What is Phoenix Court?

Phoenix Court is an expedited criminal docket in Allegheny County designed to quickly resolve cases involving non-violent offenses (i.e. theft cases, drug cases, DUI's). It replaced the PDQ program (which was colloquially referred to as the "pretty damn quick" program) in 2010.  Since its inception, the Phoenix Court docket has resolved thousands of Allegheny County criminal cases in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

The Process

If your case is assigned to the Phoenix Court docket, you will be notified at your Formal Arraignment (your first court date after the Preliminary Hearing).  At that time, you will be provided with a written plea offer from the DA's office and a subpoena for your Phoenix Docket Conference, which is your first - and likely only - appearance before your Phoenix Court judge. 

At the Phoenix Docket Conference, you have two options: enter a guilty plea or schedule the case for trial. If you elect to plead guilty (by either accepting the terms of the written plea offer or pleading to negotiated terms), your plea will be accepted by the judge and you will be sentenced that same day. Alternatively, if you elect to persist in your not guilty plea and fight the charges, the case will be set for a future trial date.  The trial will be listed on a Thursday or Friday, usually weeks after the Phoenix Docket Conference.

What are the Benefits of Phoenix Court?

The primary benefit of Phoenix Court is that your case will be resolved at an earlier stage of the criminal process.  Additionally, the plea offers in Phoenix Court are usually "mitigated range" offers (meaning the proposed sentence is at the low-end of a defendant's sentencing guidelines) and very often include the withdrawal of one or more charges as part of the proposed offers. This is so because the DA's office wants to entice Phoenix Court defendants to plead guilty at the initial Phoenix Docket Conference, thereby eliminating the need for any future court dates and the expenditure of any additional resources.

Do I Need an Attorney if My Case Goes to Phoenix Court?

Absolutely. While the written plea offers in Phoenix Court can be good, they are rarely the best possible result. Every offer is subject to negotiation and many clients should not plea guilty at all. An unrepresented defendant has no chance of negotiating a better plea offer and no ability to evaluate whether the case should go to trial. As a result, an unrepresented Phoenix Court defendant runs a much higher risk of being convicted of a serious crime or serving a lengthy probation/jail sentence than a defendant represented by an experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney.

Call Bishop Law for a Free Consultation

If you are currently facing criminal charges that may be assigned to the Phoenix Court docket, call or text (412) 589-9422 for a free consultation with a skilled Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer at Bishop Law immediately.

We will work tirelessly to get you the best possible result.


How to Handle an Outstanding Arrest Warrant

How is an arrest warrant is issued?

If the police have evidence that you committed a crime, an officer or detective can request that the court issue a warrant for your arrest. Police make this request by presenting a magisterial district judge ("magistrate") with an affidavit of probable cause, which contains the substance of the evidence against you. If the magistrate ultimately determines that the information contained in the affidavit creates probable cause to support the recommended charges, he/she will sign the affidavit and issue a warrant for you arrest.

What should I do if a warrant is issued for my arrest?

It is important that you take action immediately. With an outstanding warrant for your arrest, any police contact - even a routine traffic stop - will result in you being placed into custody and transported to the county jail. Once in custody, you will be held without bail until your preliminary arraignment, which could take hours or days. For these reasons, it is imperative that you take steps to clear the warrant as quickly as possible.  

The safest way to clear a warrant is to contact a local criminal defense attorney. Your attorney will first verify (1) that you have an outstanding warrant, (2) who issued the warrant, and (3) when it was issued. Your attorney will then contact the officer who filed the charges and the court that issued the warrant to schedule a time to turn you in at the magistrate's office. Next, your attorney will accompany you to the "turn-in" and represent you during the preliminary arraignment that follows. At your preliminary arraignment, you will be advised of the charges pending against you and the magistrate will set your bond.

By hiring an attorney to assist you in turning yourself in, you maximize your chances of being released on an OR (own recognizance) bond (as opposed to a monetary bond). Under the terms of an OR bond, you need not post any form of cash bail to avoid going to jail. Rather, you are released based on your promise to appear at all future court proceedings and refrain from engaging in any illegal activity while out on bond.

Not only will hiring an attorney significantly increase your chances of avoiding the county jail, but it will also insulate you from the risk of making an incriminating statement to police at your arraignment and unwittingly strengthening the government's case against you. Police often use the preliminary arraignment as a time to question unrepresented defendants in the hope that they will elicit an incriminating statement that can be used at trial. An attorney will ensure that you invoke your right to remain silent and avoid a potentially disastrous police interrogation.

If there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest, call Bishop Law immediately.

If a warrant has been issued for your arrest, you can't afford to go it alone. You need an experienced and aggressive Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney on your side to ensure that you are not jailed pending trial. 

If you require assistance in clearing an arrest warrant, call or text Bishop Law immediately at (412) 589-9422 for a free consultation with a skilled Pittsburgh criminal lawyer. We are available 24/7.

Penalties for Underage Drinking in PA

In Pennsylvania, any person under the age of 21 who is caught possessing, purchasing, consuming, or transporting alcohol will be charged with Underage Drinking, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6308. Although graded as a summary offense, a citation for Underage Drinking can carry serious consequences and should not be taken lightly. A conviction will result in a mandatory driver's license suspension, fines and costs, and a stain on the defendant's criminal record that cannot be removed for at least five years. Moreover, an Underage Drinking conviction must be disclosed on many school and job applications and can hinder future educational and employment opportunities.

Increased Penalties for Repeat Offenders

While one conviction for Underage Drinking is bad enough, the penalties for second and subsequent convictions are even worse.  The following is a breakdown of the penalties for repeat offenders:

  • 1st offense: 90 day license suspension, up to $500 fine, and court costs.
  • 2nd offense: 1 year license suspension, up to $1000 fine, and court costs.
  • 3rd and subsequent offense: 2 year license suspension, up to $1000 fine, and court costs.

With respect to driver's license suspensions, any person who does not have a driver's license at the time of their Underage Drinking conviction cannot apply for a learner's permit or driver's license until serving the duration of their suspension. Additionally, any person who is under 16 when convicted will begin serving their license suspension on their 16th birthday.

Cited for Underage Drinking? Call Bishop Law Today

As every parent is keenly aware, good kids can make poor decisions. Don't let your child's momentary lapse in judgment result in long-term consequences that could hinder future educational and employment opportunities.  If your child has been cited for Underage Drinking, call or text (412) 589-9422 for a free and confidential consultation with an experienced Pittsburgh Underage Drinking Attorney at Bishop Law.

We will work tirelessly to protect your child's future and have their charges dismissed. Call us today.

Penalties for a First Offense DUI in PA

In Pennsylvania, driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance is a serious crime that carries serious consequences. The penalties can include a fine, a driver's license suspension, and mandatory jail time. In this blog post, we will discuss the penalties associated with a first offense DUI in PA.

Three-Tiered System

DUI charges are broken down into three tiers. The applicable tier determines the penalties that will be imposed and is based primarily on the defendant's blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of the incident.  The penalties associated with first offense DUI's in each tier are as follows:

  • Tier 1: General Impairment (BAC .08-.099) - Probation, No License Suspension, $300 Fine
  • Tier 2: High Rate (BAC .10-.159) - 48 Hours in Jail, One Year License Suspension, $500 Fine
  • Tier 3: Highest Rate (BAC .16 and above) - 72 Hours in Jail, One Year License Suspension, $1000 Fine

It is important to note that a DUI involving a controlled substance is graded as a Tier 3 offense, while a DUI committed by a minor driver - someone under 21 - is graded as a Tier 2 offense and has a decreased threshold BAC of .02.

Other Factors Effecting The Applicable Tier

While the defendant's BAC is the primary consideration when determining the applicable tier, certain aggravating circumstances can increase the tier level of a DUI offense. For example, a Tier 1 offense that results in property damage, bodily injury, serious bodily injury, or death, is increased to a Tier 2 offense. Additionally, if a driver suspected of DUI refuses to submit to chemical testing - by blood or by breath - the offense is automatically graded as a Tier 3 offense.

What is Considered a First Offense DUI? 

When calculating prior DUI convictions, there is a ten year "look back" period in PA. That means that only DUI convictions that occurred within ten years of the DUI incident date in the pending case are counted. For example, if Defendant A is charged with DUI in 2016 and has a prior DUI conviction from 1986, the 2016 DUI charge would be considered a first offense because Defendant A had zero DUI convictions in the ten years prior.

Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD)

First-time offenders in PA - defendants with no prior criminal convictions - are eligible for a diversionary program known as Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD). The ARD program allows defendants to have their charges dismissed and expunged after the successful completion of a period of probationary supervision. For DUI offenders, the ARD program is especially advantageous because it significantly decreases the length of any applicable license suspension and eliminates any mandatory jail time that would otherwise apply.

You can learn more about the specifics of ARD by reading our last blog post.

Charged with a First Offense DUI in Western PA? 

At Bishop Law, we have handled hundreds of DUI cases and have a record of proven results. Call us today and put our experience to work for you.

If you have been charged with a DUI in Western PA, call or text (412) 589-9422 for a free consultation with a skilled DUI attorney at Bishop Law. We are available 24/7.

What is ARD?

ARD - short for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition - is a diversionary program available to first-time offenders in Pennsylvania. It offers eligible defendants the opportunity to have their charges dismissed and expunged from their criminal record upon successful completion of the program. To complete the program, the defendant must comply with a series of conditions set by the court during a period of probationary supervision. Naturally, entrance into the ARD program is the preferred course of action for most first-time offenders charged with a crime in PA.

Who is eligible for ARD?

Criminal defendants with no prior criminal convictions are eligible for the ARD program.  In addition, a defendant whose criminal record is comprised exclusively of "stale" convictions (convictions that are 10 or more years old) may be considered for the ARD program.

What charges are eligible for ARD?

Although the charge most commonly associated with ARD is Driving Under the Influence (DUI), ANY criminal charge can be adjudicated through the ARD program. Entry into the program is discretionary however, meaning the District Attorney will ultimately determine who will be offered ARD based on the specific facts and circumstances surrounding each case. In cases involving victims - whether police officers or civilians - the DA will most likely require victim consent before offering entry into ARD.

Advantages of the ARD program in DUI cases

Besides providing first-time offenders with the obvious advantage of having the charges dismissed and expunged from their criminal record, the ARD program has additional benefits in DUI cases. These benefits include shorter license suspensions and no jail time.

Procedure for entering the ARD program

The District Attorney initiates the ARD proceedings by filing a Motion for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition with the appropriate Court of Commons Pleas judge. Once the ARD motion is filed, a hearing on that motion is scheduled and notice of the hearing date is provided to the defendant and the defendant's attorney. At that hearing, the judge reads the terms and conditions of ARD to the defendant in open court. The defendant then states to the judge that he accepts the conditions and agrees to comply.  At that point, the DA's motion is granted and the defendant is formally admitted into the ARD program.

How long will I be on ARD probation?

The ARD probationary period varies based on the charges, the conditions imposed, and the specific facts underlying the case. However, the probationary period cannot exceed two years.

What happens if I violate or fail to complete ARD?

When a defendant violates a condition of ARD, the DA will file a motion with the ARD judge alleging that a violation occurred. A hearing is scheduled and the defendant is given an opportunity to be heard. If the judge ultimately finds that a condition of ARD was violated, he can order that the defendant be revoked from the ARD program. If that occurs, the case is then scheduled for trial before another Court of Common Pleas judge.

It is important to note that a defendant is still entitled to fight the charges against him after being revoked from ARD. This is because a conviction is never entered onto the record upon entry into the ARD program. The underlying criminal charges remain pending while a defendant is under ARD probationary supervision.

Final thoughts

The ARD program offers first-time offenders a second chance at maintaining a clean criminal record. Accordingly, it is the preferred course of action for almost all first-time offenders in PA. However, because the ARD program is discretionary in nature, it is important that defendants are represented by experienced legal counsel to ensure entry into ARD.

For that reason, if you are currently facing criminal charges as a first-time offender in PA, you need to call or text (412) 589-9422 to speak to an experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney at Bishop Law immediately.

Our only goal is to get your charges dismissed.

Drug Charges: Actual Possession vs. Constructive Possession

In Pennsylvania, drug possession crimes are prosecuted under one of two legal theories: "actual possession" or "constructive possession."  Actual possession is what most of us think of as possession - that is, being in physical custody or control of an object (holding it in your hand, having it in your pocket, etc.). Constructive possession, on the other hand, is a legal theory used to extend possession to situations where a person has no hands-on custody of an object. In PA, constructive possession exists when a person has knowledge of the presence and nature of an illegal substance (in other words, he knows where and what the substance is), as well as the intent and ability to control that substance. Constructive possession is most commonly utilized by the prosecution in cases where drugs are found in a house or in a car, but not on the defendant's person.

Naturally, constructive possession is a lot harder to prove than actual possession. Merely being in close proximity to an illegal controlled substance, without more, is not enough. Accordingly, the Commonwealth will often present a variety of factors in an attempt to circumstantially prove that the defendant constructively possessed an illegal substance. These factors include: proximity to the contraband, forensic evidence (fingerprints and DNA), incriminating statements made by the defendant, and any indicia (driver's license, utility bills, etc.) linking the defendant to the contraband. 

It is also important to note that more than one person can constructively possess an illegal substance. This is known as "joint constructive possession." Joint constructive possession is most often seen in cases where drugs are found in a common area of a house or a car when multiple people are present.

In sum, a defendant charged with drug possession under the theory of constructive possession has a good chance of beating their case with a proactive and aggressive defense.  For that reason, if you have been charged with possessing an illegal controlled substance in PA, you need to speak to an experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney immediately. At Bishop Law, we have years of experience handling complex drug cases and have successfully litigated countless cases to verdict. Call or text us today at (412) 589-9422. Our only goal is to get your drug charges dismissed.

What is a Preliminary Hearing?

The preliminary hearing in a criminal case follows the preliminary arraignment and is the second stage of a criminal prosecution in state court. It must be held within 14 days of the preliminary arraignment if the defendant is in custody and within 21 days of the preliminary arraignment if the defendant is not incarcerated. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to protect the defendant's right against unlawful arrest and detention. 

Where is it held?

Although the preliminary hearing can be held before a judge in the court of common pleas, it is normally held before a neutral magistrate at a magisterial district court.  For example, preliminary hearings for criminal cases originating within Pittsburgh city limits are held at Pittsburgh Municipal Court (a.k.a. "City Court"), which is attached to the Allegheny County Jail.

What are my options?

Generally, the defendant has two options at the preliminary hearing: (1) waive the case to the court of common pleas OR (2) proceed to a hearing.  A waiver may be the preferred course of action if the Commonwealth is withdrawing/reducing charges or agreeing to a bond reduction in exchange for the defendant's waiver. Otherwise, it is in the defendant's best interest to have a hearing and confront the witnesses against him.

Why should I have a hearing?

One of the biggest advantages to having a preliminary hearing - other than potentially having the charges dismissed if the Commonwealth fails to meet its burden - is it gives the defendant an opportunity to create a record of the sworn testimony of the Commonwealth's witnesses. This testimony is transcribed by a court reporter and memorialized in a preliminary hearing transcript, which can be an invaluable tool for the defense at trial.

What is the standard of proof?

At the preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth need only establish a prima facie case, which is a much lower standard than "beyond a reasonable doubt." Essentially, the Commonwealth must present enough evidence to show probable cause that the defendant committed the offense(s). If a prima facie case is established, the charges are "held for court" and the case is scheduled for formal arraignment at the court of common pleas. If the Commonwealth fails to establish a prima facie case, the charges are dismissed.

Do I have a right to an attorney?

The preliminary hearing is the first "critical stage" of a criminal prosecution, meaning the defendant has a constitutional right to counsel.

Should I hire an attorney?

The preliminary hearing is an extremely important stage in the criminal process. An effective preliminary hearing can result in a dismissal of charges or, at the very least, the creation of a preliminary hearing transcript that can be invaluable at trial. On the other hand, a botched preliminary hearing can leave the defendant in a significantly worse position than before.

For those reasons, if you have been charged with a crime and your case is scheduled for a preliminary hearing, it is imperative that you speak to a criminal defense attorney immediately.

Charged with a crime in Western PA? Call or text Bishop Law at (412) 589-9422 to speak to an experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer. 

You can't afford to go into court unprepared and unprotected. Contact us today.