Washington County Criminal Court

When you're charged with a crime in Washington County, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and local judicial authorities begin building a case against you that will levy the maximum extent of punishment under the law. Despite the weight of the criminal justice system, you must mount a defense to protect your reputation and your future, but going at it alone will bring severe consequences. Fortunately, committed legal assistance and representation are available with only a click or phone call. 

The LLF Law Firm has deep-rooted knowledge within Washington County and remains dedicated to defending the legal rights of residents and guiding them through court procedures. Our skilled professionals are fully equipped to manage every aspect of the criminal process, ensuring that we strive for the most favorable result on your behalf. Call the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team now at 888-535-3686 or visit us online

Washington County Magisterial District Court Procedures  

Washington County's court system has two jurisdictions: the Magisterial District Courts and the Court of Common Pleas. To serve the county's residents, 11 Magisterial District Courts manage the initial steps of the criminal process, such as the following: 

  • Issuance of warrants 
  • Preliminary arrangements 
  • Preliminary hearings 
  • Dismissing cases 
  • Transferring cases 
  • Setting bail 

Additionally, Washington County utilizes a two-zone vertical prosecution model for criminal cases, assigning one prosecutor to stay with a case from start to finish. Zone 1 includes five prosecutors, and Zone 2 includes six, all managed at the court's discretion.  

Preliminary Arraignment 

The preliminary arraignment is usually brief and does not involve a detailed examination of the evidence against the accused. It's more about ensuring the accused understands the charges, their rights, and the immediate next steps in the legal process. The whole proceeding may happen in person at a courthouse or through video conferencing after an arrest. 

Bail is dependent on the information provided regarding the criminal charges but will also take other factors into account. The judge will also rely on the following in their determination: 

  • The intent and circumstances surrounding the alleged offense. 
  • Ties to the community, including employment, family, and social responsibilities. 
  • Past criminal record. 
  • Your potential as a flight risk or danger to the public. 

The judge will then schedule a preliminary hearing for a later date located at the same Magisterial District Court. 

Preliminary Hearing  

Before the judge, the Commonwealth will attempt to establish a "prima facie" case against the accused. This means that the prosecution must prove that the charges are supported at "first glance" through initial evidence and testimony. While the defense can present evidence, it's uncommon. The judge only rules on the sufficiency of the evidence's support concerning the charges, not whether the evidence is credible. 

The judge may dismiss the parties if the prosecution fails to substantiate the case. If the judge decides the Commonwealth has supported the charges against you, the case will continue in the Magisterial District Court for all summary offenses and some lower-degree misdemeanors. However, for many misdemeanors and all felonies, the case will be transferred to the Court of Common Pleas. 

Formal Arraignment  

The formal arraignment will set the course for how the case will proceed through the trial phase or toward a plea agreement. It's located at the Court Common Pleas at the Washington County District Courthouse at 1 South Main Street, which also handles jury selection, trials, and sentencing. 

At the formal arraignment, the defendant is formally notified of the charges against them, typically done by reading the information outlining the alleged facts supporting the charges. The judge will also reiterate the defendant's pretrial rights, such as the following: 

  • Opportunity for a jury trial (if more than six months incarceration is on the table). 
  • Requesting evidence from the prosecution. 
  • Ability to face witnesses. 
  • Filing motions to dismiss evidence or witness testimony. 
  • The ability to enter into a plea agreement. 
  • Requests periods of continuance. 

Although bail is set during preliminary arraignment, the Court of Common Pleas may also review bail conditions if the defendant's circumstances have changed or the defense or prosecution requests to modify bail. If the plea is not guilty, the court will schedule future proceedings, including pretrial conferences, motion hearings, jury selection, and the trial date. 

Washington County Court of Common Pleas Trial  

In criminal trials, the burden of proof lies with the Commonwealth. Both the prosecution and defense are given equal chances to showcase evidence and summon witnesses to bolster their arguments in front of a judge or jury. 

The trial commences with opening statements, and the prosecution goes first, outlining the case against the defendant and summarizing the evidence they intend to present. The defense follows, providing an overview of their arguments and disputing the prosecution's claims. The trial's duration can vary, with possible adjournments for additional discussions if the case's intricacies demand it. 

The prosecution aims to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt through their presentation of evidence and witness testimony. After the prosecution rests its case, the defense will present evidence and testimony to counter the prosecution's claims. After concluding remarks from both sides, the outcome rests with the judge or jury. Should the verdict be "not guilty," the defendant is immediately freed, concluding the trial. Conversely, a "guilty" verdict prompts the scheduling of a hearing to determine sentencing. 

Sentencing Hearing  

Before the sentencing hearing, the Adult Probation Office at the Washington County Family Court Center conducts a pre-sentence investigation report. The convicted individual is interviewed to determine particulars of incarceration, like the following: 

  • Community contributions 
  • Previous employments 
  • Family responsibilities 
  • Prior convictions 
  • Probability of re-offense 
  • Medical issues 

At the sentencing hearing, the judge will review the report and may allow both parties to speak. Typically, the defense advocates for alternative punishments or modifications to periods of incarceration. On the other hand, victims or their families may speak at the hearing, advocating for the maximum penalties allowed by law. 

Following commentary from the parties and the judge's review of the investigation report, sentencing will be handed down. In most cases, punishments are effective immediately, barring any extreme circumstances. 

Appealing Criminal Convictions  

Washington County individuals convicted and sentenced for crimes can seek legal restoration by appealing the decision to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. However, there is a short timeframe—just 30 days after the sentencing hearing or after the completion of post-sentencing motions. Appeals are not a re-trial and only adjudicate specific issues, such as bias or procedural irregularities, based on the trial transcript and evidence alone. 

If an appeal is unsuccessful, convicted individuals can seek further redress. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court may accept a petition; however, few are granted a hearing for standing. 

Experienced Washington County Criminal Defense Team  

Facing criminal charges will profoundly impact your life. In Washington County, a robust and determined defense is crucial for your case. The stakes couldn't be higher as your future lies in the balance. 

At the LLF Law Firm, we're ready to craft a defense strategy that safeguards your rights and works to present your case effectively to the judge or jury. Our team is dedicated to providing you with the legal representation necessary to achieve the most favorable result in any of Washington County's courts. Call us now at 888-535-3686 or schedule an online consultation

Contact Us Today!

The LLF Law Firm Team has decades of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the LLF Law Firm today! Our Criminal Defense Team will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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