How does a preliminary hearing protect me from an unlawful arrest and detention?
A: The Commonwealth must show that your arrest meets the minimum requirements established by law. At this preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth must make at least a prima facie case – that is, at least a minimal showing – that a particular crime was committed and that you are probably the one who committed it. At this stage, the Commonwealth doesn’t have to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In order to meet its burden, the Commonwealth must present some evidence regarding each of the material elements of the crime charged. If the government can’t meet this burden, your case will be dismissed.
How do I choose the right lawyer for my criminal case?
A: Many people who face criminal allegations have never been in trouble before. For this reason, they have not needed a criminal defense lawyer until now and do not know how to choose one. If this sounds like you, you have made a good decision by looking for information and visiting our website. You will not find the answers you need in the yellow pages. All of the ads there appear to be the same, except for maybe the size and the amount of color in the advertisement. Most claim to be “aggressive” or “experienced,” but, you probably ask yourself, “What does that really mean?” Read more on how to choose the right DUI lawyer for you and your case in our Free PA DUI Book: Defending Freedom: The Ultimate Guide to DUI Cases in Pennsylvania (1st Ed.).
Like any other important decision you make, you need information. The more information you have, the better. The better the information, the better the decision. And the information you need to choose the right lawyer for you and your case cannot be found inside (or on) a telephone book. You have to ask questions to get good information. And the answers you receive can make all the difference to you and your family.
How do I decide whether the lawyer is right for me?
A: In addition to making sure that your lawyer is knowledgeable about the issues likely to appear in your case, you will want to assess whether you can work with him or her. You will want to assess how well the lawyer listens, how often he will meet with you, and how much administrative support is available to assist you and your lawyer. You will want to know whether the fundamentals of real communication are in place for a successful relationship.
How long will it take to resolve my case?
A: It depends upon the unique nature of your case. Some cases are resolved at the preliminary hearing. Others are resolved after pre-trial motions. Others are resolved either before or after trial. Still others are not resolved until after an appeal.
I hear that many people waive their preliminary hearing. Should I waive my preliminary hearing?
A: It depends. A preliminary hearing is important because it helps you and your lawyer learn more about the circumstances surrounding the allegations. More information is always better than less information. You also will make better decisions about your case with better information. The preliminary hearing can help you obtain the information you need to make smart choices in your case. The preliminary hearing presents an opportunity for your lawyer to learn about the evidence that the Commonwealth will try to offer against you and in support of the charges. This also means that you must be prepared for this important hearing. If you can get all of the best information available without a preliminary hearing, then maybe you can waive the hearing. In other cases, the only way to obtain important information which will be necessary to execute your plan (develop all of your defenses or preserve legal issues and arguments) will be through a preliminary hearing. And the testimony will need to be recorded by a court reporter who will prepare a transcript of the testimony.
I received court papers that require me to appear for a preliminary hearing. Do I have to appear in person?
A: Yes. You must appear in Court on the date and time set for your preliminary hearing. If you fail to appear, a warrant for your arrest will be issued. This is called a bench warrant.
What can my lawyer do to help me get prepared for my preliminary hearing?
A: Many things. Your lawyer can prepare for the preliminary hearing by spending time with you, learning about you, learning about what happened (or didn’t happen) that resulted in your charges, and begin to develop defenses and outline a strategy for success. Your lawyer can learn about the circumstances surrounding the allegations, conduct his own investigation (perhaps even work with a private investigator), interview witnesses, inspect the scene, take photographs, identify legal issues, conduct legal research, and do various other things which depend on the unique circumstances of your case. All of this preparation is made in an effort to identify and develop possible defenses to the charges. It’s all part of forming a plan for how to defeat all or some of the allegations.
What is a suppression hearing?
A: If your case is not dismissed (or resolved to your satisfaction) at the preliminary hearing, your lawyer might file pretrial motions, resulting in hearings. Some of these motions may argue that using certain evidence against you would violate your constitutional rights. A ruling in your favor can result in evidence being excluded (or “suppressed”) from your trial, which may reduce the prosecution’s odds of winning. For example, statements that you made while in the custody of police, or the results of blood, breath, or field sobriety tests, might be considered by the Court to be inappropriate for a jury to hear because it would be unfair to you and to our system of justice.
What is the 'speedy trial rule'?
A: The speedy trial rule prevents someone from having allegations remain unresolved for an unreasonable period of time. Our understanding of fundamental fairness is violated when someone has criminal allegations “hanging over their head” for an indefinite period of time without being afforded a chance to defend the allegation at a public trial. In Pennsylvania, the speedy trial rule requires, in general, that a case be called to trial within 365 days of the date the criminal complaint was filed. If a person remains in jail while awaiting trial, the speedy trial rule requires that the case be called for trial within 180 days. As with any general rule, exceptions exist.
What questions should I ask before I choose a lawyer to defend my freedom?
A: In the end, choosing the right criminal defense lawyer for you and your case begins with asking the right questions at the beginning. You can start with, “Have you ever defended cases like mine?” A slight variation of this question might be, “Have you defended cases like mine successfully?” Another question should be, “Where can I read about your other cases?” There are many other questions that you will want answered before you make such an important decision. While a certain result that a lawyer had in another case does not guarantee that you will get the same result in your case, you at least should know whether the lawyer has handled cases like yours. If he has, then you can assess whether he is familiar with the issues that might arise in your case.
What should I do when I think charges might be filed against me?
A: When you receive these papers (or think that you might face criminal charges), you should meet with a lawyer immediately. You want to begin to prepare for the preliminary hearing as soon as possible. The government, often including the local police, Pennsylvania State Police, their detectives, or other law enforcement, have completed either most or all of their investigation already. You and your lawyer will need to make the most of the time you have to prepare your defense, discuss and plan your courses of action, and work to defend your freedom.
Why is there a preliminary hearing in my case?
A: The main purpose of a preliminary hearing is to protect your right against an unlawful arrest and detention. There are other good reasons to have a preliminary hearing scheduled in your case. For, example, it is the first and sometimes only opportunity you and your lawyer will have to face and question your accusers under oath before trial.