August 2022 Review

This month the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm have been busy with:

  • landlord/tenant actions all over the state
  • personal injury cases that are settling and going to court
  • insurance disputes
  • contractor fights
  • a trade secrets and corporate freeze-out trial

Attorney Stephanie Rauch-Mannino has spent much of her month working out final custody arrangements for families that are splitting up, challenging a post nuptial agreement for unfairness, litigating the proper amount of child support to be paid to a single mom and working on a final distribution of assets in several divorces.

Attorney Tony Distasio has been handling landlord/tenant work for Section 8 clients, where evictions are based on everything from unpaid rent to allegations of criminal misconduct and violence. Attorney Distasio has been everywhere from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia this month as part of hearings on these issues.

Attorney Carl Carrero has been writing briefs and motions and has been to court to handle a request for a delay of a sheriff sale. As sheriff sales pickup and foreclosures continue, Attorney Carrero and the Cornerstone Law Firm team are expecting to see more last-minute litigation over attempts to sell houses after foreclosure.

Attorney Joel Ready began the month handling a 2-week trial on a claim regarding trade secrets and a fight over corporate ownership of a large company. From there, he has handled several contract disputes. He has also been finalizing a few guilty plea agreements in the last 2 weeks to ensure the best possible deal for individuals facing criminal charges.

Finally, the whole staff at Cornerstone Law Firm has been working to ensure that clients’ wills are being drafted, contracts are getting signed, deeds are being drawn up and filed, and that clients are getting quick responses to their concerns. If you have a question about your legal issue, call Cornerstone Law Firm today so we can help you.

Veterans’ Court

If you’re facing criminal charges and you are an honorably discharged veteran from any branch of the military, you may be eligible for Veterans’ Court. You may get a reduced sentence, favorable house arrest terms, and government-funded alternative programs to traditional sentences through Veterans’ Court.

Veterans’ Court is a relatively new idea that began in 2008 in New York. It has been geared toward addressing the problems unique to veterans of the military. Courts recognize that many veterans facing alcoholism, drug addiction, or other problems are facing them partially out of a response to PTSD or other combat related issues. Courts are now seeking to address these underlying issues with veterans rather than throwing them in with the rest of the defendants they face.

A first question that often has to be addressed is whether Veterans’ Court is a separate court in a different place than “normal” court. The short answer is no. Veterans’ Court is run as a program in the same county courthouse where your charges are pending. In some counties, it’s even in front of the same judge, and it’s all technically the same court.

Veteran’s Court comes with a number of advantages. If qualified, that individual who is on Veteran’s Court can face reduced jail time, lowered fines, and other reductions in penalties. Probation terms are typically easier to abide by. Where private organizations or the VA step in, there is money to fund treatment or other solutions for the defendant. Veterans’ Court of course is not open to everyone. You must be a veteran of one of the branches of the armed forces and you cannot have been dishonorably discharged.

Veterans’ Court is not a free pass, and in some cases, it would be a bad idea to accept its provisions. This is particularly true when you should fight the charges instead. Veterans’ Court still typically requires a guilty plea (outside of exceptional circumstances). It still requires compliance with the program, just like treatment court or ARD would. Furthermore, some charges are too serious for Veteran’s Court. Nonetheless, Veterans’ Court is a great opportunity, especially for veterans with underlying mental health conditions or drug addictions. It is a great way to seek resolution of charges and attempts to honor service to our country, rewarding those who have served our country.

If you have questions about Veterans’ Court, contact a criminal defense attorney in our office today.

Three Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Try to Handle Your Criminal Charges on Your Own

When you’re facing a misdemeanor or felony charge, it’s extremely important for you to have a criminal defense attorney to handle your charges and lead you through the process. This is true whether you’re innocent or guilty. In this article, we’ll discuss three reasons why you want a criminal defense attorney on your side, regardless of the type of charge you’re facing.

  1. Criminal Charges Will Affect You for the Rest of Your Life

Depending on how your charges are resolved, the consequences of a guilty plea, a first-time offender’s program, or a trial disposition can be with you for the rest of your life. A criminal record can prevent you from getting jobs, can hurt your chances at good housing, can keep you from getting a mortgage depending on the situation, and can affect your ability to own guns, vote, or participate in a dozen other responsibilities and opportunities of citizenship. Criminal charges can affect immigration status, the way people view you, your car insurance, and more. It’s important to never underestimate the power of criminal charges and how they can affect your life.

  1. Our Attorneys Know the Law

It may seem obvious, but having someone who can help you by explaining the law to you is extremely important. It’s not just that we know about law, it’s also that we know to ask questions you may not know to ask. Our attorneys spend their time thinking about how to prove or disprove things. They’ve thought about cases similar to yours, different than yours, wilder than yours, or simpler than yours. It’s important to have someone who has had time to mentally work through situations similar to yours that can help you through your situation.

  1. You Want a Buffer Between You, the Cops, and the Judge

Finally, having a criminal defense attorney means having someone who can speak for you. This isn’t just about having someone who can “speak better” than you can. Rather, having an attorney who stands between you and the government means having someone who can give plausible explanations for things that you couldn’t offer. It means having someone who can refuse to answer questions without looking evasive, because attorneys can stand on constitutional rights or other explanations for why answering those questions shouldn’t be required. It means being able to say to a judge or a prosecutor truthfully, “I don’t know” in response to a question of where you were at a specific time without looking like you’re hiding something. A good attorney knows how to use all of the rules of evidence, the rules of criminal procedure, and the rules of the constitution to protect you from your charges.

Conclusion

Criminal charges are not a DIY project. There are plenty of things you can try to do yourself, and there are some things in life that are worth trying to find the cheapest option for. Handling criminal charges is not either of those things. When you’re faced with something as important as criminal charges that can affect the rest of your life, it’s vital that you have someone who is experienced and can help you. Call Cornerstone Law Firm and our attorneys can help you navigate your criminal charges.

Is a cop’s word enough to convict me?

A common question posed to our Criminal Defense attorneys is whether the police need physical evidence, including fingerprints, DNA or videos, to convict a defendant for a crime. The short answer is no, the police can convict you with nothing more than their own story about what you did. In many cases, the only evidence that the police officers have is what the police officers themselves witnessed, and perhaps what a defendant told those police officers. In other words, a cop’s word is enough to convict you if it is believed.

Under Pennsylvania law, the prosecution can generally get a conviction with nothing more than a police officer’s testimony as to what they saw, smelled or heard. Of course, what they testify to must be sufficient to convict someone for the crime. In other words, if can’t simply be a police officer’s opinion. However, if they saw someone committing a crime, or if the defendant confessed to them that they’ve committed a crime, that’s generally enough, if believed, for a jury to convict and a court to uphold such a conviction.

The increasing number of videos available when crimes are alleged to have been committed have raised an assumption in many people’s minds that the lack of video evidence is significant. Here’s an example: If you come out of a store and the police officer says he saw you stealing something while inside, we generally expect that there will be surveillance footage. If there’s not, that is an argument that can be raised to the jury. Why was no footage produced if it happened in a store where surveillance cameras should be running? Similarly, once a fight breaks out in the street, there are usually at least a few bystanders who pull out cellphones to record it. If no recordings come forth, there’s a question about whether that fight really occurred.

But of course, video is not required to take a case to a jury, and a jury can believe the police officer’s story. This is why physical evidence isn’t strictly necessary.

Talking to the police is dangerous, and as we’ve discussed in other articles, it’s important not to talk to the police when you’ve been accused of a crime. Doing so can almost always hurt you and it can almost never help.

If you’ve been charged with a crime and you have questions about how best to defend yourself, contact our office today to talk to one of our experienced Criminal Defense attorneys. Our attorneys help people throughout Pennsylvania, and we’re happy to help you with your charges.

Are There Any Consequences to ARD?

The Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program, commonly known as ARD, is frequently brought up as a potential resolution to charges, especially when the charges are first-time offenses. Technically a first-time offenders program, ARD is sometimes offered or negotiated by criminal defense attorneys, even in situations where there are prior charges.

ARD results in the complete dismissal of charges and the expunging of the arrest from your record—so there are no “criminal consequences” to ARD. It comes without any jail time and no formal probation. And ARD can even reduce the license suspension you face in a DUI.

But are there any drawbacks to accepting ARD?

First, private parties are legally able to use ARD against you. One simple example of this is when your car insurance company raises your rates as a result of ARD. Some insurance companies use this as an admission of guilt even though the court system does not. Insurance companies use a number of factors to set your rate, including your age, your level of education, the neighborhood in which you live and more. Another factor they can weigh is your participation in ARD.

A second way ARD can be used against you is by colleges. Colleges sometimes discipline students for the actions that led to the ARD. Sometimes colleges will treat ARD as an admission of guilt, although there are some constitutional limits to how public universities handle these matters. Private colleges, however, will use ARD participation however they wish to in most cases.

Third, Pennsylvania courts have recently weighed in with suggestions that ARD can be used against a witness in a civil proceeding. While ARD is not proof that someone committed a crime, it can be brought up on cross-examination by another party’s attorney.

Fourth, in limited family law contexts, an ARD may be brought up as part of a custody or divorce proceeding to justify why your outcome should be different than the other parties.

Fifth, although ARD may result in expungement of charges, if your employer finds out about your participation in ARD, whether recently or in years’ past, there is not currently any law prohibiting the employer from terminating you. Some companies even have policies stating that ARD or other so-called diversionary programs will disqualify you from being a driver of any of their fleet vehicles.

Conclusion: ARD is great, but it can have drawbacks

Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn more about ARD. Deciding to accept or reject ARD is an important decision that should be made with an experienced criminal defense attorney who is able to help you determine whether you should consider pleading guilty, fight your charges, or accept an ARD plan. Although ARD is a great outcome in many cases, there are times when it should not be accepted. Contact Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss your options.

Armando Ortega Not Guilty on Homicide Charges

After a week-long trial in the Berks County Court of Common Pleas, Defendant, Armando Ortega, was found not guilty on all homicide and assault charges after a jury concluded that he was not present at the scene of a murder that happened in 2014. Ortega was charged a year ago with homicide in the first degree on the basis of someone who claimed to be an eye-witness. He spent a year in jail awaiting trial.

“We are elated at the outcome of Armando’s case and proud to have represented him,” said Attorney Joel Ready, who represented Ortega in the trial. “This vindication was a long time coming and we are happy to see him return home.” Ortega was able to go home after the trial to be with family. The five-day murder trial involved nearly a dozen witnesses regarding the eight-year-old incident and concluded with more than three hours of argument by the attorneys involved.

Homicide charges come in several different varieties, ranging from first to third degree. Ortega was charged with first and third degree homicide as well as assault charges. First degree homicide carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison, and the assault charges would have carried sentences ranging across the spectrum. Ortega was found not guilty on all of them.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys are proud of the role they play in seeking justice for criminal defendants.  If you or a loved one has been charged with a serious crime, call Cornerstone Law Firm and speak with one of our criminal defense attorneys about your case immediately.

Does a Treatment Plan Effect my Drug or Alcohol Charges?

When you’re facing drug or alcohol charges, getting treatment is important not just for personal and health reasons, but also as a piece of an appropriate defense. Charges involving addiction include possession of marijuana or methamphetamines, drug paraphernalia, DUI (driving under the influence), and other possession-type charges. Being able to show that you are taking steps to deal with your addiction is extremely important in your defense.

Below are two significant ways that a treatment plan can assist in your defense to these charges.

In-patient treatment can count as jail time

In the event that you’re facing serious charges that will require you to do jail time, doing a treatment plan and spending time in an in-patient treatment center can be credited towards jail time. In-patient treatment means that you have spent time in a facility where you spent the night and received intensive treatment. If you were in such a facility, the time that you spent there can be credited towards your jail time. For example, if you spend two weeks in a treatment facility, and end up sentenced to a month in jail, you will be nearly halfway finished by the time you check in for your first night in jail.

In-patient treatment plans can feel extreme, and we’ve found that clients are resistant to seeking this sort of treatment. It feels like jail—until you compare it to the possibility of actually going to jail. There can also be significant financial costs to in-patient programs depending on your insurance situation.

If health insurance covers in-patient treatment, you should consider taking advantage of this immediately, as health insurance plans do not typically cover such treatment if it is court-ordered. Taking advantage of an in-patient program right away can allow you to have it covered by insurance and then to use it as part of your defense mitigation after the fact.

In other words, you should aggressively and proactively pursue in-patient treatment at the beginning of the criminal process. Doing so means that it may be covered by your insurance. Even if you have no insurance, in-patient programs are almost always better than jail.

Out-patient programs are helpful too

Short of in-patient programs, simple steps like Alcoholics Anonymous or church-run programs can help to give you tools to combat addiction, to identify dangerous warnings that you might slip up, and can provide accountability to build toward new habits. As discussed below, this is helpful to show a prosecutor or judge as the process moves forward.

Proactive treatment can factor into your attorney’s arguments for a better plea agreement on your possession or other addiction-related charges

Although this is not always the case, when your defense attorney can show a prosecutor and police officers that you have been proactive with your treatment, they often are more willing to consider better offers. In addition, judges at sentencing who hold the power to confirm or deny a favorable plea agreement are often more persuaded by the steps that someone has taken to get serious treatment before being required to do so, even if it was after being arrested or charged with a crime.

Not every judge is the same, and of course not all prosecutors or officers will be won over by this step. However, there are very few ways to show that you’re serious about getting help quite like an aggressive treatment plan. Everyone tells a judge at sentencing that they want to get their life together. Showing that you’re willing to do so before being ordered to do so by a court can be persuasive in convincing the court or prosecutor that this is the truth.

Conclusion: Treatment plans are a helpful part of your defense

If nothing else, getting help and getting treatment is never a wasted decision when you’re facing drug or alcohol charges. For many people, charges can be a wake-up call that helps get them back on the right track. If you have questions about your charges or how treatment plans can impact what you’re facing, contact Cornerstone Law Firm today.

Aggravated Assault in Berks County, Pennsylvania

Aggravated assault is one of the most serious charges you can face in Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has held that proving aggravated assault requires the government to demonstrate the mental intent to cause serious bodily injury or to use a deadly weapon in such a way as to show an intent to injure someone. In other cases, aggravated assault can be charged where there is an assault on certain protected classes of individuals including police officers. 

So, if you have been charged with aggravated assault in Berks County, Pennsylvania, what steps should you take to preserve your innocence? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Immediate Preservation of Evidence is Crucial

One thing that many people forget when they’re charged with a crime is that they should immediately begin preserving evidence that might help to demonstrate their innocence. This includes:

  • Reaching out to companies who may have surveillance footage of what happened, including the lead up to a fight. Other videos and content may exist, too.

  • You should think about whether the Facebook messages of your friends might contain DMs or other information from the alleged victim of a crime that would demonstrate that they were the ones that were threatening or instigating violence.

Working with a criminal defense attorney can help you think of ways to demonstrate your innocence and can help you to move quickly to ensure that this type of evidence is not lost. Many businesses overwrite their security footage every 15 or 30 days, so it is important to move quickly if you believe this type of evidence may exist. 

Don’t Make it Easy to Prove Your Mental Intent

One mistake that many individuals make when they’re charged with an assault is to go online, make bold statements and criticize the person who has accused them of the crime. While this sort of frustration is understandable, anything you say can be used against you.

In some cases, angry statements can help the government to show your mental intent and the anger you have toward the alleged victim. This information really shouldn’t be admitted into court in most cases, but it creates another hurdle that your legal team has to get over in order to preserve your innocence in an aggravated assault case. 

Don’t Talk to the Police

Finally and most importantly, in an aggravated assault case you should not speak to the police without first speaking to your attorney. You have an absolute right to be represented by an attorney, even during the investigative phase of an aggravated assault case. If a police agency in Berks County wants to speak with you, they can go through your attorney.

The rule about not speaking to police is true even when you are innocent! It is important that you speak to counsel before making decisions about whether to make a statement to the police of not. 

Conclusion: Talk to an Experienced Criminal Law Attorney Today

If you have been charged with aggravated assault in Berks County Pennsylvania or anywhere in Pennsylvania, it is important for you to speak to an attorney.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we can help you make decisions about your criminal case and how to handle your charges. Call us today for a consultation.

Resisting Arrest and Contraband Drug Charges Dismissed in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania

This summer, Cornerstone Law Firm’s Joel Ready successfully obtained the dismissal of contraband drug charges, terroristic threats, and resisting arrest charges for a client in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania after habeas corpus proceedings. 

Part of the charges were based on a claim that the individual involved had fought with an officer while he was being arrested. But Attorney Ready was able to demonstrate that the arrest was unlawful to begin with, and so the charges were dismissed. The rest of the charges were based on a claim that the defendant had intentionally taken drugs into the Schuylkill County prison in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

Despite allegedly having eye-witness testimony to the defense possession of the drugs, the Commonwealth was forced to withdraw the charges this week after Cornerstone Law’s team demonstrated that there were someone else’s fingerprints on the drugs. These revelations came as a result of a discovery motion made by Attorney Ready as part of an Omnibus Pretrial Motion.

“This case illustrates the importance of defendants being willing to fight for their rights and challenge charges rather than simply taking the best plea deal available,” attorney Ready explained. 

Contact Us

Every case is different, and good results for one person don’t necessarily mean good results in your case. However, if you’re facing criminal charges in Schuylkill County or elsewhere in Pennsylvania, contact Cornerstone Law Firm to speak with a criminal defense attorney about how to deal with your case.

 

 

 

Harassment Charges in Berks County Dismissed – March 2020

Last month, Attorney Joel Ready obtained dismissal of harassment charges in Berks County. The charges had been filed against a defendant over an alleged dispute with an ex-girlfriend. After oral argument in front of a Berks County Magisterial District Judge, the charges were dropped completely. The charges were filed in the Bernville area “upon information received” by a State Trooper, which means that the Trooper was filing the charges based on what the alleged victim told him. 

“We’re glad to see these charges dismissed,” Attorney Ready says. “This case shows, once again, the importance of being prepared to fight charges and not merely plead guilty to avoid the trouble of litigation.” 

More About Harassment Charges

Harassment is a summary offense under Pennsylvania Law, which means that it comes with a fine and potential confinement up to ninety (90) days in prison. In some circumstances, harassment charges can also result in higher penalties, including a misdemeanor conviction. Harassment requires that the Commonwealth prove that the defendant either physically assaulted or repeatedly annoyed someone with no legitimate purpose.

Harassment charges do go on your permanent record, although, if they are a summary offense it is not considered a “criminal record.” Nonetheless, potential employers, family members, friends, neighbors and others can find that you were found guilty of these charges if you plead guilty to them.

Contact Us Today

It is important to speak with an experienced criminal offense attorney about harassment charges so the attorney can help you decide whether you should challenge the charges or not. Contact Cornerstone Law Firm today for more information.