Defendant Not Guilty on Aggravated Assault Charges in Berks County Court of Common Pleas

Last week, on May 21st and 22nd, Attorney Joel Ready defended an individual accused of Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon in a case arising out of an incident in Hamburg, Pennsylvania.

The two-day trial involved nine witness’ testimonies and resulted in a favorable determination of Not Guilty to all six charges.

The Case

court of common pleas
Berks County Court of Common Pleas

The charges against the Defendant arose out of an alleged pitchfork attack in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. The Defendant faced aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment of another person and terroristic threats. After approximately an hour of jury deliberations, the Not Guilty determination was entered for the Defendant. The case was heard in front of Judge Paul M. Yatron in the Court of Common Pleas in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania.

“We are delighted at the outcome on behalf of our client,” says Joel Ready. “We are glad that Omar was completely vindicated in regards to these charges.”

Call Cornerstone Law Firm

Results for one client are not necessarily an indication of how your case would come out, of course, and nothing in this blog can be seen as a guarantee of anything in a different case.

But if you’ve been charged with a crime, call Cornerstone Law Firm, so that our trial attorneys can help you determine how best to defend your case.

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.

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.

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.