If you are facing criminal charges in Pennsylvania, making smart decisions is going to be one of the keys to your defense. But, what if you only think you are making smart decisions? What if, in reality, you are relying on bad advice from uninformed people who are simply trying to sell advertising space on the Internet?
Unfortunately, in today’s world this is a very real possibility. You cannot believe everything you read online, and this is particularly true when it comes to matters of criminal law. There are a lot of misconceptions out there, and differences between state laws mean that what might be true in one jurisdiction could be completely false in another. This is why we always caution defendants to seek advice from a local and experienced criminal defense attorney.
So, what’s true and what’s false? Here are some critical truths about facing criminal charges in Pennsylvania:
True or False: Unless You Committed a Really Serious Crime, You Will Be Placed on Probation.
False: In Pennsylvania, probation is only an option under limited circumstances, and you will need to argue for probation successfully in order to stay out of jail.
Under the Pennsylvania Sentencing Code, many first-time non-violent offenders will be eligible for probation. However, being eligible for probation does not mean that you will be placed on probation automatically if you are convicted. The Sentencing Code outlines numerous factors that judges are required to consider when deciding whether to sentence a defendant to probation, and in order to avoid jail time you will need to be able to convince the judge that the factors weigh in your favor.
True or False: If You Weren’t Read Your Miranda Rights, the Prosecution Can’t Use Your Statements Against You.
False: Failure to read a suspect’sMiranda rights can warrant exclusion of self-incriminating statements in some circumstances, but this does not happen automatically.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miranda v. Arizona requires police officers to read suspects’ rights prior to conducting “custodial interrogations.” If you answer questions while you are not in custody, or if you provide information without being interrogated (i.e. if you make an unsolicited confession), then the prosecution can use your statements against you even if the police did not read your Miranda rights.
If the police interrogated you in custody without reading your rights, then any statements you made in response to questioning may be inadmissible in court. However, in order to have your self-incriminating statements suppressed from your trial, you will need to raise the issue and convince the judge that suppression is required.
True or False: The Police Can’t Access Your Phone Without a Search Warrant
True: In Pennsylvania, the police are required to obtain a warrant before searching your phone unless you consent to a search.
Text messages, search histories, GPS data, and various other pieces of information stored on cell phones can provide a wealth of evidence for prosecutors. However, the courts have made clear that the police need a warrant in order to search your phone in Pennsylvania. Unless the police have a search warrant, you do not have to hand over your phone, nor do you have to unlock it. However, if you give the police your phone voluntarily (even if you only did so because you thought you had to), then the police can access your data and prosecutors can use everything they find.
True or False: If You Were Charged with a Misdemeanor, At Most You are Facing One Year in Jail.
False: While this is true in some states, it isn’t true in Pennsylvania. Under Pennsylvania law, misdemeanor charges can carry up to five years of jail time.
In most states, one of the main factors that distinguishes a misdemeanor from a felony is that a misdemeanor conviction cannot result in more than one year of jail time. However, in Pennsylvania, there are three “degrees” of misdemeanors, and the most-serious misdemeanors carry up to a five-year term of incarceration. Under Pennsylvania law, the maximum jail sentences and fines for misdemeanors are:
- First-Degree Misdemeanor – Up to five years in jail and a $10,000 fine
- Second–Degree Misdemeanor – Up to two years in jail and a $5,000 fine
- Third–Degree Misdemeanor – Up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine
True or False: Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer Makes You Look Guilty.
False: Prosecutors and judges expect you to hire a defense lawyer because they understand what is at stake in your case.
If you hire a criminal defense lawyer to represent you, won’t this make you look guilty? After all, why would you hire a lawyer if you didn’t have anything to hide?
A common misconception is that innocent people don’t need lawyers. If you haven’t committed a crime, and if you don’t have anything to hide, then the truth will ultimately prevail. Right? Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and even innocent defendants must fight their charges vigorously in order to avoid the life-altering consequences of a criminal conviction.
True or False:Even if You Were Caught Red-Handed, You Still May Be Able to Avoid a Conviction
True. There are many ways to defend against criminal charges in Pennsylvania. Even if the police caught you in the act, you could still have viable defense strategies available.
While innocence is one possible defense to a criminal charge, there are many other defenses that are available even in cases where the defendant was caught in the act of committing a crime. For example, if the police utilized unconstitutional procedures during or after your arrest, then the Commonwealth’s evidence against you may be inadmissible in court. Likewise, if the police failed to maintain an appropriate chain of custody, then any evidence against you may lack probative value. Prosecutorial miscues can provide defenses as well.