gone to trial. The decision to plead guilty is completely up to the defendant after consultation with the attorney.  Finally, if you lose the motion and/or you don’t wish to accept the plea offer you will request a trial date.  At that point the judge will set a trial date.  That date could be several weeks to a month after this conference.

At this point your attorney will then begin to prepare for trial.  He/she will meet with witnesses, gather other evidence, prepare you to testify if necessary.

 

If you have any questions regarding this please feel free to call Lawrence R. Dworkin at 610-566-0610 or email at ldworkin@ldworkinlaw.com

 

The above is a general interpretation of the law.  Each case is different and the above may not apply to your situation.  Again, if you are arrested for any offense consult an attorney as soon as possible. 

 

 

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