What is Habeas Corpus?

The law is filled with confusing terminology and Latin phrases. When you’ve been charged with a crime, it can be very difficult to figure out what it all means.

One term you may hear as you explore your legal options in response to criminal charges is habeas corpus. What is a habeas corpus motion in Pennsylvania state court, and when should you file one? (If you’re looking for information on federal habeas corpus relief, we’ll deal with that in a later article).

It all starts at the preliminary hearing…

What happens when the government of Pennsylvania charges you with a crime? First, you’re going to have a preliminary arraignment and a preliminary hearing (usually on two different dates). The preliminary hearing is, in some ways, the first step of a successful habeas corpus petition. At the preliminary hearing before a Magisterial District Judge, you’re going to have the opportunity to hear the evidence against you placed “on the record.” The police officer who charged you will testify along with any witnesses that he thinks are relevant to establishing why he had probable cause to bring charges against you in the first place. If the prosecution is successful in proving that the charges are based on probable cause, then the matter will be “bound over” to the Court of Common Pleas.

Once the case is “bound over” to the Court of Common Pleas, you will have a limited amount of time to request discovery (a copy of the prosecution and police case file against you), and then to file a habeas corpus motion.

Habeas corpus is Latin, and it literally means, “Do you have the body?” Habeas corpus has been called “The Great Writ” because it was one of the most important rights of the ancient world. Today, what it means is that you have the right to demand that the government explain why it is holding you on charges. If the government cannot justify its charges to a court, then you have to be released. Habeas corpus, in other words, is a petition that asks the court to completely dismiss the charges against you over the Prosecutor’s objection.

Should you file a habeas corpus motion?

So, why not file a habeas corpus motion, you might ask. A habeas corpus petition is a strategic measure. It’s the appropriate motion to file only when you believe that the government does not have any case against you even if the evidence they present is accepted as true. For example, where you present a successful motion to suppress evidence of your possession of a drug, and there is no evidence left to proceed with, a habeas corpus motion can allow you to finish off the charges. In other cases, where a key witness is likely not to testify (where they plead the 5th amendment to avoid their own prosecution, for example), a habeas corpus motion can successfully force the issue and have the case withdrawn.

But a habeas corpus motion is not the right tool for all situations. Habeas corpus will not succeed if the government has a case against you, but you simply don’t believe it’s enough to convict you beyond a reasonable doubt. A habeas corpus motion is what you file to challenge the government to produce its evidence in court. It can slow down the process of ultimately adjudicating your guilt or innocence. In many situations, you want your day in court as soon as possible, and a habeas corpus motion may actually delay that. In addition, if you waive your preliminary hearing, you almost certainly give up your right to a habeas corpus petition.

Conclusion

In short, whether to file a Habeas Corpus motion in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to dismiss your criminal charges is a decision you should only make in consultation with an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney. Call the Cornerstone Law Firm today so that we can help you to determine whether a Habeas Corpus Petition is right for you, or whether you should defend your action in another way.

October 2018 Recap

The month of October has been productive at Cornerstone Law Firm. Attorney Crossett successfully settled two car accident cases for clients, helping them to receive financial compensation for their pain and suffering. David also attended several “depositions,” a part of the civil litigation process that allows testimony under oath before trial in order for both parties to better understand the case at hand.

Attorney Ready has been all over eastern Pennsylvania this month, driving to Union County to obtain dismissal of criminal charges for a client, and holding several hearings in Berks County criminal court. Joel also filed a lawsuit for 401k benefits unlawfully denied to an employee. He also helped several clients analyze their rights as creditors in bankruptcy court. Finally, Attorney Ready filed several deeds for clients changing ownership of homes.

At Cornerstone Law, we solve problems of all kinds. Call us today to let us know how we can help you solve your problem.

Public Drunkenness and Kutztown University Students

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we’ve helped many Kutztown University students who are accused of crimes. When a college student is charged with public drunkenness or another crime involving alcohol or drugs, the impact on the student’s academic and professional future can be profound. Here are several things that a student at Kutztown University or any other college should consider when deciding what to do about criminal charges.

  1. Your charges can impact professional licensure

Sometimes, college students are quick to plead guilty or accept the initial charges filed without thinking about how such a charge will impact their professional future. If a student wants to be a teacher, a counselor, a police officer or even go into the military, a conviction can end up derailing the student’s plans. An expensive education can be wasted by accepting a plea agreement without considering these aspects.

The reality is, a college student who is 18 or older is an adult, and your charges will remain on your record for the rest of your life if they are not properly disposed of. Contrary to popular belief, expungement is not easy to obtain, and in many situations, it will not be available at all unless it is part of the plea agreement or diversionary program accepted. Don’t just plead guilty! You need to discuss the potential consequences of your plea with an experienced attorney.

  1. You are innocent until proven guilty

In the midst of all of this discussion of plea agreements and reduced charges, let’s not forget the most important fact: you are innocent until proven guilty. Just because a police officer has charged you with a crime doesn’t mean you have to plead guilty to it. Indeed, proving that someone has committed a crime in a court of law is the highest bar in the law. It requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury of your peers in an environment where the state cannot require you to testify against yourself. This is not an easy task. Not infrequently, police officers and investigators make mistakes in the course of their investigation, misunderstand the significance of evidence, or rely on false characterizations in their charges. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you to spot these mistakes and challenge them. Sometimes this reduces criminal charges, and sometimes it eliminates them altogether.

  1. Kutztown University might implement their own academic discipline.

College students are often surprised when they find out that their legal problems create academic problems, as well. Charges filed against an individual will trigger an academic investigation by the university, and a dean of student conduct or other campus official might demand an explanation, even before the charges have been resolved.

However, Kutztown University, like any public university in Pennsylvania, is subject to the constitution and its provisions about due process, the right to an attorney, and the right to notice and a hearing. Occasionally, students are told that they do not have a right to be represented by an attorney in a disciplinary hearing. This is not true. As a student a public university, you have your full constitutional rights in disciplinary hearings, including the right to remain silent without adverse action being taken against you. You should not attempt to handle these hearings alone. In most cases, you can insist that the hearings not go forward until the charges are resolved.

  1. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you is a must.

There are plenty of things in life that you can save money on by doing it yourself. Dealing with your potentially life-altering criminal charges is not one of them. An experienced attorney who understands the potential impact of a conviction on your professional future is vital. An experienced attorney can help you to decide whether to fight charges or to seek a favorable plea, and how to eliminate or minimize potential negative consequences for your future.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we have helped many Kutztown University students to deal with charges ranging from disorderly conduct to drug possession and more. Call us today for a free consultation to discuss your rights.

What is the difference between a preliminary hearing and a preliminary arraignment?

If you have been charged with a crime, the first thing that usually happens is that you receive two notices in the mail from a Magisterial District Court, giving you the date and time for two separate hearings. One is called a preliminary arraignment; the other is called a preliminary hearing.

So what is the difference between these two hearings and what should you do to prepare for each of them? That is the subject for today’s Cornerstone Law Firm’s blog post.

The Preliminary Arraignment

The preliminary arraignment is the first step in the prosecution of a crime in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This is the first opportunity you will have to be in front of a Judge on your criminal charges. An arraignment is where you are formally inducted into the criminal justice system for the purpose of disposition of your charges. To put it more simply, this is where your bail is set, your charges are read, and where information is taken from you about the Court can get ahold of you in the event that you do not show up for a hearing. It is called a preliminary arraignment because there will actually be two arraignments during the process of disposing of your criminal charges. This is the first one, and if you retain an attorney, this is the only one you will actually have to attend. The preliminary arraignment is important because it is the opportunity for you to hear the charges for the first time and to also obtain a copy of the Affidavit of Probable Cause that a police officer has filed supporting the charges against you. It is also your chance to advocate for unsecured bail. That is, bail where you do not have to pay money down to be at liberty during the rest of your criminal case.

The Preliminary Hearing

The preliminary hearing is the second hearing that you will attend during the process of having your criminal charges dealt with. This hearing will typically be at the same Court that your preliminary arraignment was held and, in most cases, it will be a few weeks after the preliminary arraignment. At your preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth is required to put on its case against you to prove that it has a prima facie case against you. Prima facie is Latin for “first blush” or “at first look,” simply meaning, the Commonwealth must prove it has a good reason for charging you. That they have probable cause. At a preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth does not have to prove the burden beyond a reasonable doubt, their only goal is to prove to the Magisterial District Judge that the charges are not completely lacking in merit.  If they are able to prove that, then the charges will be “bound over” to the Court of Common Pleas. This is where the case gets going in earnest.

So, what is the point of a preliminary hearing? In a preliminary hearing, your attorney will have the opportunity to meet with the prosecution to discuss your case, to find out the likelihood of any plea deals being offered, and it is the first chance for your attorney to cross examine the police officer and potentially other witnesses against you.

The preliminary hearing is extremely important. In some cases, it is an opportunity to have all the charges completely dismissed. In other cases, it is a crucial opportunity to get evidence on the record that will lead to suppression of evidence when the case goes to the Court of Common Pleas. In other instances, it is best to waive the preliminary hearing, that is to forgo it, in order to secure a more favorable deal from the prosecution. In all these instances it is vital to be represented by a criminal defense attorney at the preliminary hearing.

Conclusion

We hope this article has been helpful to you as you sort out the difference between the preliminary arraignment and the preliminary hearing. If you have further questions about these hearings, or about your specific charges, we welcome you to call the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm to discuss your case.

Medical Bills After a Car Accident

One of the biggest stresses that any individual faces after a car accident is mounting medical bills. When you’ve been hurt, whether in a motorcycle accident or a car crash, medical bills can quickly mount. Sometimes, even a simple ambulance ride to the hospital can produce an astronomical bill for a client to pay.

Every case is different, and you should definitely consult a personal injury attorney about how to handle your medical bills after an accident. However, here are three general tips that can help you navigate the process.

  1. Your bills should be paid by your insurance.

Yes, that’s right. Your insurance covers your medical bills up to a certain amount. This is called Personal Injury Protection or “PIP” coverage. Your insurance will have an obligation to cover you up to a certain amount of money. You can check your own Declaration Page to find out how much PIP coverage your insurance carries. When you go to a doctor or a hospital, you will have them submit their bills directly to your car insurance. This is true whether or not you have health insurance and is also true even where the other party is at fault.

Sometimes people are confused by this idea. They say “If the other person is at fault for the accident, why does my insurance have to pay?” This is an understandable question but the short answer is that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, by statute, has declared that all insurance providers must pay your medical bills up to a certain amount (variable by policy) to ensure that no one is left without coverage in the event that they are hit by someone who does not have sufficient insurance. So, tip one is to have your medical providers present your car crash related medical bills to your PIP provider.

  1. Don’t be a “tough guy”: Get Treatment

Many times, people try to be tough after an accident. They say “I don’t need any medical treatment,” or “It’s no big deal. I’ll just get over it.”

After a car accident, it’s very important that you get treatment.

Sometimes, the adrenaline of a car accident and the rush that can come as a result, will cause the victim to overlook injuries and can suddenly feel how much pain they were in that was initially hidden. In other words, don’t be afraid to go get things checked out.

Injuries can reveal themselves over time. Soft tissue damage can be hard to detect. Even serious injuries resulting from a car accident or motorcycle crash can lie below the surface and require treatment. This is one of the only times in life that you can have your medical bills paid entirely by someone else, without even a co-pay—so go see your doctor.

Furthermore, you have a limited amount of time—known in the law as the statute of limitations—within which to bring a claim and to have your injuries paid for by your insurance company or the other person’s insurance company. So, don’t be a tough guy, and go get treatment after your car crash. Once the doctor clears you, then you know you’re fine. But, at least then, you’ll have the confidence to know that there are no serious issues lingering and waiting to raise their ugly head in the future.

  1. Keep Track of Your Providers

Sometimes, car accident attorneys, like those here at the Cornerstone Law Firm, will meet with a client and ask them where they’ve been treated. The client will say, “I don’t know where I was treated. I just went to wherever the first doctor told me to go.” They may have to dig through piles of records to figure out who it was that they went for a specific type of treatment. Although you can figure it out, it can take some time to track all of your medical providers down. So, keep a list of your providers handy. When you go to an appointment, write down the provider’s name on a separate sheet of paper. Who they are, the reason for seeing them, and how many times you went back. This type of information will be very helpful to your personal injury lawyer in pursuing your claim later. Even if you decide not to pursue your claim, keeping track of providers can be helpful for the future in helping your doctors determine where else they might be able to obtain records.

Conclusion: your medical bills tell a story

After a motorcycle crash or a car accident, your medical bills will mount, but they are important. They tell a story of what you’ve been through, the injuries you’ve suffered, and how you’ve managed to overcome those injuries. If you have questions about your car accident or motorcycle crash, call the personal injury attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss how we can help you to confront your new normal.

 

Jurisdiction: Can they sue me here?

When you’ve been sued, a number of thoughts can rush through your head. How can I resolve this case? How can I get rid of the claims that I’m facing? Do I have the ability to sue the other side back?

As important as all of these questions are, one of the first questions that every Defendant in a lawsuit should ask is, “Does this court have jurisdiction over me?”

  1. Personal Jurisdiction v. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

When we talk about jurisdiction, we’re talking about the power of a court to adjudicate a claim, and to do so in regards to the parties involved. In reality, these are two separate questions.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction is the power of a court to hear a specific type of claim. For example, if you believe that your United States Constitutional rights have been violated, you wouldn’t bring suit in the courts of the Islamic Republic of Iran. You would not expect that court to have the power to issue a binding ruling about your Constitutional Rights in the United States!

Similarly, there are some claims which may only be brought in the courts of a specific state or in federal court. We’ve previously discussed on the blog what it means that our federal courts are courts of “limited jurisdiction.” Simply put, the federal courts cannot adjudicate all claims between parties, because they’ve only been given power in the Constitution of the United States to render rulings on a very narrow range of issues.

So the first question the Defendant should ask when they’re sued is, “Does this court have jurisdiction over the claims that are being brought?”

  1. Personal Jurisdiction

Personal Jurisdiction is a more complicated question. It asks, “Does the court have jurisdiction over me as a defendant?” While Subject Matter Jurisdiction cannot be “waived” because it deals with the institutional power of a court, Personal Jurisdiction can be waived.

In other words, if you show up and try to contest the claims against you first, you may give up forever your opportunity that the court in question didn’t have power over you in the first place.

Think about it this way: if you live in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, work in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and do all of your business here, you can’t suddenly be sued in arctic circle of Alaska simply because someone is mad at you. The court in Alaska would have to have Personal Jurisdiction over you. They would have to have a way to prove that they were the proper court to have authority over you as a defendant to adjudicate whether you were right or wrong in the particular dispute.

There are really two types of personal jurisdiction. The first is called General Jurisdiction. This is when a court says that you are so at home in a particular forum that you may always be brought into court in that forum to answer charges. Again, using the facts above, if you live in Pennsylvania and work in Pennsylvania, you will generally have to answer for any sort of conduct that anyone accuses you of if they sue you in Pennsylvania.

But, there’s a second type of jurisdiction which is called Specific Jurisdiction. If you agree to a contract with a company in Arizona and you ship products there and they’re unhappy with them, it’s not all that surprising that you might be sued in Arizona. By targeting your conduct toward that “forum,” you have opened yourself up to the possibility of a lawsuit there.

  1. This is a factors-based test

The above examples may simplify the matter a little bit, but the fact is that a court has to have jurisdiction over you before it can enter a judgement against you.

The factors that determine whether you are “at home” in a forum state are a lengthy list and should be evaluated by an attorney experienced in this area of the law. If you’ve been sued as a defendant determining whether the court has Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Personal Jurisdiction over you is one of the first and most important steps of the process. This also shows why it’s so important to have a litigation attorney by your side when you’re brought into court.

We encourage you to call the experienced attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm today. Whether you’ve been sued in the federal or state courts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Maryland, we can help determine whether that court has jurisdiction over you and how to handle your case.