How To Get Your Record Sealed or Expunged in Pittsburgh
If you’ve served your sentence and avoided any trouble with the law, you deserve a fresh start. You may be able to prevent the public from learning about your criminal record, or it may be erased from state files. Lifting the criminal record burden could help you get a job or find a home to rent.
Worgul, Sarna & Ness helps those in the Pittsburgh area who want their criminal records sealed or expunged. We can answer your questions and help you navigate the process. After you’ve fulfilled your debt, you should be able to move on with your life.
Call us at (412) 281-4146 for a free consultation. We’ll discuss your eligibility and next steps.
Expunging Your Criminal Record
Several types of records can be expunged in Pennsylvania:
- Single Summary Expungement: This can cover a single offense if five years have passed since your conviction. These are usually minor offenses like disorderly conduct or underage drinking.
- Juvenile Record Expungement: You can have misdemeanor or felony convictions removed once you’re 18-years-old or five years after your sentence. To be eligible, you can’t have any other criminal offenses.
- Underage Drinking: For those 21-years-old or older, this conviction can be removed from your record if you fulfilled all your requirements and filed a petition in the appropriate court.
- Alternate Disposition Programs: The Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition and Section 17 Disposition programs allow you to serve probation instead of being convicted. Since you were acquitted, you may be able to get the charge taken off your record after finishing probation. Some offenses don’t qualify, though.
- Charges Withdrawn, Dismissed, or Acquitted: If you’re charged, but the prosecutor drops the charge, a judge dismisses it, or you’re found not guilty, you can ask that it be removed from your record.
- Defendant Over Age 70: If you’re 70-years-old or older and haven’t been arrested or prosecuted for a crime within the last 10 years, you might be able to have your record expunged.
To get your record expunged, you must pay a fee and file a petition in the court where you were charged or convicted. Your application will be discussed at a hearing, which will determine if your case is appropriate for expungement. If your request is granted, the state police repository will be notified of your expungement. They will tell other agencies your record should be eliminated from any paper or electronic files.
Sealed Criminal Records – Not Accessible by the Public
Sealing a criminal record keeps it away from the public, but the information would be available to law enforcement and the courts. In 2019, records for some convictions started to be sealed automatically:
- Second or third-degree misdemeanors
- Ungraded offenses carrying a maximum sentence of two years in prison or less
- Non-conviction records
To qualify, you must satisfy all the terms of your court-ordered sentence and have no misdemeanor or felony convictions within the last 10 years. But, there are many exceptions to these general rules. Read www.MyCleanSlatePA.com to learn more.
You may need to petition a court to seal records concerning:
- A first, second, or third-degree misdemeanor (with exceptions)
- An ungraded offense carrying a maximum sentence of no more than five years’ imprisonment
You can apply after at least 10 years once you’ve completed your sentence. You can’t be arrested or prosecuted for any other crime punishable by a year or more in prison during that time. A court order would seal your criminal record so certain criminal justice agencies couldn’t disclose your criminal history record to the public. Like expungement, many convictions cannot be sealed.
You need to file a petition for limited access in the court with jurisdiction over your criminal record. This will most likely be the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the offenses were committed.
Worgul, Sarna & Ness Can Help You Get on With Your Life
If you qualify for an expungement, an attorney from Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC can help you with the filing and process. Without assistance, you may encounter delays and wrongful denial of your petition.
How to Invoke Your Right to Remain Silent & Get an Attorney
We have all seen the reading of a suspect’s Miranda rights on TV and maybe even in real life. The police remind us that we have certain rights, including:
- The right to remain silent,
- The right to consult with an attorney,
- The right for a lawyer to be present during questioning, and
- The right to have a lawyer represent you for free if you can’t afford one.
Thanks to the many crime dramas on TV, we have heard these rights over and over. Plus, we should be reminded of them if we are ever in custody. Unfortunately, knowing that a right exists doesn’t always make it easy to invoke. In fact, knowing when and how to invoke your right to silence or your right to an attorney can be a real challenge.
Most of us feel nervous or intimidated when being questioned by police, making us timid about asking for a lawyer or asserting our right to refuse to answer questions. That’s why it helps to know the details about exactly how to do this.
We discuss the best way to assert your rights below. But when in doubt, reach out to an experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney for help. At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, we’re available 24/7 and ready to protect your rights. Call (412) 281-2146 for a free and confidential consultation.
When & How to Invoke Your Right to Silence
The right to silence lets us ensure that we do not incriminate ourselves. After all, “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court.”
Because of this, it is important to invoke your right to silence early. Whether or not you are guilty, any potentially damning evidence or even inconsistencies in your story could be used as evidence of your guilt.
When to Keep Quiet
You can invoke this right at any time – and whether or not you are formally in custody or charged. In fact, the minute that police start questioning you is the ideal time to invoke your right.
Even if you simply want to clear your name, what you say could be used to build a case against you. It’s better to wait until you have professional legal help to convey the information that you believe will clear you.
In order to invoke your right to remain silent, you simply have to say, “I am invoking my right to remain silent and won’t be answering any more questions without a lawyer.” At this point, the officers should leave you alone.
Even if they don’t, imply sit quietly and wait to speak to the attorney who will be representing you. While law enforcement may try to provoke you into saying something you will regret, resist the temptation. You will only be doing what they want and hurting yourself.
When & How to Invoke Your Right to an Attorney
At any point that you are being questioned as a suspect, you should assert your right to a defense attorney. A lawyer will have years of experience dealing with the police, so he or she can quickly find out what the police want with you and advise you on which questions to answer and how.
This means that you should ask for an attorney at the first possible opportunity. If you have been read your rights, you are a serious suspect. Law enforcement has likely been building a case against you, and you need a lawyer to ensure that your rights are respected.
By invoking this right, you can start to defend yourself and ensure that the police are not given any more evidence to build its case. Even if you have not been read your rights, but are being questioned, you have the right to counsel. The minute you start to feel nervous about speaking with the police, invoke your rights to silence and get an attorney.
After that, wait for their advice.
How to Request a Lawyer
In order to invoke this right, you can say the same thing that you would say to invoke your right to silence: “I am invoking my right to remain silent and my right to an attorney, and I won’t be answering any more questions without a lawyer.” Once you have made this clear, you should be given an opportunity to contact your lawyer.
Make sure that you say this clearly to an officer, but once it has been stated, you cannot be prevented from talking to a criminal lawyer.
It can feel intimidating to invoke these rights for many people because they feel like they are making themselves look guilty. In reality, the opposite is true. When you clearly invoke these rights, it cannot be used against you in court and it protects you.
Contact a Pittsburgh Defense Lawyer 24/7
At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, we have decades of experience fighting for the rights of our clients. Call us any time at (412) 281-2146 to see how we can help in a free consultation with a Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney.
The Benefits of Allegheny Veterans Treatment Court
The United States of America wouldn’t be what it is without its military. This subset of our population represents some of our country’s best and bravest, and we are forever indebted to their service. Interestingly, the state of Pennsylvania is home to nearly 800,000 veterans, making it the state with the fourth-highest veteran population.
More often than not, though, our veterans come home from active duty with problems, like PTSD or depression brought on by various issues unique to their situation. This often leads to substance abuse and eventually criminal charges, making veterans some of our most vulnerable members of the population.
Fortunately, Pennsylvania has a special veterans court system that caters to the specific, and often sensitive, nature of veterans’ criminal cases.
If you’re a Pennsylvania veteran who’s been hit with a criminal charge, your case may be eligible for the Allegheny Veterans Treatment Court. However, only an experienced and empathetic criminal defense attorney will be able to help guide you through this particular court system. Our team at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC is proud of our work with veterans in difficult times, and we have the legal know-how to help get you the best possible outcome. Call us today at (412) 281-2146 to schedule your free and confidential consultation.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible for Veterans Court?
The biggest benefits of Veterans Treatment Court is that they offer suffering veterans treatment, accountability, and structure in place of incarceration. Not only does this help ground veterans and reintegrate them into a civilian society, but it directly addresses the unique mental health and substance abuse issues veterans typically face.
What’s more, veterans will go through this process together, and this community of peers will help hold them accountable to their treatment program and its requirements. They’ll also receive customized treatment and meet regularly with a veteran mentor, who can help them make sense of all the emotions that arise throughout the program.
With an average success rate of 98%, these Veterans Treatment Courts have helped thousands of veterans get their lives back on track and stay out of the criminal justice system.
Generally speaking, you must be a veteran with mental health or substance abuse issues who is facing a criminal charge to be eligible for these programs. It doesn’t matter whether you were honorably or dishonorably discharged, either; you’ll still be eligible. However, your criminal charges must be nonviolent to qualify. Specifically, your charges will be put on hold until you finish treatment, where they can then be reduced or outright dismissed at the district level.
Here’s a list of some common nonviolent offenses that will still leave a veteran eligible for the Veterans Treatment Court Program:
Once you’re deemed eligible to participate, you’ll have to satisfy the requirements for each step in order to successfully complete the program.
A Breakdown of the Treatment Program
Veterans Treatment Courts are similar to DUI diversion programs in that they ultimately seek to address defendants’ underlying substance abuse issues. Here are the five phases to the program.
- Phase One – In the initial phase of the program, you’ll be assigned a probation officer who you’ll meet with weekly, and you’ll have to attend at least three Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. On top of this, you may be subject to random drug or alcohol tests in addition to receiving an electronic home monitoring system to ensure that you’re staying away from places you shouldn’t be going. You’ll also have to show up for monthly progress reports and start paying back your fines and court fees.
- Phase Two – If you make it to Phase Two without any hiccups, then you may receive special privileges to go to social outings that are not employment, school, or treatment-related. You will still have to continue meeting with your probation officer, attending substance abuse program meetings, and participating in random drug and alcohol screenings, though. Failure to comply with these rules may incur additional penalties, so do your best to stay out of trouble.
- Phase Three – This is when your electronic home monitoring becomes a little less restrictive, provided you’re still meeting all the program requirements. At this point, your drug screening and meetings with your probation officers will become bi-weekly instead of weekly.
- Phase Four – The biweekly drug screenings and meetings with your probation officer still apply during this phase. You’ll also have to adhere to a curfew from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., unless your probation officer grants you special permission to be out of your house during these hours.
- Phase Five – Naturally, this is the phase where you’ll enjoy the most freedom. Here, your curfew will be removed and you’ll only have to attend one substance abuse program meeting per week, as opposed to the two meetings in the earlier phases. You’ll still be subject to random drug and alcohol screenings and will have to continue paying your fines and court fees, but you’ll only have to meet with your probation officer once a month.
To successfully graduate, you’ll have to successfully complete all the phases and recommended treatment, as well as maintain employment, live a lifestyle that promotes sobriety, and stay sober or drug-free for at least 12 months. If you can accomplish all of that, then congratulations–you’ve made it through.
How Worgul, Sarna & Ness Can Assist You
Here at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, we understand how disorienting it can be for veterans as they try to reintegrate into civilian society. However, many of the unique psychological issues they face often land them in a vicious cycle of substance abuse and incarceration.
Our team of seasoned, knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys can help guide you through your case while also getting you the help you need in the Allegheny Veterans Treatment Court program. Call us today at (412) 281-2146 to learn more about how we can best serve you.
Convictions That May Revoke Your Concealed Carry License
Under the Second Amendment, we have the right to bear arms. However, this right is not unlimited. This means that under certain circumstances, your right to carry a gun can be revoked. A criminal conviction is one of these reasons.
If you are accused of a crime in the Pittsburgh area and worried that it may limit your right to carry an otherwise legal firearm, you can review all your options and pursue an outcome that protects your record and ability to own firearms. Contact Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC today at (412) 281-2146.
Impact of Criminal Convictions on a Concealed Carry License
According to the Gun Control Act, any person under indictment for or has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by at least one year in prison is not permitted to carry a gun.
This means that after your arrest for any state or federal crime, your concealed carry permit will be revoked. Under federal law, no convicted felon may purchase or be in possession of a firearm. But, the concealed carry laws for people convicted of misdemeanors depend on state law.
Pennsylvania Concealed Carry
Pennsylvania is a “shall-issue” state for concealed carry licenses. This means that, in general, the issuance of a carry license is automatically issued after a 45-day background check to any adult over 21 who has taken a handgun or firearm safety course. However, there are exceptions:
- People likely to endanger public safety,
- Individuals convicted of certain drug or controlled substance crimes,
- Mentally ill adults,
- People adjudicated delinquent in a juvenile court within the last ten years,
- Habitual drunkards,
- Convicted felons,
- Individuals convicted of a DUI more than three times in a five year period,
- Individuals convicted of domestic assault crimes, and
- Illegal immigrants.
Almost all serious criminal convictions and any violent convictions result in the loss of your concealed carry permit in Pennsylvania. The good news though, is that misdemeanors will not necessarily revoke your license.
Will I Lose My Gun Rights for a DUI?
The one common problem people run into with concealed carry permits after misdemeanor crimes is regarding drug possession charges. In Pennsylvania, the most minor drug convictions will often lead to your concealed carry license being revoked. For this reason, you need to be aware of the potential consequences of a drug conviction on your gun carry rights before sentencing.
A Lawyer Can Help Protect Your Gun Rights
With an experienced Pittsburgh defense attorney, you may be able to mitigate the charges in order to avoid losing your concealed carry license. If you have been arrested for any crime that could cause you to lose your concealed carry permit, contact us at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC today at (412) 281-2146. We will fight to get your case the best outcome possible.
What to Know about Preliminary Hearings in Pittsburgh?
Unrepresented parties often waive their preliminary hearing because they either think they are guilty and can’t defend against the charges, or that the preliminary hearing is a waste of time. However, this is often the wrong approach.
Don’t take unnecessary risks or damage your case. Speak with an experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer to properly assess the situation and how the preliminary hearing can work to your benefit.
Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC today at (412) 281-2146 today for a free consultation.
The Benefits of Preliminary Hearings
Preliminary hearings in PA help reveal weaknesses in the government’s case and are often the best opportunity to cross-examine witnesses without worrying about a jury or trial judge.
As a defendant, you only stand to gain from a preliminary hearing. You cannot be sentenced based solely on what is said by the prosecution in these hearings. Moreover, a magistrate may decide there is not enough evidence for a trial and dismiss the charges.
While a dismissal at the preliminary hearing is not too common given that the government only has to establish a prima facie case, Pittsburgh criminal lawyers can still learn important information at a preliminary hearing that may help build a convincing defense.
Should You Waive Your Preliminary Hearing?
Sometimes for first offenses or minor crimes, you may be offered a diversionary program like ARD or Probation without Verdict in exchange for waiving your preliminary hearing. In other cases, the government may agree to withdraw some charges or offer a bail reduction if you waive this hearing.
These options are worth considering. But you should weigh the pros and cons of waiving a preliminary hearing with your attorney. In almost all other cases, you should opt to have a preliminary hearing and allow your attorney to test the government’s evidence.
What You Can Learn at a Preliminary Hearing
The preliminary hearing is your chance to evaluate the prosecution’s evidence without having a jury or trial judge present. This lets your attorney ask questions and explore areas that may help set the table for a strong defense at trial.
An experienced defense attorney will find weaknesses without revealing the strategy that may have the best chance for success at trial.
Having a preliminary hearing makes it easier to predict potential outcomes, and more importantly, what questions undermine those witnesses’ testimony. You may even learn enough information to arrange a good plea bargain.
Witnesses are typically not as well rehearsed for the preliminary hearing as they will be for trial. Therefore, the preliminary hearing is the best time to reveal inconsistencies or inaccuracies.
A well-prepared lawyer will make sure a court reporter is in attendance, allowing for a full record of the testimony. If a witness changes their story at trial, or admits something damaging, an attorney can use this to your advantage.
Work with a Pittsburgh Criminal Defense Lawyer
In a preliminary hearing, the defense does not have to show any evidence or bring any witnesses. This would expose your trial strategy. Instead, you are free to highlight the flaws in the case against you.
If you have been arrested in the Pittsburgh area and have a preliminary hearing coming up, make sure to hire a qualified criminal defense lawyer to represent you. Contact Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC at (412) 281-2146 today to discuss your case. We are available 24/7 and offer free initial consultations.
Arrested at a Pittsburgh Protest? Your Rights as a Protester
In Pittsburgh, the protests ignited by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have been a mix of peaceful marches and violent near-riots. While hundreds gathered in Downtown and East Liberty on Sunday peaceably, it was a far cry from the destruction Pittsburgh saw Saturday.
According to city officials, 60 businesses and other properties suffered serious damage and dozens of arrests were made. With more protests likely and continued unrest in the community, people are justifiably worried about being arrested at demonstrations.
It’s important to remember that protesters have rights, even if they aren’t made clear by the police. If you are planning to take part in a protest but are worried about the possibility of arrest or are already facing charges, read on for more information about your rights as a protestor or contact Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC.
Let us explain your situation, fight the charges, and help you deal with it the right way, Call 24/7 for a free consultation: (412) 281-2146
Your Right to Protest
No matter the cause, protests are often disorganized environments. But even in the most chaotic setting, the First Amendment protects your right to assemble and speak freely.
Protesting on Public Property
Protesters are allowed to assemble in most public spaces, like streets, sidewalks, and parks. You can also gather in plazas or in front of government buildings, as long as you are not obstructing access or interfering with its primary purpose.
The exception to this is private property. If a protest spills onto private property, you may be asked to move or risk trespassing charges.
Taking Photos & Video
When you are lawfully in a public space – even during a protest, you have the right to photograph anything in plain view. This includes the police.
Officers should not interfere with recording their actions, but it happens, especially when their behavior is questioned. Therefore, it’s best to calmly assert your right to record so long as you are not on private property or creating a hazard.
Being Stopped & Questioned by Police
When it comes to interacting with police, either during the protest or if you are questioned, it is wise to keep your emotions in check. This can be hard in a heated situation where you want to express your frustrations, but try to remain calm and avoid making threats or comments that may be construed as eliciting violence.
When you are stopped or suspect that you’ll be arrested, you have the right to ask why. If the officer can’t or won’t provide a reason, ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says no or applies force, do not resist or become combative.
Just follow their instructions because at this point it’s likely that you’ll be taken into custody. And it’s best to let a lawyer handle the situation from there.
Police Orders to Disperse
This is usually the last resort to end a demonstration, but the police cannot break up a lawful protest unless there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder, or other immediate threat.
When the police issue an order to disperse, they must provide a reasonable amount of time to comply. This means giving you an opportunity and a clear exit. For example, they cannot order you to leave the area, keep the street obstructed, and fire rubber bullets into the crowd.
In addition, the police must explain that failure to comply will result in arrest. Being subjected to crowd dispersal tactics without waring is a serious violation of your rights and may cause serious injuries.
Remember Details and Document Injuries
If you are arrested at a protest, try to remember the officer’s name, badge number, or other identifying information. If you suffer injuries, request medical attention immediately, and take photos as soon as possible. Also, make sure you hang onto any documents or forms given to you that relate to your arrest.
This information may be useful in your case or any formal complaints you may wish to file against the officer, with the police department, or the city itself.
Have a Plan & a Lawyer’s Number on Hand
Prior to attending a protest, it’s wise to communicate with your friends and family. Let them know your plans, where you plan on being, and what to do if you are taken into custody. This will make locating you and your release a lot easier.
Finally, it is always a good idea to have the number of a trusted lawyer ready. While your phone or wallet may be taken if you are arrested, you could write the number on your arm or memorize it.
Some organizations partner with legal groups like the Pennsylvania ACLU, which provide low cost or pro-bono legal services but you should think about having your own attorney, who will make your rights and release their top priority. These legal aid groups are often overrun after large protests, and may not have the local clout to secure your release as quickly as possible.
Arrested at a Pittsburgh Protest? Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness
These protests should drive us to improve the systematic problems in our legal system, but Pittsburgh will likely see more clashes with police and arrests first. Our defense attorneys believe in your rights, not least among them is the right to speak out against police misconduct and brutality. Let us ensure your right to be heard is protected.
If you were arrested in a protest or plan to attend a demonstration and want legal help, an experienced and highly skilled lawyer is ready.
Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC at (412) 281-2146 24/7. Consultations are free and confidential.
When to Accept a Plea in Pittsburgh?
Sometimes called plea deals or plea agreements, plea bargains are a common way for prosecutors to deal with criminal charges in and around Pittsburgh, PA.
Pleas are generally great for the prosecutor. It lets them avoid the cost and time required of a full trial, while still doling out punishment. While a plea bargain often seems like a great compromise for someone facing charges, this is not always the case.
Have you been charged with a crime and considering making a deal to get things over with quickly? This can be risky and there are other things to consider. At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, let an experienced Pittsburgh criminal attorney walk you through all of your options, evaluate any deal presented, and make sure it’s the in your best interest.
Call our Pittsburgh office at (412) 281-2146 24/7 for a free and confidential consultation.
Plea Agreements: What to Keep in Mind
Sometimes a plea bargain is your best move, but prosecutors are not your legal advocates. They are simply offering the plea deal out of convenience and in the best interest of the state.
Before accepting a plea bargain in Pittsburgh, have it thoroughly analyzed by your own attorney, who can honestly say whether the offer is really in your best interest.
Reduced Sentences are Still Convictions
Even a reduced sentence for a simple assault or DUI is still a conviction, even if it does not carry the harshest possible penalty. The conviction will still be on your permanent criminal record and you could be subjecting yourself to more punishment than you rightfully deserve.
In addition, a plea bargain means giving up your right to appeal a decision. Many people assume that because a plea deal usually comes with sentencing guidelines, it is an assured outcome. However, while judges usually accept the prosecutor’s recommendations, they are not required to do so.
Sometimes this means getting a harsher punishment than you expected when you agreed with no recourse.
Plea Bargains: Benefits & Drawbacks
Sometimes plea bargains are worth taking, but since pleas require careful consideration, it is important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a plea bargain before making up your mind.
The following are the top five pros and cons of most plea bargains:
Pros of Plea Bargains
- You can save time and money by avoiding a trial.
- If you plead to a lesser crime (a felony to a misdemeanor) means lesser penalties.
- You may be offered a less severe punishment than the maximum possible.
- You can be spared the stress and uncertainty of happens next.
- The plea could involve terms that are less negative to your criminal record.
Cons of Plea Bargains
- You must plead guilty, even if you didn’t do the crime.
- A jury trial can result in unknown consequences and penalties.
- You lose the chance to appeal any final decision.
- A trial could reveal weak evidence and lead to aquital, but it’s a risk
- The judge retains the right to ignore any recommendations.
A Lawyer Can Negotiate Terms & Fight for You
In the end, pleas are just a tool used in criminal proceedings. Therefore, you need to objectively consider any offer.
While you have the right to accept a good deal, you also should not feel obligated to accept a plea just because you are scared. Since plea bargains are used in most criminal cases, a Pittsburgh criminal attorney can accurately assess the merits of any individual offer.
At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, we always are honest with our clients about proposed plea offers. We know what to look for, how they can impact your life in the long-run, and when you should fight for a better outcome.
Review some of the favorable results we’ve achieved for our clients.
Let Worgul, Sarna & Ness Help
If you have been arrested in the Pittsburgh area and offered a plea deal, don’t accept it right away. Let the experienced Pennsylvania criminal attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC help determine if it’s in your interests.
Call us today at our Pittsburgh office at (412) 281-2146 for a free consultation.
How to Get Charges Dismissed at the Preliminary Hearing
While going through the criminal process is often frightening, knowing what to expect can make it much more bearable. After your arrest and arraignment, you will attend your preliminary hearing. This is an opportunity for your Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to get your charges dismissed.
At lot can happen at the preliminary hearing that can hurt or greatly help your case. As a result, it’s best to work with an experienced and skilled attorney.
What is a Preliminary Hearing?
The preliminary hearing in PA is a crucial part of your case. It should happen within three to 10 days of your arraignment. During the preliminary hearing, the state must prove that a crime took place and that you were likely the culpable party.
Why a Preliminary Hearing is Important
A preliminary hearing protects the accused’s rights. Prosecutors often count on defendants to waive their right to a preliminary hearing to have bail reduced or gain other benefits.
Keep in mind that the prosecutor does not have your best interests in mind, so this is often not the best strategy. It is essential to retain a criminal defense attorney to advise you on the best path forward.
How Your Attorney Can Be Proactive
At this stage, the prosecution could fail to meet the burden of proof. When this occurs, your charges are dismissed. This is relatively uncommon, since the prosecution only has to present a prima facie case. They only have to show that it is more likely than not that you committed the crime; they do not have to prove their base beyond a reasonable doubt. However, there are other ways that your charged could be dismissed at this step.
Your attorney can use this time to draw attention to evidence the prosecution does not produce. Generally, the prosecution does not have to do too much to get a case to move forward, so questioning their evidence is not always an effective strategy. Your attorney may choose to draw attention to the holes in their evidence to indicate that the available evidence does not align with their charges. They may also look at the role of hearsay evidence. While hearsay evidence is permitted, the entire case cannot hinge on it.
This is also an opportunity for your defense attorney to negotiate a plea, should that be a good option for your case. If your goal is to have charges completely dismissed, you may be resistant to the idea of a plea. In some situations, though, it can help you avoid more serious charges, return to your normal life much sooner, and limit your legal expenses.
Motions in a Preliminary Hearing
Your attorney can also submit some pretrial motions at this stage, like a motion for bail. After your preliminary hearing, your attorney can begin preparing pretrial motions. These can be submitted at your arraignment. Your attorney may move to suppress evidence or dismiss the charges against you. This is one of the reasons that the preliminary hearing is so important; your attorney gets the chance to hear the other side’s evidence, look for legal errors, and prepare to move to have evidence dismissed.
It should go without saying that you need an experienced criminal defense attorney by this point. In fact, you should have an attorney as soon as possible after your arrest. If you wait until your preliminary hearing to begin looking for an attorney, you could lose valuable opportunities to have charges dismissed or reduced.
Find Out We Can Help You
As soon as you have been accused of a crime, reach out to Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys and our team of Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyers to protect your rights. We will review your case, discuss your options for a successful result at the preliminary hearing stage, and fight to achieve the best possible outcome.
Digital Evidence in Criminal Cases
Explosive advances in technology over the last two decades have drastically changed the criminal justice system. Law enforcement can now gather vast amounts of credible, valuable digital evidence, from both the suspect and a victim. Prosecutors use this evidence and develop strategies aimed at proving guilt. Details that may not be otherwise available or practical can now be presented to a jury, often making the prosecution’s job easier.
However, all evidence is still subject to scrutiny. Your civil rights and the foundational elements of the criminal process don’t change because the information comes in electronic form. There are layers of complexity that can make the difference between a conviction and acquittal, so the best strategy for protecting your rights is retaining a criminal defense lawyer.
Don’t let a prosecutor or police officer pressure you into accepting your fate because they tell you how compelling the digital evidence is. In the Pittsburgh area, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney with Worgul, Sarna & Ness Criminal Defense Attorneys.
Digital Evidence in Criminal Cases
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) defines digital evidence as any information or data stored in or transmitted by electronic means. Also referred to as “computer forensics,” digital information is theoretically the same as any other evidence that may be introduced in court.
Some special considerations include:
- Law enforcement is subject to the same regulations and limitations when conducting investigations, including constitutional protections
- Prosecutors must comply with the rules of evidence when pursuing charges against you; and,
- Though these players may employ computer forensics tactics to obtain a conviction, digital evidence is just as important for exculpatory reasons – i.e., proving your innocence.
Digital Data is Unique
There are key differences between digital and physical evidence. However, digital information covers a broader range of data, which can be very private and sensitive. It can place you in a certain spot at a point in time, potentially tying you to a crime. Plus, unlike physical evidence, it requires different training for law enforcement to access. For purposes of authentication and admissibility, digital evidence also presents challenges for prosecutors who must usually rely on expert testimony.
How It’s Used in Criminal Cases
Electronic information can be introduced as evidence in any criminal case, but it’s especially useful in computer and white-collar crimes. The days are long gone that you could successfully erase every trace of fraud, embezzlement, or other financial offenses. Officials also make use of digital data in connection with:
- Murder charges
- Kidnapping crimes
- Child pornography and sexual assault
- Human trafficking
- Robbery, burglary, and other theft crimes
Sources of Evidence in Computer Crimes
When you think about your everyday activities and how digital devices connect you to the world, you can see the massive expanse of electronic evidence. The most obvious are the hard drives and storage for your computer, laptop, tablet, and mobile phone. Still, there are numerous other sources to which law enforcement may gain access through a search warrant, including:
- Web browsing history
- Car navigation systems and portable GPS
- Usage of credit and debit cards
- Tollbooth vehicle records
- Social media activities and posts
- Phone call, email, texting, and other messaging activities
- Download history of music, ebooks, e-zines, video, and other content.
The “Internet of Things”
Plus, you may be shocked to know how officials can use data transmitted and stored through devices that qualify as IoT. The term describes any number of internet-connected devices that can provide a wealth of information in a criminal case. For instance, the police may tie you to a crime through:
- Your residential security system and smart home features
- A fitness tracker and other wearables
- Usage of Uber/Lyft and ridesharing services
- A victim’s pacemaker, for purposes of establishing time of death; and
- An infinite number of mobile apps you use regularly.
Trust a Criminal Defense Lawyer to Handle Complex Evidence
Using digital evidence in criminal cases is a significant factor, but it can also be used by the defense to present innocence and proper context. In addition, it’s no substitute for the skills, knowledge, and experience a qualified legal professional can bring to your case. If you’ve been arrested in Pittsburgh and electronic information will serve as key evidence in your case, Worgul, contact Sarna & Ness Criminal Defense Attorneys right away.
Expunging Your Record After a Dismissal
If you’ve been arrested and charged with a crime in Pennsylvania, your main concern will likely be whether or not you’ll be convicted. As a result, you should hire an attorney and fight the charges. Ultimately, and to your relief, the charges are dismissed. This could be because you had proof of your innocence or perhaps the police violated your constitutional rights. Regardless, this is a victory, because no one wants a criminal conviction on their record.
However, the mere fact that you were charged can still be an embarrassing blemish. It’s usually best to pursue an expungement to have the matter completely sealed from view. And with an experienced attorney, the expungement process in Pennsylvania can be relatively straightforward.
To discuss your options for obtaining an expungement after a dismissal, call contact Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC. We’ll guide you through the process, advise you of your options, and handle the matter on your behalf.
Dismissed Charges May on Your Criminal Record
Unfortunately, many people are surprised to discover that any criminal charge will appear on your criminal record, even those that are dismissed. This means that it will appear on a background check performed by potential employers, volunteer groups, or other entities that screen the people they work with.
The laws vary as to what extent employers and organizations can obtain and use this information, but if they are included in your background check, it’s impossible to say whether or not your charges factor in their decision. The truth of the matter is that even charges that were dismissed could have negative consequences for your future.
The good news is that you may be able to get your charges erased from your record. Depending on the situation, you may qualify for an expungement – a legal proceeding whereby your criminal charges are removed from your record as if they never happened.
The Benefits of an Expungement
There are multiple benefits to having your charges expunged from your record. As mentioned above, your charges will not appear on your criminal record.
If you have to submit to a background check, potential employers, landlords, and anyone else will not know anything about your prior charges. In addition, an expungement allows you to truthfully answer “no” when asked if you have a criminal history.
Are You Eligible for Expungement?
State laws vary widely as to who is eligible for expungement and who is not. Most states allow people to have dismissed charges expunged.
However, there may be other requirements such as:
- Your case has been fully adjudicated.
- You have met any required waiting period.
- You have not been charged with any other crimes.
- If your charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement, you have completed all the terms of the agreement, such as treatment programs, community service, or payment of any fines.
An experienced Pennsylvania expungement lawyer can help you determine whether your charges are eligible for expungement.
How to Have Your Charges Expunged
Generally speaking, you begin the expungement process by filing a petition consisting of various forms that you will have to complete. The process may also include:
- Providing notification to the prosecution and any victims
- Certifying that you are eligible for expungement
- Providing a copy of the final disposition of your case
Most expungements are handled without a hearing. However, if the prosecutor objects to the expungement or there is something unusual with your case, you may need to appear before a judge.
How an Expungement Lawyer Can Help
The expungement process is fairly direct, but there are some aspects that can be complicated. Mistakes can cost you valuable time and possibly jeopardize your expungement. Hiring an expungement lawyer who practices in your state can help you get your expungement quickly and without issue. If there are problems with your case, your lawyer will know what steps need to be taken to fix them so that you can move forward with getting your charges expunged.
To discuss your options for an expungement in Pennsylvania, call contact Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC. Call our office today at (412) 281-2146 or fill out our online contact form.