Criminal prosecution, even for minor crimes, is a daunting process to undergo. A single case can involve multiple courts, prosecutors, and judges. Criminal prosecutions can cross county lines and state lines. If you have been charged with a crime, or believe you may be, representation is essential to obtain the best possible outcome.
Gawthrop Greenwood’s litigation division draws on the knowledge of two former prosecutors and the collective experience of more than a century in the courtroom. Our lawyers know the law, as well as the local rules and procedures. They can advise you when to plea bargain, when to pursue ARD or IPP, and when to go to trial. With their assistance, you can navigate the complicated journey from a warrant, to a preliminary hearing, to a trial, and beyond.
If you have already been convicted of a crime, then you know the lasting effects that that can have on your life and career. Some convictions can be appealed and, under the right circumstances, vacated. Others can be expunged. And, with the consent of the Governor, any conviction can be pardoned. Our attorneys have appeared before the Superior Court for criminal appeals, in the trial court for expungement hearings, and before the Pardon Board in Harrisburg. If you’re interested in exploring one of these opportunities to clean up your record and move on with your life, contact Gawthrop Greenwood today.
Gawthrop Greenwood’s attorneys practice criminal defense, primarily in Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia, principally in the following areas:
Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
Driving under the influence is consistently one of Pennsylvania’s most common crimes, for which tens of thousands of drivers are arrested every year. In order to combat drunk driving, the Pennsylvania legislature has enacted a series of mandatory minimum sentences based on the amount of alcohol found to be in drivers’ blood within two hours of a DUI arrest. As a result, a conviction for a first offense DUI can include a mandatory minimum sentence of as much as seventy-two hours in jail, and a maximum sentence of six months incarceration—and as much as a year of license suspension.
Pennsylvania has created two programs that allow drivers to avoid jail time, including otherwise mandatory minimum sentences: The Alternative Rehabilitative Disposition Program (ARD) and the Intermediate Punishment Program (IPP). Gawthrop Greenwood has extensive experience handling matters that resolve in both ARD and IPP admissions, and often charges a flat rate for entry into either program.
ARD is a pre-adjudication program that allows drivers to avoid jail time in favor of community service and, in some cases, rehabilitative classes. Admission to the ARD program also allows drivers to regain their license in not more than two months—and may potentially avoid a license suspension altogether. It is usually only available to first-time offenders. Each county administers its ARD program differently, but successful completion of the program requires the applicant to (1) appear for a preliminary hearing at a local magisterial district court office, (2) complete and submit an application to be admitted to the program, and (3) appear for an admission hearing in the Court of Common Pleas. If the applicant successfully completes the program and all the required community service and classes, the arrest and subsequent court information are eligible for immediate expungement.
IPP is a post-adjudication program, tailored for second-time DUI offenders. Each county administers its IPP program differently, but in all counties, applicants are required to (1) appear for a preliminary hearing at a local magisterial district court office and (2) appear in the Court of Common Pleas for a guilty plea or trial. After a conviction is entered, the driver may apply to the IPP program in order to enjoy a substantially reduced sentence. The IPP program is different from ARD because it usually includes a short jail sentence or a period of electronic home monitoring, because it does not include a reduction in the period of license suspension, and because the record of the driver’s conviction and entry into the IPP program are not eligible for expungement.
Underage Possession or Consumption of Alcohol
Students who are cited for underage possession of alcohol often assume that the charge is a minor one because it comes in the form of a citation—which appears similar to a traffic ticket. What the citation doesn’t explain, however, is that conviction for underage possession of alcohol will result in an automatic 90-day license suspension. Second and subsequent offenses can result in even longer suspensions. Certain professions—like teaching in certain school districts—also treat even a single conviction for underage possession of alcohol as a disqualifying offense. Once the student’s license is restored, moreover, the conviction can also increase the cost of insuring the student-driver’s car.
Local police officers are usually aware that a citation for underage drinking will have expensive consequences and, as a result, are sometimes willing to charge-bargain to another offense that does not include license suspension, job disqualification, or added insurance costs. That process varies from township to township, but usually requires the student to (1) plead not guilty by checking the “not guilty” box and mailing in their citation to the local magisterial district court, and (2) appear in the local magisterial district court to negotiate with the police officer.
Except in rare cases, charge bargaining decisions are within the police officer’s discretion. It goes without saying that students hoping to benefit from that discretion should treat police officers with courtesy and respect. Gawthrop Greenwood routinely handles underage drinking citations, usually for a flat fee.
Misdemeanors are more serious crimes than summary offenses, but not as serious as felony crimes. Convictions for misdemeanors can result in a sentence as long as five years in jail, and many misdemeanor offenses—like drug possession—can result in license suspension. Citizens of other countries, even those here legally, may be deported if convicted of certain misdemeanors, and most misdemeanors will result in the loss of the right to purchase firearms. Examples of misdemeanors include most theft offenses, simple drug possession, and simple assault. Unlike summary offenses (which are handled entirely in local magisterial district courts), misdemeanor offenses only begin in the magisterial district courts with a preliminary hearing; after the preliminary hearing, misdemeanors are tried in the Court of Common Pleas.
Many defendants who are charged with first-offense misdemeanors are eligible for the ARD or IPP programs, particularly in cases involving drunk driving, minor assaults, or thefts. Other defendants can avoid jail time and license suspensions by charge bargaining their misdemeanor into a lesser offense—like summary disorderly conduct. Because summary offenses usually carry no jail time, and often come with no license suspension, bargaining a misdemeanor to a summary offense has a large impact on outcomes.
In other cases, ARD and IPP are not available and the district attorney is unwilling to offer an acceptable plea bargain. In those cases, it is necessary to go to trial, either before a judge or a jury. Gawthrop Greenwood has experience handling misdemeanor prosecutions, including misdemeanors that are resolved by ARD, by summary plea, or by trial in the Court of Common Pleas.
Felonies are the most serious non-homicide crimes in Pennsylvania. Convictions for felonies can result in a sentence as long as twenty years in jail, and can include serious collateral consequences, like the forfeiture of a pension, the loss of a driver’s license, or disqualification for employment. Conviction for a felony also disqualifies the defendant from purchasing, owning, or possessing firearms. Aggravated assault (including certain accidents that occur while driving under the influence), possession with intent to deliver, burglary, and robbery can all be felonies.
Because they are treated so seriously, ARD and IPP are rarely available for felony offenses. Instead, the prosecutor will sometimes make offer to reduce felony charges to misdemeanors charges in exchange for a guilty plea. In such cases, many defendants escape jail time altogether in favor of a period of probation and community service. Other times, the prosecutor does not make an acceptable plea bargain, and trial is necessary to ensure the best outcome. Gawthrop Greenwood has experience handling felony matters in the Court of Common Pleas.
Expungements and Pardons
In Pennsylvania, expungements are only available to erase conviction for summary offenses like disorderly conduct, underage drinking, or harassment. In order to qualify to expunge a summary conviction, applicants are required to be crime-free for a period of five years prior to submitting their application.
Nonconviction data—in other words, the record of arrests and charges that did not result in a conviction—is treated differently. All nonconviction data is immediately eligible for expungement. In the event of an acquittal or in cases where the district attorney chose to withdraw all the charges (like where the applicant successfully completed the ARD program), applicants are automatically entitled to an expungement upon filing an application. Where certain charges remain on the applicant’s record because of a plea bargain and conviction for other charges, expungement of the nonconviction data is discretionary with the judge. Gawthrop Greenwood routinely handles all kinds of expungement cases, usually for a flat fee.
Pardons are different from expungements, and not only can result in a clean record, but also come with a full restoration of civil rights, including the right to purchase and own a firearm. The process for applying for a pardon, however, is both complicated and can take an extremely long time. Pardon hearings take place in Harrisburg, so the process can be expensive. Gawthrop Greenwood does handle pardon applications but, as a result of the distances and time requirements, cannot do so on a flat-fee basis.