Bucks County Criminal Defense Lawyer
Criminal charges can be very intimidating things to deal with, and most people are unprepared to handle their charges alone. A criminal defense attorney has the skills and experience to assist and advise you at every stage of the process.
Being arrested is often frightening and embarrassing. The police may question you after an arrest when you are very vulnerable, and you should invoke your rights to have an attorney with you. Charges may be serious felonies or less serious misdemeanors, but all come with consequences. During the numerous pre-trial stages, your attorney can help you lunch preemptive defense tactics to strengthen your case. At trial, there may be multiple defense options to explore. You can also discuss a plea deal with your attorney. Your lawyer can help you appeal and hopefully get a new trial if you are convicted. The sooner your hire an attorney, the better.
If you are charged with a crime in Bucks County or the surrounding area, our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers can help you. Call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 for a free case review.
Being Arrested for a Crime in Bucks County, PA
Being confronted by the police is a stressful experience, no matter the circumstances. Being arrested by the police can be downright frightening. Arrests typically happen after the police obtain an arrest warrant. However, some circumstances allow the police to arrest you without a warrant to do so.
An arrest warrant must be based on sufficient probable cause. Probable cause is evidence that connects you to the crime and leads the police to believe you may be responsible. Probable cause is more than a mere hunch and must be based on specific and articulable evidence. A judge must sign off on the warrant authorizing your arrest. Once the police have the warrant, they can find you and arrest you.
Police can execute arrests without warrants under more limited circumstances. Generally, police may execute a warrantless arrest when they witness first-hand a crime in progress. First, police have probable cause to make the arrest because they saw you commit the crime. Second, the fact that the crime is happening now creates an emergency situation where police cannot wait for a warrant. Our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers can help you through your arrest and get you back to your regular life.
Police Questioning After an Arrest in a Bucks County Criminal Case
Once you have been arrested, it is critical that you hire an attorney as soon as possible. In many cases, you will be questioned by the police after being arrested and booked. Being questioned by the police while in police custody requires being advised of your Miranda rights. Because you are in custody, you may not leave because you do not wish to face questioning. However, you have specific rights that the police must respect, including your right to an attorney.
Your Miranda rights provide you with the right to an attorney while being interrogated by the police. The police will inform you that you can waive these rights, but it is in your best interest to invoke them. Having an attorney by your side during questioning by the police will prevent you from providing incriminating information to law enforcement. They can also begin working on your case sooner instead of having to play catch-up later on. If the police have arrested you or a loved one, call our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers immediately.
Types of Criminal Charges in Bucks County
Bucks County follows the Pennsylvania Criminal Code, which classifies crimes into three categories: felony, misdemeanor, or summary offense. Felonies tend to be more severe crimes and come with long prison terms and higher fines. Misdemeanors are less stringent than felonies and have shorter prison terms and less costly fines. Finally, summary offenses are only minor infractions, have minor to moderate fines, and generally do not carry prison terms. Murder, perhaps the most serious crime, is treated separately from felonies under the criminal code.
Felonies are some of the most serious criminal offenses in the Pennsylvania criminal code. Felonies are broken down into three subcategories. These categories are, from least to most serious, felonies of the third-degree, second-degree, and -first-degree. Each subcategory comes with a different range of sentences. Third-degree felonies carry prison terms of no more than 7 years. Second-degree felonies have prison terms of no more than 10 years. First-degree felonies may carry prison terms of longer than 10 years, potentially up to life. Not all felony offenses are the same, and you need an experienced Bucks County criminal defense attorney to help you determine what charges you have and the consequences you face.
Misdemeanors, just like felonies, are broken down into three subcategories based on how serious they are. From least to most serious, these subcategories are misdemeanors of the third, second, and first-degree. Misdemeanors generally carry shorter prison terms than even the least serious felony charges. A defendant convicted of a third-degree misdemeanor faces a prison term of 1 year at the most. A second-degree misdemeanor conviction comes with a prison term of no more than 2 years. Finally, a first-degree misdemeanor conviction could place you behind bars for up to 5 years.
Minor Infractions and Summary Offenses
Some crimes are so minuscule that they fall into neither category of felony nor misdemeanor. However, the defendant should not be brushed off or disregarded these crimes. Offenses that may be punished by a maximum of 90 days in jail are known as summary offenses. Many summary offenses do not even come with possible jail time but instead come with fines.
Pre-Trial Criminal Hearings in Bucks County
After you are arrested and before your trial, there are numerous pre-trial hearings to get through. Each hearing serves a unique purpose and must be completed before moving to the next stage. If you have not yet hired a lawyer by the time your pre-trial hearings begin, you should do so immediately. Our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers can help you.
Bail must be determined after you are taken into custody and prosecutors assess charges. Bail is the difference between remaining in jail for the duration of your pre-trial and trial process and going home to be with your family. Our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers have experience arguing for bail and can help you get the least restrictive bail possible.
For some, bail involves being released on their own recognizance (ROR). This type of bail is perhaps the least restrictive and allows the defendant to go home without paying any money. However, there might be other restrictions on their behavior while they are out on bail.
For other defendants, a certain sum of money must be paid to secure bail. Typically, this money is paid back to the defendant once the trial is complete if they comply with their bail terms. If they failed to show up for court or otherwise violated their bail conditions, the money may be forfeited. In cases of serious violations, bail can be revoked, and the defendant sent back to jail until their trial is over.
Bail is influenced by various factors, including the severity of the charges, the defendant’s criminal history, and the defendant’s risk assessment. Bail may be more expensive or restrictive for defendants with more severe charges or who are perceived as high flight risks. In such cases, a lawyer can help the defendant advocate for less restrictive bail.
The arraignment is where the defendant is formally informed of their charges. There is a good chance you will already know what your charges are before this moment, but the charges become formal and official at the arraignment.
You can also enter a plea at this stage. You can enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. A guilty plea waives your right to a trial, and you move directly to sentencing. This is often done after a defendant works out a plea agreement with prosecutors, as discussed below. A plea of not guilty kicks off the trial process, and a trial date will be scheduled. A no-contest plea has the same effect as a guilty plea, but a no-contest plea cannot be used against you in a civil case related to your criminal charges.
How you decide to plea should be thoroughly discussed with a lawyer. The way you enter your plea may be part of plea negotiations for reduced charges. Our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers can help you figure out which plea works best for your situation.
A preliminary hearing is a sort of mini trial before your real trial. At a preliminary hearing, prosecutors must present enough evidence to demonstrate that the crimes in question did in fact occur and that the defendant is likely the culprit. However, they do not have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt at this point and will instead have to meet a probable cause standard. The judge will decide whether to dismiss the case for lack of evidence or hold the defendant over for trial.
The preliminary hearing is an opportunity for you and your lawyer to get a preview of the prosecutor’s trial strategy. You can familiarize yourself with the evidence against you and how the prosecutor intends to argue the case. Our Bucks County criminal defense attorneys can work to suppress evidence that should be kept out, such as illegally obtained evidence or statements made without Miranda warnings.
How to Block Illegal Evidence in Bucks County Criminal Cases
Not all evidence is good evidence. The prosecutor on your case cannot use evidence unlawfully obtained by the police. To do so would violate your rights as a criminal defendant. If law enforcement does illegally obtain evidence, there are ways of preventing that evidence from being introduced at trial.
There are multiple ways in which evidence could be obtained illegally. For example, police must have a proper search warrant to enter your home and search for evidence. If police conduct such a search without a warrant, or the warrant is invalid or faulty, any evidence they obtain may be tainted. Similarly, evidence obtained as a result of an invalid arrest will be unlawful.
Evidence may be suppressed before the trial even begins through a pre-trial motion. A motion to suppress is designed to keep unlawful evidence out of the courtroom. Making the motion involves demonstrating the unlawful nature of the evidence to the judge and explaining how admitting it into the trial would be unjust. If we are successful, a jury will never hear nor see the unlawful evidence. If you believe evidence may have been obtained illegally in your case, call our Bucks County criminal defense attorney for guidance.
What Are the Common Defenses to Criminal Charges in Bucks County?
Anyone charged with a crime will, of course, be wondering how they can begin to defend themselves in court. All criminal defendants are entitled to defend themselves in a court of law, and all defendants are entitled to a competent attorney to help them. There are many ways to defend yourself besides simply claiming you did not commit the crime in question. It is entirely possible that you committed the crime you have been accused of, but you cannot be held criminally responsible due to particular circumstances. A few of these defenses are discussed below. Contact our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers to determine the best defense for you.
There can be no crime if the alleged victim consented to the defendant’s criminal actions. If the victim’s consent negates an element of the crime, the defendant cannot be charged. For example, if you take your neighbor’s car for a joyride, they may report you for stealing their car. However, if your neighbor agreed to let you take their car for a joyride, then there is no crime.
Similarly, specific actions that cause bodily harm, like hitting or pushing someone, may not be considered assault or battery if consent is present. If you were to tackle your neighbor to the ground, you might face assault charges. If you tackle your neighbor to the ground while you are both playing a game of football, there is no crime because tackling is an inherent part of the game, and your neighbor consented to play. The consent must be valid to make a successful defense, meaning the person who agreed knew what they were doing and had the mental capacity to consent.
A justification defense means you admit to the alleged crime, but you believe you had a good reason for committing the crime and should not be held responsible. Generally, justification defenses arise when the defendant committed the crime to avoid some other harm, either to themselves or to another.
Self-defense is a kind of justification defense. Under Pennsylvania law, a justification defense is valid only if the harm avoided was greater than the harm inflicted by the defendant’s actions. For example, you cannot be criminally responsible for breaking your neighbor’s window if you only did so to escape a fire in your neighbor’s home. If you feel your actions were justified, speak with our Bucks County criminal defense attorney.
Insanity defenses can be complicated, and they vary from state to state. In Bucks County, a defendant may claim a defense of insanity if, at the time of the crime, they had a mental disease, disorder, or impairment that prevented them from understanding the criminality of their actions, or they did not know their actions were wrong.
This defense is not easy to make and often requires the defendant to undergo psychological tests to prove that they were mentally ill when they committed the crime. However, it is not uncommon for criminal defendants to suffer from mental illness, making this defense a viable option. Our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers can help you through this process.
Can You Negotiate a Plea Bargain in Bucks County, PA?
The best defense does not always mean getting an acquittal or a dismissal f charges. In some cases, the best defense means getting the charges or sentence reduced. This is often possible through plea negotiations between the defendant and prosecutors. Our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers have experience negotiating plea deals and can help you enter a guilty plea in exchange for reduced charges.
In many cases, a plea agreement involves a reduction in charges by prosecutors in exchange for a guilty plea. For example, prosecutors might be inclined to reduce aggravated assault charges to simple assault charges if we can convince them of mitigating factors.
Alternatively, a plea agreement might involve a promise from the prosecutors to recommend the lowest sentence possible in exchange for a guilty plea. However, the judge must usually approve of this deal before it goes through.
Appealing a Criminal Verdict in Bucks County, PA
If you are convicted at trial, there is still hope for your case. Criminal defendants generally have a right to file an appeal. A direct appeal must be filed within 30 days of your conviction. While most defendants will have the right to file such an appeal, it is a bit tricky for defendants who accepted a plea bargain or otherwise entered a guilty plea.
An appeal is when a higher court will review your case’s record and look for legal errors. An appeal is not a new trial, and no new evidence or arguments will be heard. Instead, the appellate court will look for errors or mistakes of law that may have caused an unjust outcome. The errors the court looks for will depend on what you claim in your petition.
You must preserve a legal issue to argue it on appeal. Preserving an issue for appeal can be as simple as raising objections at trial. It can also be done when you make an unsuccessful motion or somehow inform the court you have an issue with one of its decisions. You can bring any of these issues on appeal. This means virtually anything you objected to at trial can be grounds for an appeal. This is also why defendants who entered a guilty plea may have difficulty filing an appeal. There is not much to appeal if there was no trial.
Appealing Under Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act in Bucks County
If your direct appeal was unsuccessful, or you were unable to file for a direct appeal, you may still seek an appeal under the Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). The PCRA allows defendants to take a different type of appeal. You do not have to preserve any issues at trial, but the grounds for relief under the PCRA are more limited and specific.
The PCRA spells out several issues that a defendant may claim as grounds for relief. These are often issues beyond the defendant’s control at the time of trial or were previously unknown to the defendant. For example, you could claim ineffective assistance of counsel under the PCRA. This claim comes into play when your attorney at your trial is so incompetent that it is like you have no attorney at all. Alternatively, you could claim new evidence. The evidence must have been undiscoverable at the time of your trial and significant enough to possibly make a difference in the outcome.
There are multiple other grounds for relief under the PCRA. Speak with our Bucks County criminal defense lawyer for more information about the PCRA and if you can claim relief.
When You Should Hire a Bucks County Criminal Defense Lawyer
The sooner you hire a criminal defense lawyer, the better your odds of success. The criminal justice process is very complex and is often a time-consuming experience. While courts tend to be more understanding of defendants who choose to forge ahead alone, only you are responsible for advocating for your best interests.
Our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers have the skills necessary to help you fight your charges and protect your rights. While it is possible to hire a lawyer later in the criminal justice process, such as after you have been arraigned, it is best to contact a lawyer immediately after you are arrested.
Call Our Bucks County Criminal Defense Lawyers
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, contact our experienced Bucks County and Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers. Call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 to schedule a free case review. Let us defend your rights and protect your best interests in court.