When you are pulled over by the police many things thoughts might occur thru one’s head. One might be “what to do at a traffic stop”? While I can’t exactly answer that, I can tell you what police officers are allowed to do and for about how long they are allowed do it. In Pennsylvania, the police are allowed by law to order the driver and any passengers out of the for just “police officer safety”. The Supreme court allows this because the police need to be protected to effectively do their job. What separates the driver and any passengers is the type of police interactions. If you recall my first blog on searches and seizures I talked about the 3 different types of interactions. In a traffic stop the driver is under a “investigatory detention”. While the passengers are considered under a ” mere encounter”. This is that way because with the driver the police have “reasonable and articulate facts to believe criminal activity is afoot”. Even though it is just a motor vehicle violation, it is still technically a crime. While the passenger has committed no crime and technically could walk away after being frisked for weapons. The driver can only be detained ” for as long as reasonably necessary for the police to complete their investigation; usually 20 minutes”. This is just a normal scenario, if passenger behaviors change, then this scenario would.
So that is a brief explanation on the scope of traffic stops.
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.