Criminal Law Overview
Whether you have already been arrested, suspect you might be charged with a crime, or have reached the end of your case and wish to expunge your record, our attorneys can help you.
Our criminal defense team is lead by senior partner Robert C. Keller. Prior to becoming a private defense attorney, Mr. Keller served as an Assistant District Attorney/Prosecutor for nine (9) years, where he prosecuted cases involving all criminal charges. During the last 30 years he has tried thousands of criminal cases in both the Federal and State Court System, in all of the surrounding counties. He has achieved numerous “not guilty” verdicts for his clients. He represents defendants accused of all charges, ranging from simple traffic offenses to high profile drug and homicide cases. He is assisted by Daniel M. Frank who also served with the District Attorney’s Office before joining the firm as an associate in 2009.
No matter the severity of your case, our attorneys have substantial knowledge of the criminal process and we are familiar with judges and prosecutors who will likely be assigned to your case. Over the years, our attorneys have handled numerous high profile criminal defense cases. Our success in these matters has earned us a reputation that is recognized and respected by attorneys and judges in our area.
Our office also handles Federal charges as well as appeals to Superior Court and PCRA petitions, which are usually based on claims of “ineffective assistance of counsel.”/
It is important to know whether you are facing state or federal charges. Federal criminal charges typically put you up against a larger and more experienced prosecution team and carry severe mandatory prison sentences.
If you have been contacted by a police officer, detective or FBI agent to provide a statement or other assistance in the investigation of a crime, you should not do so without legal counsel as anything you say could be used against you in a further proceeding. If the Commonwealth has offered you leniency (a deal), you should have legal counsel to solidify the offer. A self-incriminating statement could lead to an indictment or arrest.
An inexperienced attorney could make matters even worse for you. Our office often handles appeals for defendants who have been convicted because their counsel made a legal error or was simply inexperienced or unfamiliar with the trial process or the law itself. From minor traffic citations to felonies punishable by life sentences, your selection of the right attorney from the start may affect the rest of your life.
Our office offers a FREE, no obligation, legal consultation at which time we will advise you of your rights and available options. We offer affordable payment arrangements and accept most major credit cards. We have offices located in Havertown, Media, Philadelphia and Bucks County. For your convenience, we can be reached twenty-four (24) hours a day.
If you or someone you care about is in need of an experienced criminal trial attorney, contact our office today.
The following is a brief description of the criminal process in the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:
ARREST / SUMMONS
All cases brought by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania begin with an arrest or a summons to appear in Court. A summons is often used in DUI cases where charges are not brought against you immediately.
Preliminary ArraignmentThe preliminary arraignment takes place before a magisterial district justice. At this time, you are informed of the charges pending against you. Cash Bail or Unsecured Bail is usually set at this time.
Magisterial District Justice
A magisterial district justice is the judge of the district court. These courts have limited jurisdiction and are restricted to handling minor offenses, small claims and preliminary hearings. They also set bail.
Cash Bail is a monetary amount set by the district judge for the purpose of ensuring that the accused appear at subsequent proceedings and remain within the jurisdiction of the court. If the bail is paid, the defendant may be released from incarceration. If the defendant is released on bail and fails to appear in court at the next listing, the bail may be forfeited and the defendant may be incarcerated until the conclusion of his/her trial.
The 8th Amendment of the U.S. Const. provides that excessive bail shall not be required. Often, the Judge relies on the opinion of bail interviewer in setting bail.
Unsecured Bail Bond
An unsecured bail bond is not secured by any deposit of money or lien on property.
Unsecured bail is a bail bond for which the defendant must pay if he/she fails to appear in court when so ordered or upon breach of a material condition of his/her release, (i.e. violation of a stay away order).
The preliminary hearing is the first stage of the criminal court process that allows you, the accused, an opportunity to confront the evidence against you. At a preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth must establish a prima facie case of guilt against you.
At this level, it is important to develop and implement a strategy that will last throughout the duration of your proceedings. At this hearing, your attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses (including officers and detectives) who testify against you. If the proper evidence is not introduced, an experienced attorney can have some or all of the charges dismissed.
Many defendants fail to understand the importance of having a knowledgeable and experienced attorney represent them at this hearing, although this hearing often establishes your fate in the criminal system.
From a strategic point of view, your attorney can lock witnesses into their testimonies before they are prepared by the prosecutor who may ultimately try your case. A good strategy at the preliminary hearing may allow you to develop a motion to suppress the evidence, which can be presented to the judge at the trial level before the trial even begins. In other situations, it may be necessary for you to waive your preliminary hearing in order to get a better sentence or plea offer if the case is moved to the Court of Common Pleas, (i.e. trial court level). It is in your best interest to have skilled counsel at this hearing.
Motion to suppress
Various motions may be filed with the trial court after the Preliminary Hearing. A Motion to Suppress is generally filed when you were the subject of an illegal search (Motion to Suppress the evidence) or you were interrogated and provided a statement without being advised of your right to remain silent and/or your right to counsel (Motion to Suppress your statement).
Prima Facie Case
A prima facie case is one which has proceeded upon sufficient proof to show that it is more likely than not, that the defendant committed the crime for which he/she has been charged.
A waiver is the voluntary relinquishment of a known right. At the preliminary hearing, you have the right to counsel, to cross examine witnesses, to inspect physical evidence offered against you, to call witnesses to testify on your behalf, to offer evidence on your behalf, to testify, to take written notes of the proceedings and/or make a stenographic, mechanical or electronic record of the proceedings. You can waive your right to a preliminary hearing, which essentially means, you are in agreement that the Commonwealth has enough evidence to support a prima facie case of guilt against you. Before you waive your rights, you should understand the strategy and consequences involved.
This is the first step in the process that takes place at the county Court of Common Pleas level. You will receive the Bills of Information that have been filed against you by the District Attorney’s Office. The court will advise you of the charges that have been brought against you.
Often, the necessity of your appearance at this hearing can be avoided. In many circumstances, the Arraignment can be waived.
Your attorney will meet with the prosecutor at this time and begin negotiations regarding your case. In some circumstances, your attorney will have already been in contact with the prosecutor and the case will be resolved at this conference. Otherwise, this is generally the time that you will receive a plea offer. Police reports and other evidence should be supplied on or before this date. This proceeding takes place in front of a judge and the defendant’s appearance is mandatory.
A plea of guilty is a confession of guilt to a certain crime. A plea bargain is usually the offer of prosecutor to the defendant to enter a guilty plea to a lesser offense or to only one of some or the counts of indictment in return for a lighter sentence than that possible for the most serious charge.
ARD (Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program)
If you are charged with certain misdemeanor or felony offenses and you have no history of criminal activity, you may be eligible for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) Program.
The ARD Program is a statewide diversionary program available to certain carefully screened defendants, ordinarily first time offenders, who lend themselves to treatment and rehabilitation rather than punishment and who are unlikely to commit another crime. Acceptance into the ARD Program requires no admission of guilt to the pending charges and is not considered a conviction. Upon successful completion of the program, you are entitled to have all charges dismissed and your record expunged.
If you are charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs for the first time and you have no prior criminal history, you are typically eligible for admission into the ARD Program. You would be required to perform community service, pay court costs/fines and your driver’s license may be suspended. The amount of community service required and the length of suspension of your driver’s license are determined by a state mandated tier system and are based on your blood alcohol content.
Mandatory License Suspension penalties for DUI offenders in the ARD program are as follows:
- No suspension if BAC is under .10%;
- 30-day suspension if BAC is between .10% and .159%;
- 60-day suspension if BAC is .16% or greater, BAC is unknown, the DUI involves drugs, or it involves an Implied Consent Violation;
- 90-day suspension if the operator is a minor.
Eligibility into the ARD Program is determined on a case by case basis and is solely within the discretion of the District Attorney’s Office. You MUST have an attorney in order to be considered for the ARD Program.
If your case has not yet been resolved, (for instance, no plea was offered or you rejected the plea), the Commonwealth must now prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. You may request either a jury trial or a bench trial (the judge makes factual determinations as opposed to a jury of your peers). At this level, the experience and knowledge of your attorney is crucial. Instead, the case is presented to the judge or jury through the witnesses, by your lawyer. Essentially, your lawyer takes your place. An ordinary lawyer can lead you to a conviction. An exceptional lawyer can lead you to an acquittal.
ACQUITTAL or SENTENCING
At the end of your trial, the judge or jury may convict you of some or all of the crimes, or find you “Not Guilty” of some or all of the crimes. If you are found guilty of a crime, you will be formally sentenced by the presiding judge, usually at a later date determined by the court. Often times, there are various evaluations and reports that must be conducted prior to the date of sentencing. Many factors are considered by the sentencing judge at the time of sentencing, including your prior criminal history. It is essential that you have an experienced attorney who is familiar with the sentencing laws and guidelines in order to protect your interests.
If you are found Not Guilty or the charges are withdrawn by the Commonwealth, your case is over and you suffer no further punishment. However, the arrest and charges will remain a part of your criminal background for any future employer or agency to view unless you seek an expungement. It is critical that your attorney properly advises you of the various scenarios in which you are entitled to expungement of your record, and that he or she is familiar with the newly amended expungement laws.
The process by which a record of arrest is destroyed or sealed. It may occur after expiration of time, or if the arrested person is not convicted, or if the arrest is unlawful, or if the arrested person is of a certain age. The destruction of information includes files, computers and other depositories.
Not all criminal convictions may be expunged. To determine whether your criminal charges can be expunged, contact our office today for your free consultation.
PROBATION and PAROLE
A person placed on probation or parole must comply with the general rules of supervision. You must comply with any special Court Order or conditions imposed by the Court at the time of your sentencing, or subsequently added during the course of supervision. A probation/parole officer will be assigned to your case, whose job it is to carry out the general order of Court.
Probation vs. Parole:
Probation – when a defendant is to be supervised by the Adult Probation Department and be bound by the department’s rules. Typically, a defendant must report to his probation officer, remain arrest free and submit to drug testing.
Parole – when a defendant is released from prison before the end of his or her maximum prison sentence. Once the defendant is released he or she will monitored by the county probation/parole department.
Probation/ Parole Violations and “Gagnon” Hearings
When it is alleged that a defendant is in violation of his or her probation/parole, a Gagnon I hearing shall be held before a member of the Adult Probation staff . The following are common violations that can occur while a defendant is on probation or parole:
- Getting Arrested
- Not Reporting to your P.O.
- Technical Violations
- Use of Drugs
- Use of Alcohol
- Not Reporting a Change of Address or Change of Employment
- Failure to Maintain Employment
- Not Paying Restitution
- Not Paying Fines and Costs
The “Gagnon” hearing process is named after the United States Supreme Court Case of Gagnon v. Scarpelli in which the Court mandated a two step revocation procedure. The first step is the Gagnon I hearing. You are entitled to a Gagnon I hearing if you are in detention while awaiting your Gagnon II, or formal revocation hearing. The Gagnon I hearing is a pre-revocation hearing. At the Gagnon I hearing the adult probation officer must prove that probable cause exists to believe that a violation has been committed. However, the “probable cause standard” is a low burden of proof for the probation officer. The purpose of this hearing is to protect against unlawful detention and serves as an additional safeguard for probationers or parolees. The Gagnon I hearing is informal and will be held before a hearing officer. The hearing will usually occur in the adult probation and parole office.
If probable cause is found at the Gagnon I hearing, the case will proceed to a Gagnon II hearing. This is the ultimate hearing that will determine if you have violated the conditions of probation or parole. The Gagnon II hearing will be scheduled before a Court of Common Pleas Judge in a courtroom. It is a more formal hearing. The first issue in a Gagnon II hearing is whether you violated one of the conditions of your probation or parole. You have the right to a hearing on this issue. The Commonwealth must prove the violation by a preponderance of the evidence – which means “more likely than not.”
If you have been found in violation of your probation or parole or admitted to the violation, you will be re-sentenced. Your probation officer will have already provided your attorney with a report stating what he or she recommends as a sentence. The judge is not required to follow the agreement but many times will. It is important to have an experienced attorney to protect your interests at this hearing, as the possible ramifications could include additional probation, parole or jail time.
State Probation/ParolePennsylvania has both state and county level parole systems. Which system an offender is in depends on the length of the sentence given when the offender was convicted. If the sentence was 24 months or longer, it is a state sentence and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole makes the decision whether to grant parole and determines the conditions of parole. The Board has full discretion over state sentences and the county court has no authority in these matters.
Summary and Traffic Matters
Summary matters and traffic citations are resolved differently than misdemeanor or felony charges. These hearings take place and are resolved at the local magisterial district court. There is no right to a jury trial or to counsel. Attorneys however, are often able to secure a better deal or a lower fine than individuals who represent themselves. In certain situations, the summary offense could lead to other civil offenses, creating more difficulty for you in the future. In many cases, a finding of guilt or a guilty plea to various traffic offenses carry additional penalties and can suspend or revoke your driving privileges.
Although any decision rendered by the district judge may be appealed to the Court of Common Pleas, it is much less costly to have an experienced attorney help you dispose of your charges at this level.
If you or someone you care about is in need of an experienced criminal trial attorney, contact our office today for your free consultation.
A misdemeanor is an offense that is categorized higher than a summary, but lower than a felony and is usually punishable by a fine, penalty, forfeiture or imprisonment. Pennsylvania has three classes of misdemeanors: Misdemeanor 1 (M1), Misdemeanor 2 (M2), and Misdemeanor 3 (M3). Many misdemeanors, but not all, fall within one of the three categories, (a M1 having the most severe penalty, followed by a M2 and then a M3). Some misdemeanors are unclassified and ungraded (ex. 1st offense DUI charge).
The maximum sentence for each MISDEMEANOR crime category under Pennsylvania Criminal Law is as follows:
- Misdemeanor 1
Up to 5 Years in Prison
Certain Thefts (based on amount), Terroristic Threats, DUI (multiple offense)
- Misdemeanor 2
Up to 2 Years in Prison
Simple Assault , Fraud / Bad Checks
- Misdemeanor 3
Up to 1 Years in Prison
Petty Thefts (minor amount)
If you or someone you care about has been charged with a misdemeanor, contact our office today for your free consultation.
A felony is an offense that is categorized as being a more serious crime than those designated as misdemeanors or summary offenses. It is usually punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.
Pennsylvania has three classes of Felonies: Felony 1 (F1), Felony 2 (F2), Felony 3 (F3). Many felonies, but not all, fall within one of these three categories, (a F1 being the most serious of all crimes with the most severe penalty, followed by a F2 and then a F3). Some felonies are unclassified and ungraded.
The maximum sentence for each FELONY crime category under Pennsylvania Criminal Law is as follows:
- Felony 1
Up to 20 Years in Prison
Aggravated Assault w/a Deadly Weapon, Drug Distribution or Trafficking
- Felony 2
Up to 10 Years in Prison
Burglary, Sexual Assault, Arson
- Felony 3
Up to 7 Years in Prison
Drug Offenses, Firearms, Major Theft
If you or someone you care about has been charged with a felony, contact our office today for your free consultation.