Young Person’s Guide: Part One – Initial Charges

Initial Charges via Police Criminal Complaint

If you are accused of a crime, you will most likely receive a Police Criminal Complaint in the mail. These are typically sent via both first class and certified USPS mail. Included in the envelope will be a copy of the Police Criminal Complaint, a Summons to appear for a Preliminary Hearing in Central Court, and a Fingerprint Order.

The Police Criminal Complaint outlines the Commonwealth’s case against you. It lists what specific statutes or laws you are alleged to have violated, identifying information about you, witnesses, and the officers involved, and a succinct description of the officer’s version of events called the “Affidavit of Probable Cause.”

You must have your fingerprints scanned and photograph taken prior to your Preliminary Hearing date. You do this at the Centre County Central Booking Center, located on the right side of the Centre County Correctional Facility’s building at 700 Rishel Hill Road, Bellefonte, PA 16823. If you do not have your fingerprints and photograph taken prior to your Preliminary Hearing, the judge may refuse to set bail in your case until you do so, which can create a hassle for you, your attorney, and the entire court.

Initial Charges via Arraignment

If your offenses are more serious, you may be arrested and taken before a Magisterial District Judge, who will inform you of the charges against you, give you a copy of the Police Criminal Complaint, and set bail in your case. Chances are that you’ll be incarcerated when you “see the judge,” and your arraignment will be via videoconference. If you cannot afford to post bail, you will be taken to (or remain in) the Centre County Correctional Facility.

The Best of Both Worlds

One hybrid situation is an arrest for Driving Under the Influence (DUI). In these cases, the accused is placed under arrest and transported to the nearest medical center that conducts blood tests (Mount Nittany Medical Center or Tyrone Hospital; the Central Booking Center on busy weekends; and a mobile lab during a DUI Checkpoint operation). At the hospital, the accused – if he or she has been calm and nonthreatening during the encounter – will not be re-handcuffed and will be taken to the Central Booking Center to be “processed” (fingerprints and photograph). At this point, most people are released to a family member, allowed to call a cab, or if the officer is in a good mood or it is on his or her way, dropped off at home.

PROTIP: Don’t go back to get your car that night. You are not sober. Get it the next day. Preferably after breakfast. Even if you think you are fine to drive because it is 4am and you were arrested at midnight and you “only had a few,” don’t do it. You will be arrested again, and will have to go through the whole rigmarole of a blood draw and a trip to the booking center. Furthermore, don’t ask the cabbie to drop you at your car. He’ll do it, and then call the cops. Don’t laugh. This happens. I’ve represented several over the years.

Before you are Charged

You do not have to wait until you receive the Complaint in the mail to talk to a lawyer. If you are applying for a Public Defender, they cannot talk to you until you do receive the Complaint, but private attorneys have no such restrictions. A lawyer can often reach out to the investigating officers and possibly mitigate the charges before they are filed, particularly if you have information or other assistance to offer in exchange. Additionally, if you are facing a charge that will likely lead to an Arraignment, a lawyer can try to negotiate a self-surrender in which you drive yourself to the Magisterial District Judge’s office instead of being arrested and transported in the back of a police car.

Probable Cause or Reasonable Suspicion?

If you can figure out what Commonwealth v. Feczko, 10 A.3d 1285 (Pa. Super. 2010), means in terms of criminal defense practice, feel free to share.

This opinion came out in December, and I had a chance to read it in detail today. As near as I can tell, it recognizes two types of Motor Vehicle Code (Title 75) violations: those that are “investigatable” (for which the purposes of a Terry stop exist – maintaining the status quo while investigating) and those in which there is nothing further to investigate.

“Mere reasonable suspicion will not justify a vehicle stop when the driver’s detention cannot serve an investigatory purpose relevant to the suspected violation.” Feczko, at PA SUPER p. 12 (no star numbers available).

So, for offenses that require no further investigation, such as speeding violations, probable cause is required. But for offenses that may require further investigation, such as DUI, only reasonable suspicion is necessary.

(What a ridiculous mess our DUI jurisprudence has become. I’m going to think about that tonight and may update again this weekend.)