Criminal Process Through Bucks County Courts
When someone approaches a Bucks County criminal defense lawyer, they have a thousand questions, ranging from potential penalties and sentences to how the entire Bucks County court system works.
Stay focused. Remember –your objectives, if charged with a Bucks County crime, should be the following:
1) Charges dropped
2) Acquittal at trial
3) Negotiated plea arrangement/ARD
To get to one of the objectives, you must go through, like every other person charged with a crime in Bucks County, the criminal court process.
The Initial Arraignment
If you are released after your arrest, you will normally receive documents showing the charges against you. You will also receive notice of your next court date, the preliminary hearing.
The preliminary hearing is a critical step in the process. The hearing occurs in the local municipality where you were arrested. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must prove at this hearing that they have probable cause to charge you with these crimes. Remember — you are not at the point where there is a full trial and they have to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, this hearing has a lower evidentiary burden.
The plan at this stage should still be to get the charges dismissed, withdrawn, or amended to lesser charges. You may also apply for ARD or other programs at this time. A lawyer in Bucks County should be familiar enough with the process to understand that discussing the case with the police of the prosecutor ahead of the preliminary hearing may smooth matters over before the actual date. If, however, no agreement can be made, you may proceed with a full preliminary hearing. Prior to the preliminary hearing, you may be advised by your attorney to arrange for a court stenographer/reporter. Having the stenographer present at your preliminary hearing in Bucks County assures you a record of testimony by witnesses, policy, and the prosecutors that can possibly be used in the future for your defense.
At the hearing, you and your attorney have a right to cross examine witnesses, examine evidence, and present argument. This is the time when your Bucks County criminal lawyer will vigorously argue against the charges your are facing. Then, the district judge will make a decision about whether the Commonwealth met their burden to prove the prima facie case.
If the judge believes the Commonwealth has not met its burden, the charges will be dismissed. You will then want to file an expungement to get rid of the charges that will show on your record.
If the charges against you are held for court after the preliminary hearing, the judge will set bail for the next part of the process. He/she will also notify you of your Arraignment date. If you are charged with a DUI, you will also be ordered to get a CRN evaluation.
Bucks County Arraignment
The Arraignment at the Court of Common Pleas in Bucks County. Arraignments are held on Fridays and are typically scheduled 30 days after your Preliminary Hearing. It is the least legally important step in the criminal law process for you, but it does shift the responsibility of the case to the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas. Typically, if you are represented by an attorney, you do not have to appear as the arraignment is waived by filing a “Waiver of Arraignment” form.
Preparing for Trial
Your Bucks County criminal attorney should, after the arraignment, file for discovery. Also, if appropriate, motions should be filed on your behalf. Common motions include Motions to Suppress and Motions in Limine.
You should meet with your attorney and go over the case and the discovery. Your attorney should advise you of the likelihood of success in your case regarding the potential motions and the trial. If the likelihood is minimal and you agree that you are going to plead guilty, your attorney should start looking to resolve the matter through plea negotiations.
Trial Date/ARD Day
On your trial date, be ready with a plan after speaking with your attorney. Understand that if you are sentenced to jail, you may go that day. This article highlights the difficulty in delaying a Bucks County criminal defendant from reporting to jail. The decision to “defer execution” (aka reporting to jail at a later date) is left to the presiding judge on your case. You should have important and substantive reasons for requesting the deferral of execution along with proof substantiating your claims.
Suppression hearing on Trial Day
If there is evidence or statements that the prosecutors are trying to use against you that should be legally excluded, a Suppression Hearing, normally held prior to a trial, will provide you and your Bucks County criminal attorney the opportunity to argue this point. A Suppression Hearing is held if your attorney files a motion asking to suppress the questionable evidence.
A trial must be held within 12 months (due to “speedy trial issues” related to “Rule 600″) after your plea and will generally be held before a jury of 12 peers or before a judge if you choose a “bench trial”.
The sentencing in your Bucks County criminal matter can occur immediately after the trial/plea bargain. Your Bucks County criminal lawyer may make a motion to have the sentencing deferred to a later date , or the judge may request a pre-sentence report to review your previous (if any) criminal history. Your attorney may ask to defer sentencing in order to gather and present witnesses or other mitigating information that would potentially lessen the sentence and penalties. This request to defer is granted by the Bucks County judge.
Criminal Case Procedure and Process
After the final court order by the judge, appeals must be made within 30 days.
After sentencing, a request for reconsideration of sentence must be made within 10 days. It will have to be done in writing and filed at the Clerk of Courts in Bucks County.
Other issues for Bucks County crimes:
If you are a veteran, you may qualify for Bucks County’s Veteran’s Court. The court is relatively new and there are particular qualifications to get in, but make sure you ask your Bucks County criminal attorney.
If you have a DUI but are not ARD eligible, you may qualify for the “Flat 48/72 Program” in Bucks County.
If you cannot make bail after the initial arraignment, you can request a bail hearing to argue for lower bail.