Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorneys

Have You or a Loved One Been Arrested?

If you are facing criminal charges in state or federal court, it can be both a frightening and stressful situation for you and your family. Whether you are facing felony or criminal charges, our office will answer your questions and help you get through this trying time. When you are accused of a crime, your livelihood is on the line. With so much at stake, you need a powerful defense of your rights.

Categories of Criminal Charges in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania classifies its criminal charges into three categories:

  • Summary;
  • Misdemeanor; and 
  • Felony

The least serious criminal charges in Pennsylvania are summary offenses. Summary offenses include things such as harassment, disorderly conduct, and loitering. Conviction of a non-traffic summary offense carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $300 fine. In addition, you may also have to pay restitution if your crime involved theft or damage to someone's property.

The next classification of charges are misdemeanors. Although these charges are not as serious as a felony, they are more serious than summary offenses and can involve significant incarceration and fines. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor, you should take it seriously. 

Pennsylvania classifies misdemeanors as either first, second, or third degree depending on the severity of the offense, with each degree having increasingly harsh penalties. While other states limit the punishment for misdemeanors to no more than a year of jail time, Pennsylvania misdemeanors may result in several years of incarceration.

Pursuant to Pennsylvania law, misdemeanor penalties include:

  • Third-degree misdemeanors (M3)
    • May result in up to one-year incarceration and up to $2,000 in fines. 
  • Second-degree misdemeanors (M2)
    • Are punishable by up to two years of incarceration and up to $5,000 in fines. 
  • First-degree misdemeanors (M1) 
    • Are punishable by up to five years of incarceration and up to $10,000 in fines.

Pennsylvania has certain misdemeanors that are “ungraded” under the Pennsylvania code. Certain crimes under the Pennsylvania Controlled Substances, Drugs, Device and Cosmetic Act. In addition, a first offense DUI is classified as an ungraded misdemeanor.

Ungraded misdemeanors may involve less time in jail; however, they can still result in other serious penalties, such as fines, court costs, and community service.

Felonies are the most serious criminal charges that you can face in Pennsylvania. Like misdemeanors, Pennsylvania classifies felonies as either first, second, or third degree. Felonies carry the longest prison terms.

Pursuant to Pennsylvania law, the penalties for felonies include:

  • Third-degree felonies (F3) 
    • Are punishable by no more than seven years of prison time and up to $15,000 in fines. 
  • Second-degree felonies (F2) 
    • Are punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment and up to $25,000 in fines. 
  • First-degree felonies (F1) 
    • Are the most severe and are punishable by up to 20 years of imprisonment and up to $25,000 in fines. 

Pursuant to Pennsylvania law, there are certain felonies that don't have a specified degree of classification. An example would be first and second-degree murder. They are classified separately from other felonies and carry the harshest punishment under state law. These two crimes may be punishable by death or life imprisonment.

The Pennsylvania Code has additional provisions that may make a felony sentence even harsher. These are called sentencing enhancements, and may increase fines or the length of incarceration. They include the following:

  • Deadly weapon possession;
  • Youth / School proximity;
  • Criminal gang involvement;
  • Third-degree murder of a victim younger than age 13;
  • Sexual abuse of children;
  • Arson; and
  • Human trafficking
What are the Stages in a Criminal Case?

If you have been charged with a crime in Pennsylvania, it is important for you to understand the Pennsylvania criminal court process. For most people, being arrested and charged with a crime is the most stressful experience of their lives. 

  • The alleged criminal offense occurs;
    • Police charge the individual believed to have committed the alleged criminal offense; or police are notified of alleged criminal conduct and begin an investigation
    • For a criminal offense such as a DUI, the police will generally arrest the individual on the spot. For an alleged offense such as sexual assault, after the police are notified they will begin an investigation.
  • Booking/Processing
    • In cases where the police arrest the individual on the spot, they are taken to jail to be processed. The individual's personal information will be recorded, along with fingerprinting and photographs. They will also receive a medical screening at the time of booking before being placed in a holding cell. Meanwhile, the officer and prosecutor will begin preparing a criminal complaint.
  • Police File a Criminal Complaint
    • If after the investigation, the police feel that a crime has been committed, they will file a criminal complaint with the magistrate. The criminal complaint contains the name and address of the individual charged, the offenses charged, and an Affidavit of Probable Cause, which is a brief summary that explains what the charges are based on. Many cases begin with the filing of a criminal complaint.
  • Private Citizen Complaint
    • A private citizen may file a criminal complaint if it is first submitted to a district attorney for approval.
  • Summons or Arrest Warrant Issued
    • After receiving the criminal complaint, the magistrate will issue a summons or arrest warrant depending on the nature of the charges. A summons provides notice of the scheduled preliminary hearing in front of a magistrate and is seen to be less serious than an arrest warrant. The summons gives notice to the individual of the following
      • Of the right to secure counsel;
      • That bail will be set at the preliminary hearing;
      • A copy of the criminal complaint;
      • Fingerprint order
    • The summons is served by both first class mail and certified mail, return receipt requested.
    • An arrest warrant may be executed at any place within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The warrant must be executed by a police officer.
  • Preliminary Arraignment
    • In cases where an arrest warrant has been issued or where there was a warrantless arrest and the person is immediately taken into custody (an example being a DUI), the individual has to appear before the magistrate for a preliminary arraignment.
    • The preliminary arraignment must occur without unnecessary delay. Usually this occurs within 72 hours of arrest. 
    • At the preliminary arraignment, the magistrate will read the charges filed against you, inform you of your rights to counsel and then set your bail.
  • Preliminary Hearing
    • At the preliminary hearing, the magistrate determines whether the Commonwealth has established a prima facie case against the individual.  This simply means whether a crime has been committed and if the individual committed it. If the Commonwealth meets their burden, the charges are sent to the applicable Court of Common Pleas. If the Commonwealth fails to meet their burden, the charges are dismissed by the magistrate. If multiple charges have been filed against the individual, it is possible that the Commonwealth will meet their burden on some of the charges and fail to meet their burden on the rest of the charges.    
  • Information is Filed
    • If the magistrate finds that the Commonwealth has established a prima facie case, the magistrate will hold the individual for court on the charges in which the Commonwealth has met their burden. The magistrate will then send a notice to the applicable clerk of courts office and district attorney's office. The district attorney's office files “information,” which is a formal charging document that outlines the case against the defendant. 
  • Formal Arraignment
    • The formal arraignment is a brief court appearance at the applicable courthouse where you will receive the criminal information on your case and plead not guilty. The criminal information, tells you the exact charges filed against you by the Commonwealth. 
  • Pretrial/Status Conference
    • At this court appearance, the defendant, the defendant's attorney, and an assistant district attorney appear before the judge and advise the court on whether the case will be going to trial or result in a guilty plea. 
  • Trial
    • In Pennsylvania, the defendant has the choice of a jury trial or bench trial (a trial only before a judge). Most trials are jury trials, but it depends upon each case and after consultation between the defendant and his/her lawyer. At the trial, the Commonwealth bears the burden of establishing the defendant committed the crime for which he or she is accused beyond a reasonable doubt. The Commonwealth has to establish each element of the crime(s) charged beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defendant is found guilty, he or she will be sentenced immediately or at a later time. If the defendant is found not guilty, he or she will be discharged.
    • Pursuant to the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, the defendant's trial has to commence in a timely manner. 
  • Sentencing
    • In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, an individual is generally sentenced within 90 days whether they have been found guilty by a jury or entered a guilty plea. In most cases, the judge will order a pre-sentence investigation ("PSI") by the probation department to provide a more detailed summary of the defendant's background.
    • Sentences are typically at the trial judge's discretion.
    • Pennsylvania has sentencing guidelines and offense gravity scores. Along with the defendant's prior record score, this information helps determine what the applicable sentence will be.
    • Other penalties in the sentencing could include things such as fines, probation, community service, etc. The sentencing judge may also require the defendant to make financial restitution to any victims who have suffered because of the offense.
What is Bail?

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, bail is the conditional release of a person accused of a crime, to ensure their appearance in court. The purpose of bail is to ensure that the accused will not flee the jurisdiction while awaiting trial. After an arrest in Pennsylvania, bail is set by the magistrate. If the accused individual pays the bail amount or uses a bail bond service, he or she will be released from jail while awaiting their future court dates. Most individuals are eligible for bail while awaiting trial. 

Types of Release on Bail

The following types of bail are governed by Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 524:

  • Release on Recognizance (ROR)
    • Release conditioned upon the defendant's agreement to appear when required to. 
  • Release on Nonmonetary Conditions
    • Similar to ROR in that it is free, however, certain restrictions or conditions may be imposed, such as for travel.
  • Unsecured Bail
    • Release conditioned upon the defendant's written agreement to be liable for a fixed sum of money if he or she fails to appear as required or fails to comply with the conditions of the bail bond. No money or other form of security is deposited.
  • Release on Nominal Bail
    • Release conditioned upon the defendant's depositing a nominal amount of cash which the bail authority determines is sufficient security for the defendant's release, while another agent acts as surety for the defendant.
      • Surety is a person or company bound for the payment of a sum of money for the performance of some duty or promise.  
  • Release on Monetary Condition
    • Release depending on compliance with a monetary condition (money).
What is Considered When the Type and Amount of Bail is Set?

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, bail is usually set by the magistrate. When setting bail the magistrate will consider all available information relevant to making sure the accused appears at subsequent proceedings. This is governed by Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 523

  • The nature of the offense(s) charged;
  • Employment status and history, as well as defendant's financial condition;
  • Defendant's family ties to community;
  • Nature of defendant's ties to the community;
  • Defendant's age, character, and reputation;
  • Does defendant have a history of failing to appear to court;
  • Any prior criminal record
When are you not Eligible for Bail?

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, bail is set in almost all felony cases unless someone is charged with a crime that is punishable upon conviction with the death penalty or life in prison.

Contact Us Today

If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges, call Sklarosky Law today at (570) 283-1200 or use our online contact form and tell us about your potential case. Criminal charges can have life altering ramification. Do not wait, call us today so that we can help ensure that your rights are protected.

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