Month: February 2014

Criminal Justice Process in Pennsylvania: Arrest to Conviction

In Pennsylvania there is a process that is followed from the time a crime is investigated and you are arrested to conviction and sentencing. In this blog I’m going to give a brief overview of that process.

 

First of all when talking about investigating crime there two types of police investigations, proactive and reactive. Proactive would be a patrol officer in a squad car doing his daily patrol. While reactive would be like a detective investigating a crime itself.

 

Once they determine a crime has occurred there is usually an arrest. The next steps are as follows:

 

1. Preliminary Arraignment- This would be the 1st appearance in court where a list of your charges are read and bail is set.

 

2. Preliminary Hearing- The point of this is to determine whether there is enough evidence to hold the suspect for trial. This would be the first hearing the suspect would need an attorney. All the state has to prove is a crime was committed and more than likely by the suspect. This hearing is held in front of  a Magisterial District Judge and is HELD FOR COURT.

 

3.Pre- trial Screening- This is where criminal information is gathered. The District Attorney will file the charging document here.

 

4. Trial- This is where facts and law are decided.  If the defendant opts to have a jury trial all 12 members must agree on either “Guilty” or “Not Guilty”. If they can’t decide it’s called a hung jury. The defendant can opt for the judge to decide, he is the sole decider on guilt or innocence. A defendant can also plead guilty or Nolo Contendere( I’m not going to admit but the state will still find me guilty.)

 

There is an appeal process and post conviction process in which I will talk about in my next post. But these are these basics here.

 

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Exceptions to the 4th Amendment; United States Constitution

The 4th amendment, which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures does have a few exceptions.  These are things seen in:

 

1. Public Places

2. In Plain View

3. Open fields ( like farms, patios, and garages.

4. Abandoned Property.

 

For this blog post I’m going to talk about the first two, the other two will be in a later post.

 

If a criminal act or evidence is seen in a public place, the police do not need a warrant. This is because citizens don’t have an expectation of privacy in parks and other public settings.

 

When it comes to plain view officer’s must be at a legal vantage point. By that I mean they must be there legally. They also must use ordinary senses. This means no special camera’s, smelling devices, possibly dogs, things like that. If they don’t see it or smell it  is not there, legally.

4th Amendment Rights: Searches and Seizures

I started this blog to educate people on what I learn in my criminal justice classes. When a police officer stops you are not always required to submit to searches. There are 3 basic types of police interactions:

1. ARREST

2. INVESTAGATORY DETENTION

3. MERE ENCOUNTER

For this post I am going to focus on the last 2. When you see a police officer on the street and he asks your name this goes under a mere encounter. This kind of like just like a conversation. All you have to do at this point is provide your legal name and that is it! They have no legal right at this point to do anything else. Technically you can walk away at this point. If they say STOP! You probably should, now we’ve moved up to investigatory detention. While there can be some plain view stuff that happens(which I will talk about in a later post, this is just a brief scenario.) Now, since you are stopped this is considered a seizure. It cannot be a seizure until a police officer physically stops you. For this stop to be legal the police have to be able to prove that there is:

1. “reasonable suspicion to believe criminal activity is a foot.”

2. Must have specific and articulable facts to support officer’s conclusion

3. must be more than a “hunch”.

A second thing  must be answered, “Would a reasonable person feel free to end the encounter?”

if the first cannot be proven and the last question  answered with a no this is considered a legal stop and seizure.

So, it is important to know your rights and when you need to know them.