Coronavirus and its Effect on the Pennsylvania Criminal Justice System
The legal practice is considered an essential business if the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the attorney deem the matter to be an emergency.The Experienced Attorneys at Ellis B. Klein &Amp; Associates are Still Assisting Clients During This Crisis.
We are continuing to give Free Consultations over the phone or via video chat, if you prefer. We will continue to maintain our high level of service and high client satisfaction rate during this crisis.
If you are charged with a crime or a traffic offense, please give us a call at (800) 536–0501 and one of our experienced lawyers will be happy to give you a detailed free consultation and answer all of your questions about your case.
Most county courts in Pennsylvania are closed to the general public, meaning an individual cannot just walk into the courthouse if they have court business. However, most courts are still operating with a skeleton staff which enables the system to process new criminal arrests, new traffic citations issued by police and to accept payments on fines through the mail. Individuals paying fines can also pay online via to UJS Portal payment system. If you have a criminal or a traffic hearing scheduled, you should check on the county court website to see if court is closed.
Many courts are open for emergency hearings but what qualifies as an emergency is up to each individual county. Police are still making arrests, but many police departments are not arresting individuals for minor offenses. The amount of traffic citations being issued to motorists are down approximately 50-75% depending on the county.
So, what constitutes an emergency for a court hearing to be scheduled?Bail Reduction Hearings
Most courts are still conducting Bail Reduction hearings for individuals incarcerated who cannot pay the amount set for bail by the District Justice. Depending on the county, Bail Reduction hearings are usually held once or twice a week and a judge will hear argument from the defense attorney and the prosecutor to determine if the individual should post less Bail than what was initially set.Parole Hearings
Parole hearings and emergency parole hearings are still be heard. Many incarcerated individuals are asking the judge to be released early on parole due to the coronavirus emergency, especially in those counties were the virus has been detected in the county prison.Protection From Abuse (PFA) hearings:
Judges are still hearing Protection From Abuse cases, a.k.a. Restraining Orders, where it is alleged that the defendant was involved in a domestic assault situation. If the Judge grants a PFA order, a defendant can be excluded from his home by court order if a judge finds that it is necessary for the protection of the alleged victim in the case. Due to the stay at home order by the governor there has been a dramatic increase in simple assault domestic-related cases being filed in court. Due to people being constrained to their homes, and due to the stress of the situation, Simple Assault, Aggravated Assault, Terroristic Threats and Reckless Endangerment cases have had a dramatic increase.Early Release From Prison
Recently, the governor enacted an order advising counties to release low level offenders from incarceration in county prisons, at least temporarily, while the emergency lasts. To date, approximately 30% of low level county inmates have been released. It is not clear whether these individuals will have to serve the remainder of their sentence at a later date. For those individuals not released by the county prison, an emergency Parole Petition can be filed and a judge will make the determination whether to release the individual from custody.Suspension of Speedy Trial Rights Under Rule 600
Pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure Rule 600, an individual arrested for a crime must be tried within six months of the date the complaint was filed if they are incarcerated and within one year of the date the charges werefiled if the person is not in custody. This is generally known as the right to a “Speedy Trial” and is guaranteed by both the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions. However, due to the “Judicial Emergency” declared by the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court, Speedy trial rights have been suspended and any postponement due to the coronavirus emergency does not count toward speedy trial rights. What this means is people can be held in custody longer than six months and it could take over one year for a criminal case to resolve for defendants who are out of custody.
Some counties are conducting hearings for individuals incarcerated by closed circuit TV. While they are not conducting trials, some counties are conducting evidence hearings, bail hearings and parole hearings remotely. Other counties are completely shut down and you should check with the county court website where you are charged to determine if your hearing has been postponed.Probation/Parole Officers
For those individuals currently on Probation or Parole and who are required to meet with their Probation/Parole Officers, most counties are not requiring these meetings be done in person and most PO’s are conducting their check-in meetings over the phone. If you are currently on Probation or Parole, it is important that you stay in touch with your PO to avoid potential incarceration for absconding from supervision.
The effect of Coronavirus on the court system and the practice of Law is in flux. However, we the experienced legal professionals at Ellis B. Klein & Associates are still assisting clients remotely, either over the phone or via video chat. We plan to continue our high level of service through this crisis.
If you are charged with a crime or a traffic offense, please give us a call at 800–536–0501 and one of our experienced lawyers will be happy to give you a detailed free consultation. We would be happy to answer all of your questions and we will even quote you a fee and a flexible payment plan right over the phone.
Best of luck through this crisis and stay healthy everyone!