Preliminary Arraignment

Magisterial District Court 23-1-05A preliminary arraignment is the first step in the criminal procedure process in Pennsylvania. When you’ve been charged with a crime, the preliminary arraignment is the first hearing that you’ll be notified of by the Magisterial District Court.

Typically, you’ll receive a notice in the mail although, in some instances, the preliminary arraignment happens when you are picked up on an arrest warrant and taken to a judge.

What Should I Expect at My Preliminary Arraignment?

At your preliminary arraignment, the judge will ask you for your contact information including your address, your phone number, and information on where you have recently lived. This information is intended to supply the courts with the ability to contact you in the event that you’re not able to be reached through normal methods and to allow them to send police to come find you if you start missing hearings. In addition, you will need to supply your place of work, the address of the place of work, and any phone numbers and supervisor information. The courts will not contact your supervisors and will not attempt to contact you at work unless you miss a hearing.

The judge will also read you your rights. The judge will inform you that you have a right to remain silent, that you have a right to a criminal defense attorney, and that you have to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the Commonwealth in order to be convicted. The court will also inform you of other important constitutional rights that you hold.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the court will set your bail. “Bail” refers to the terms upon which you can be released pending ultimate disposition of your case. Without bail, you would be forced to sit in jail until the conclusion of your case. The right to be released upon paying bail is a constitutional right, and you are permitted to be released on bail except in the most extreme of circumstances.

There are two major types of bail:

  1. Secured bail:
    In the instance of secured bail, you are required to pay to the court system the amount of money that’s set as your secured bail before you can leave and be free pending resolution of the case. For example, if your secured bail is $50,000, you will be required to pay $50,000 to the court. You will receive that money back at the end of the case, but it will be unavailable to you until then.
  2. Unsecured bail:
    In the event of unsecured bail in the amount of $50,000, you would simply be informed that if you missed a hearing or otherwise violated the terms of your bail, you would be required to pay a $50,000 fine to the court.

All of this exemplifies why it’s not smart to go to your preliminary arraignment alone. Criminal charges are serious, and understanding the court system’s complexity is not for the faint of heart.

Call us at the Cornerstone Law Firm to speak with a criminal defense attorney. We’ll help you determine how best to fight your charges and we can represent you at the preliminary arraignment. Our attorneys are experienced in arguing for favorable bail terms and insuring that your rights are protected from the very outset of the case.

Statement Under Penalty at Cabela’s in Berks County

Since Cabela’s opened its store in Tilden Township, Berks County, it has become a virtual tourist attraction bringing people from all over the country to visit the store and check out its massive displays of merchandise, stuffed wildlife, and live fish. Unfortunately, what is meant to be an entertaining trip to an outdoors store has, for some visitors, turned into criminal charges when they attempt to purchase a gun at Cabela’s and are denied because of a past crime or episode involving a mental institution.

Many times, an individual applying does not even realize that they’ve incorrectly answered a question on a touch-screen and that by incorrectly answering that question, they are now subject to criminal charges. These charges usually come in the form of a Statement Under Penalty of Perjury under 18 Pa.C.S. § 4904, the Pennsylvania Statute that criminalizes perjury. Many would-be gun-buyers are surprised to find out that, at the end of the application for a gun, there was a statement that says, “I submit this application and all of the statements made on it under penalty of perjury.” By tapping “yes” at the end of the application and submitting it, the applicant is agreeing that they are making a sworn statement and that they can be prosecuted if it turns out not to be correct.

So, what do you do when you’ve been charged with a Statement Under Penalty at Cabela’s? The Commonwealth is very serious about prosecuting these cases, no matter how innocent your state of mind when you applied—so how can you defend yourself against these charges?

Touchscreens are unreliable

The application that most people are asked to fill out at Cabela’s is a touchscreen. As a result, the answers that are entered by tapping on the screen can sometimes be distorted. Touchscreens are not always accurate, and they don’t always accurately reflect the answers that are put down. Sometimes, defendants are surprised to find out that they’re charged, believing that they put the correct answer to the very question they’re accused of lying about.

Proving that you tapped the proper answer on a touchscreen is difficult, but not impossible. For one thing, there is video of some touchscreen terminals, and for another, the burden of proof always rests with the prosecution to prove that you did indeed touch the incorrect answer.

Were you distracted?

Many people go to Cabela’s to purchase a gun and do so in the company of friends. They may be in the process of talking to their friends, discussing the gun they’re thinking about buying, or even looking forward to lunch up at the Cabela’s café. Doing any of these things can lead to a distracted applicant.

To prove their case, the prosecution will have to prove that you intentionally lied on the application. Demonstrating that you were distracted is a partial step toward showing that you did not have the malicious intent required by the statute. For someone to be convicted of this crime, § 4904 requires the statement be one which “he does not believe to be true” when he makes it. Proving distraction can be part of a defense to this charge.

Was the underlying offense that you did not disclose on the application valid?

Courts are not going to relitigate a past criminal conviction or psychological episode. However, in unusual situations, a past conviction that was expunged or a determination of incompetency after a psychological episode that was later reversed by a court or other adjudicative body should not be the basis of a conviction for statement under penalty.

If your conviction was expunged or otherwise reversed that’s an important point to mention when you meet with an attorney.

Your previous criminal background

Someone’s prior record score – that is, the charges for which they’ve been previously convicted – has an enormous impact on dealing with someone’s criminal case. If you’re prior record score is high, it might make it more difficult to achieve a favorable deal with a prosecutor and might force you to go forward to trial.

In other instances, a relatively light criminal background will frequently allow someone to achieve a favorable plea deal that makes trial unnecessary. An experienced attorney can help to advise you on what the outcome of your case might be with your particular situation.

Conclusion: You need an experienced attorney by your side to resolve your charges.

If you’ve been charged with statement under penalty at Cabela’s, it’s imperative that you reach out to a criminal defense attorney right away. At Cornerstone Law Firm, we routinely help individuals charged with crimes resulting from their visit to Cabela’s. Give us a call today and set up a free consultation with us to discuss your options and what you can do to aggressively defend yourself against these charges.

Understanding Your Car Insurance

Good car insurance is one of the most important assets that an individual can have.

A car accident can wreak havoc on an individual’s life—and insufficient car insurance can make it difficult or almost impossible to catch up on the medical bills that result and to seek treatment from injuries. Unfortunately, too many people don’t take a look at their car insurance coverage until after a car accident has already occurred. So, here are three things that your car insurance should cover for you after a car accident:

1. Car Insurance Protects You – Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

Personal Injury Protection (also known as “PIP”), is one of the least understood and most important aspects of comprehensive car insurance. We’ve covered PIP in more depth before, but in short, PIP coverage is your insurance provider’s obligation to pay your medical bills regardless of who’s at fault in the accident. You can be assured that your car insurance will pay your medical bills up to a certain amount. Why is this?

Sometimes cases can get bogged down into litigation for years, and the insurance companies can’t agree who’s at fault. Accordingly, PIP coverage is required to be offered by insurance companies in Pennsylvania so that, after a car accident, you have a reliable source of payment for those medical bills from your own insurance company.

2. Underinsured and Uninsured Motorist Coverage

But what happens when you’re hit by someone else, they cause injuries and their insurance doesn’t cover the extent of your injuries? What if someone is driving without any car insurance at all, and they hit you? In these cases, your own insurance may cover you under the “uninsured motorist coverage” portion of your policy. Similarly, if they don’t have sufficient insurance, underinsured coverage provides extra money for you to cover your injuries.

In Pennsylvania, you are always given the opportunity to “waive” uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage—that is, you may decline the coverage in exchange for a lower premium. This is generally a very bad idea. You should not waive this coverage, because this might be the only way that you can be covered if you’re in an accident and your damages are serious. The law only requires drivers to carry $15,000 in coverage.

If you’re in a serious car or motorcycle accident, this won’t be nearly enough to cover your medical bills, time off work and compensation for your pain and suffering. In that case, while your own insurance will have to cover your medical bills up to a certain point, after that you will be unable to obtain any additional payment for your pain and suffering or any medical bills that are in excess of that amount.

You can’t control whether other drivers are responsible, but you can insure against their irresponsibility. It’s important that you have substantial underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage in case you’re in a car accident so that you aren’t left without anyone to pay for those bills.

3. Third Party Liability

This third one is the least exciting of all insurance coverages, but it’s extremely important. Your car insurance indemnifies you in the event that you are in an accident that causes someone else harm. Hopefully, all of us try to be safe and careful drivers, but accidents do happen.

In the event that you cause a car accident and someone else is badly injured, you are personally on the hook for any injuries that you cause. This means that if you own a home, that house could even be in jeopardy if you injure someone badly enough. It doesn’t take much to be seriously injured in a car accident or a motorcycle crash.

Accordingly, you can do substantial damage that could wipe out all of your assets after a car accident. That’s why third-party liability coverage on your insurance policy is so important.

Conclusion: Car Insurance, a Social Safety Net

Car insurance plays an extremely vital role in our society, ensuring that anyone who’s injured on the road has a path to recovery. At Cornerstone Law Firm, we help people navigate the confusing world of car insurance claims after a car accident.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle or car crash, or if you’ve been hit as a pedestrian by a vehicle, please call the personal injury attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm today so that we can discuss how to properly handle your insurance claim.

Wrongful Death

When a loved one passes away because of someone else’s negligence, it can be very hard to decide what to do next. Nothing can ever replace the individual that you’ve lost in your life, but you are entitled to compensation for the enormous financial expense occasioned by someone’s sudden passing. If you have lost someone you love, here are some factors to be considered to determine if you have a valid wrongful death action.

Negligence and Recklessness

wrongful death

The first factor that needs to be weighed is whether the loved one’s death was the result of someone else’s negligence or recklessness. If someone you love was killed in a car accident because of someone else’s mistake on the road, or killed because of faulty repairs or on the premises of a business that did not take reasonable care in maintaining its premises, then these are classic examples of negligence which has caused the injury that your loved one suffered.

Negligence is defined under Pennsylvania law as failing to take the same reasonable care as the average reasonable person. Recklessness is found when one is aware of a risk but intentionally disregards the risk.

Wrongful Death v. Survival Action

There are two types of actions that the law of Pennsylvania recognizes when someone has been wrongfully killed. The first is called a “survival action,” and the second is called “wrongful death.” A survival action deals with the pain and suffering and bills that the individual accumulated during the time that they survived after the injury that ultimately led to their death. Sometimes, this can be a substantial period of time. In other instances, such as a sudden car crash, this amount of time was brief. Understanding the legal validity of this claim can help to predict the outcome of a settlement or lawsuit.

Wrongful death has to do with the loss that those left behind have incurred as a result of their relative’s death. These two distinct claims allow for different types of damages and also, by law, may be distributed to different family members.

Compassionate and Caring Lawyers Can Help You Recover

At Cornerstone Law Firm we don’t take lightly our responsibility when we’re retained to help a family grieving the loss of a loved one. We know that in this time you need compassion, care, and to be listened to. We understand that not every family wants to pursue damages to the full extent of the law. We understand that no one who is grieving wants to chase other people for money. Frequently, we’ve found that the relatives of victims of wrongful death just want closure, but simply want to know their options. We’re here to listen to you and to work to obtain the result that you want in your case.

If you’ve lost a loved one in an accident or because of someone’s reckless or deliberate act, please call the Cornerstone Law Firm so that we can discuss your rights with you in a free, no obligation consultation. If you retain us, we don’t get paid until you get paid. Call the Cornerstone Law Firm today.

 

 

When to Settle Litigation

When you are locked in litigation with a foe, one of the most important things to determine is when the time is appropriate to settle litigation, even if it means compromising your overall claim. When you first file a complaint and start a lawsuit against someone or when you’re first sued, it’s easy to become extreme and say that you’re going to fight to the bitter end no matter the cost! Reality usually sets in fairly quickly, however, as legal bills, costs, and the emotional toll of litigation begin to make you reconsider. There are several factors that you should consider in determining how far to push your lawsuit.

Costs

One factor is the overall amount involved. In lawsuits over small amounts of money, it’s best to decide right up front how much you’re willing to walk away with without having to spend a fortune on the costs that are associated with litigating. One of the reasons this is so important is because litigation ultimately acts sort of like a poker game. The more cards that are revealed, the more you know as to whether you have a strong hand. Furthermore, at the end of the hand, you may be faced with an all-or-nothing proposition.

Will the jury buy your theory of the case, or will they buy your opponent’s? When you factor in the likelihood of winning or losing a suit, settling a case can eliminate the uncertainty and avoid much of the costs.

Emotional Strain

As noted above, the other thing to think about is the emotional strain of litigation. Is this a mere business dispute in which you’re not personally or emotionally invested? Are you part of a large corporation making business decisions and it doesn’t affect your personal life if you have to go and testify in a deposition? Or is this dispute between you and your long-time business partner that has torn your two formerly-close families apart? Would you prefer reconciliation over the money at issue?

There is a cost to litigation that goes far beyond what can be measured in dollars and cents, and it is important to take that into consideration when deciding when to settle.

Your Best Interest Matters to Us

When we represent clients in litigation, we seek to represent their best interests. This means that you are always in the driver’s seat to decide when to settle and when to push forward. It also means that we’re willing to settle early for you, even if it means we’re not going to make as much money in the case. We seek to have your best interests at heart at all times.

If you have questions about your lawsuit, whether it’s ongoing or merely one that you’re considering bringing, call the Cornerstone Law Firm today, and let us discuss with you how we can represent your best interests.

Construction Litigation

One of the most commonly litigated issues in America is construction. Whether it’s because a construction company failed to do the work that was promised, did the work inadequately, or because of buyer’s remorse that causes a customer to be unhappy with a perfectly good job, construction disputes end up in court about as often as anything else in American law. Experienced construction lawyers will tell you that there are several issues to consider when trying to predict the outcome of a construction case.

Workman-Like Qualityconstruction lawyers

Implied in nearly every construction contract in law, is a requirement that construction be done in a “workman-like manner.” If a contractor or subcontractor shows up to do their job and installs paper mâché plumbing, obviously this would not satisfy the requirements of a contract even if the contract didn’t explicitly say what the plumbing had to be made with. The standard quality requirements of the industry will prevail.

While this may be easy to determine when it comes to paper mâché, it is much harder to determine in instances where a contractor or subcontractor simply isn’t very good at their job. Perhaps they put in cheap materials instead of those ordered, or perhaps they took shortcuts and didn’t get the work done to the standards of the general contractor.

The question that the court will ask is, “What meets the minimum standards of competency in the profession? Did the contractor’s work rise to that level?”

Contract Provisions

In most instances, a dispute with a contractor will be over fulfillment of the terms of a contract. It makes sense, then, to carefully check the contract at the beginning of a job, routinely throughout the job, and of course before the filing of suit. The contract’s provisions will largely set down the rights and obligations of each party. But anyone who’s ever done a construction job knows that things can change quickly.

A homeowner decides they want a different type of flooring throughout the house. A municipal body changes the layout of a building completely. A contractor can’t get the subcontractors originally bargained for. All too often, these become oral conversations. The parties agree that they will do something differently than laid out in the contract, but they don’t memorialize it in writing. Preferably, the parties should execute a Change Order at each stage in the process when things change.

Even without change orders in place, written documents can make it much easier to track the changes that have been made and whether all parties agreed to the changes that were made. A great deal of litigation can be traced back to change orders that weren’t properly executed.

Damages

Finally, even after you’ve worked out all of the other questions in a case, the most important thing that parties heading into construction litigation have to consider are the damages at issue. If a subcontractor didn’t hold up their end of the work, and it caused delays, is the sub on the hook for the cost of the project’s delay? Can that subcontractor be held liable for the expense and costs that a general contractor incurred waiting for that job to be completed by someone else?

We’ve covered damages in other articles on this site from time to time, but it’s sufficient to say that every case is different and that determining the proper measure of damages at the outset of a suit will help you determine whether it’s beneficial to bring a suit at all, and if it is, when it’s appropriate to settle.

Conclusion: You need an experienced construction attorney

The attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm have experience in all sorts of litigation. We’ve handled messy cases, simple cases, and everything in between! Call the attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss your construction litigation case and let us help you figure out how to proceed.

What do I do if I get a traffic ticket?

If you’ve been pulled over and given a traffic ticket, or if you’ve received a traffic ticket in the mail, you should think carefully about your options before pleading guilty to it. When you plead guilty to a traffic ticket, you will incur all of the fines, penalties, points and license suspensions that go along with it. So, here are a few things to consider when you see those blue lights in the rear-view mirror.

  1. Fines…and other coststraffic ticket

If you get a traffic ticket, you know there’s a fine. That’s really what a traffic ticket is. Traffic tickets in Pennsylvania are almost always “summary offenses,” meaning they can be resolved by simply paying your fine. Indeed, most traffic tickets in Pennsylvania are just fines, without any additional points or other complications (although some come with other penalties as discussed below).

But there can be other costs to a traffic ticket when you plead not guilty, including minor court costs and other fees. Regardless, pleading not guilty is your chance to challenge a ticket, and you should carefully weigh this option before simply paying the ticket. The fines on a traffic ticket are always the smallest cost in the long term, which leads us to number two.

  1. Points on your license

The bigger concern when you have a traffic ticket is how many points it will put on your license. In Pennsylvania, once you’ve reached 11 points, your license is suspended, and once you’ve reached six points, you have to pay fees and take a special exam (which, if it’s half as bad as it sounds, is a fate worse than death).

More relevantly, for most Pennsylvanians higher points means higher insurance premiums. Insurance companies take points into account when deciding how much to charge you for your premiums. So, if your traffic ticket comes with points, you want to carefully consider whether you can afford the long-term insurance costs that the ticket will bring. Sometimes a ticket with lower fines and points will end up costing you far more than a ticket with a higher fine and no points.

  1. Your license may be suspended

In some cases, tickets can bring about an automatic license suspension. Worst of all, they may not tell you that until after you’ve plead guilty and it’s too late to do anything about it. PennDOT assesses the suspensions automatically and does so after the fact. So, you won’t know about a suspension in some cases until after it’s too late. Your license can be suspended for relatively small matters such as speeding in a work zone, or allowing someone else to use your car without a license.

Call for a free consultation with a traffic lawyer today

Whenever you’ve received a traffic ticket, it’s important to discuss your matter with a traffic ticket lawyer. Attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm can help you determine whether there’s a way to fight your traffic ticket at the Magisterial District Court or a higher court, or whether it can be negotiated to something that doesn’t carry points or a license suspension.

We’ve helped many clients to avoid the serious ramifications of a traffic ticket and we can help you, too.
Call for a free consultation today.

What is Subrogation?

If you filed a claim with an insurance adjuster after a car accident or any other type of motor vehicle accident, there are a few unusual terms that you are going to hear. One of them is “subrogation.” You may hear about it first from the claims adjuster that you’re dealing with at the insurance company. Or perhaps you’ll get a letter from your own health insurance company saying that they’ve subrogated claims or that they believe they have a right of subrogation. So, what is this that they’re talking about, and what should you do about it? Do you need a subrogation lawyer?

subrogation

Subrogation is the right to be reimbursed

Subrogation is a strange word, but it’s fairly simple. It means that someone else has purchased your legal rights from you—even if you didn’t know it! The most common situation in which this arises is when a medical insurance provider pays for your medical care after an accident. In this situation, the medical provider or the health insurance company has a right to be reimbursed by you if you receive a settlement for your personal injury claim.

When you think about it, this makes sense. Someone who pays for your medical care generally ought to be partially reimbursed for their payments if you get paid by the person who hurt you. Similarly, if a hospital or other medical provider remains unpaid for treating you after you are injured, they are usually going to try to be first in line to get reimbursed after you are compensated for those injuries.

But having said all of that, just because someone claims the right of reimbursement doesn’t mean they actually have a right to reimbursement. This is a complicated area of the law. Subrogation is what is known as an “equitable doctrine.” The insurance company or medical provider may have a right of subrogation but that right is limited by a number of important legal principles that a subrogation lawyer or personal injury attorney can help you work through.

Your Personal Injury Claim is Affected by a Subrogation Claim.

One thing people often do not realize when they are negotiating with an insurance adjuster about their personal injury claim is that these subrogation rights of other parties have to be considered when determining the proper amount of compensation for a personal injury claim. In other words, if a medical insurance provider has already paid for your medical bills, the car insurance company involved is typically going to be responsible for providing you with enough money to reimburse them for the amount of money that they paid.

Sometimes an injured party will be negotiating a settlement and believe they are going to receive a certain sum of money from the insurance company only to find out that the entire amount of money will have to be handed over to a medical provider. This should not be the case. The insurance company is responsible for compensating you for all of the injuries you’ve suffered and to make sure that there’s money left over to compensate you for the pain and suffering you’ve experienced. This is where having an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you value your claim and protect you against third-party creditors is extremely important.

Do I Need a Subrogation Lawyer?

If all of this sounds a little bit confusing, don’t panic. An experienced subrogation lawyer can help you to figure out whether your personal injury claim is being properly valued by the insurance company when taking into account any right of repayment that a medical provider or medical insurance company may have.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys have extensive experience in the areas of personal injury and subrogation. Our lawyers know how to help you to compromise liens which may be placed against you and how to deal with those claiming a right of subrogation. They can help to defray the costs that would otherwise accrue you and they can help to maximize your recovery. If you’ve been injured in a motor vehicle crash or if you’ve been injured in another way and someone has contacted you about a right of subrogation, call us right away.

Who’s going to pay for my car?!

When you’ve been in a car crash and your car is totaled, one of the first and most frustrating lessons that you learn is that car insurance companies do not put as high a value on your car as you do. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, and our other “toys” of the road often have a special sentimental value to us and a practical long-term value. With care and maintenance, most of us hope to drive our cars forever!

Unfortunately, car insurance companies frequently try to give you the bottom-dollar for your car, truck or motorcycle after an accident. So what do you do when the car insurance company makes a low offer? Worse, what if the insurance company says your car isn’t worth as much as the loan you still have to pay off?

  1. You have a right to insist on the actual value of your car, truck or motorcycle after a crash.

In most cases, your insurance company is responsible for paying for the value of your vehicle. Although value can be subjective, the market value of your car is the proper amount that the insurance should pay you.

So, in other words, don’t be afraid to insist on the full value of your car and don’t be afraid to submit supporting documentation such as the Kelly Blue Book value or other objective measures of the value of your car. The car insurance company shouldn’t get away with undervaluing your car any more than a used car dealer would when you trade it in! So push back and insist on full value.

  1. Property Damage vs. Injury Damage

Your car insurance covers you for very different types of damage. It covers you for your immediate medical bills. It covers you for property damage to your car or belongings. It covers you in the event of an injury and ensures that you will receive compensation for your pain and suffering and the medical cost of your injuries. It also may cover other things such as time that you lost at work.

Sometimes insurance policies can be confusing. The declaration page from your insurance company may break down eight different types of recovery, and despite showing that you have “coverage,” a claims adjuster may tell you there’s no money for your situation. In these situations, you should consider retaining a car accident attorney to help you understand your declaration page and to help negotiate with the insurance company.

  1. A car accident lawyer can help you determine the value of your car—and your injury claim.

When you’ve been confronted with an insurance company that doesn’t believe that the value of your car or the value of your injury is as serious as you do, you should contact an experienced car accident attorney. One value to having an experienced car accident lawyer by your side is that an experienced attorney can tell you what the proper valuation of your claim is.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we deal with injury claims all the time. We know the ins and outs of dealing with a car accident case, and we can help you determine whether you’re getting proper value for your car and proper value for the injuries that you’ve suffered.

So if you’ve been in a car accident, a motorcycle accident, a truck accident, or any other vehicle crash, call us at the Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss your case and see how we can help you.

Three Things to do after a Berks County Car Accident

If you’ve been in a car accident in Berks County, Pennsylvania, there are three things you should consider doing right away. In this video, Attorney David Crossett breaks down immediate steps you should take.

If you’ve been injured in Berks County or elsewhere in Pennsylvania, give us a call. We’d be happy to talk with you about your case.