Pennsylvania Criminal Law: An Overview
Click on these links to jump to different sections:
- Legal Services: What You Need to Know
- Pennsylvania Criminal Court Procedure
- Crime Classification Procedure
- Educate Yourself – Know Your Rights
You want answers – and you want them fast – when dealing with a criminal issue. When unexpectedly facing any issue in the criminal justice system, it is very important to learn all you can about the criminal defense system. This holds true whether you are accused of a crime and are facing criminal charges, or are interested in finding out more on behalf of a loved one accused of a crime.
Which criminal defense attorney should you hire? What should be your next course of action? Is there anything you can do to better your chances for the best possible outcome in your particular case?
Answers to some of these questions and more can be found here. Learn what the differences are between serious offenses and misdemeanors. You can even learn about what qualifies as a white-collar crime. Use LawInfo to help you in your criminal defense lawyer search anywhere in the state, whether you live in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chester County or elsewhere throughout Pennsylvania.
Legal Services: What You Need to Know
The right defense attorney for you is an experienced defense attorney whose law firm has successfully represented clients with similar criminal charges. How do you know if the practice areas of the criminal lawyer you are currently researching matches your needs?
When you visit the attorney or law firm website, often they will have information about their practice areas and experience. Often, law firms will focus on representing clients facing a limited number of criminal offenses such as drug offenses and drug crimes, white-collar crime, traffic offenses like DUI charges or violent crimes including sex offenses. They may also handle every type of criminal charge. You can use the information on their website to better choose your representation.
Other factors to take into consideration when looking for the right attorney include:
- Office locations: Does the attorney have at least one office located conveniently to you? Are they available to travel to your location, if required?
- Phone number: Is the phone number easily found on the firm’s web site? Are you able to reach someone 24-hours a day?
- Free consultation: Do they offer one? If needed, do they allow for virtual consultations via live video services?
- Years of experience: Look at total years of experience, but you also may want to focus in on how many years of experience the attorney has in the specific practice area that applies to your situation.
No attorney should promise you specific results, but the right one will make you a priority and work hard for the best possible outcome in your particular situation.
Pennsylvania Criminal Court Procedure
Every case is unique but it can be helpful to have some knowledge of criminal court procedure. Understanding the basics – and your rights in the legal system – are very important for those charged with criminal offenses.
Here are the basics for those who have been arrested by law enforcement officials and charged with a crime by the district attorney’s office:
Arraignment: This may be your first appearance in court for the charged offenses. Charges against you are formally stated by a district court judge and you are asked if you need a court-appointed attorney if you do not have one. You also will be asked how you plead (guilty, no contest, or not guilty).
- Preliminary hearing: Often referred to as the “trial before the trial”, this step takes place next. At this stage, the judge decides if there is enough evidence to move to a criminal trial.
- Criminal trial: This stage may begin with jury selection and will almost always end with a verdict. Your attorney should do their utmost to achieve the best possible outcome in your case.
Throughout the entire process, as required by the attorney-client relationship, your attorney should treat you with respect and handle your matter competently and diligently.
Crime Classification in Pennsylvania
Is the crime you or your loved one have been accused of committing a misdemeanor or a felony? As with many laws, crime classification varies by state. While misdemeanors are considered lesser crimes and felonies more severe, each state differs when it comes to penalties. State law separates both categories into three degrees. In both categories, the first degree is considered the most severe and is associated with the harshest punishments.
Misdemeanors: Crimes that may be included in this category include assault, drunk driving, shoplifting, and marijuana possession. State laws view these crimes as minor felonies and allow for punishment of up to several years behind bars. This might make other states seem pretty lenient by comparison. This is because many other states cap punishment for a misdemeanor at a maximum of one year in jail.
Felonies: Crimes that may be included in this category include drug trafficking, burglary, and violent crimes such as sexual assault. These crimes carry the most severe penalties including longer sentences in prison. Time behind bars for anyone convicted of a felony may range from seven to 20 years.
There is another crime classification that you may be familiar with. White-collar crime is a term heard in the news when millionaire financiers are tried for crimes like embezzlement or bankruptcy fraud. This type of crime is nonviolent. Penalties for a conviction of a white-collar crime may include being sentenced to a minimum-security prison. Many crimes in this category are federal.
Educate Yourself – Know Your Rights
It is important to educate yourself about the criminal justice system whether you or a loved one are facing charges, or if an arrest has been made that may result in charges being brought. Remember that every situation is unique and that your own outcome will depend on a number of factors.