Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between criminal and civil law?

Criminal law involves an action filed by or on behalf of the State or Commonwealth by the prosecution against a defendant, a person charged with committing a crime. The criminal action seeks the enforcement of the penalty or punishment that is created by law. Civil law involves an action filed by one party (the plaintiff) against another (a defendant) to enforce or protect a private right, or prevent a private wrong. Most significantly, in criminal law, a guilty defendant is penalized by incarceration, a fine, or execution. However, a defendant in a civil action is generally only required to pay the plaintiff for damages caused by the defendant’s behavior.

What is a crime?

A crime is the commission or omission of an act in violation of a penal law that forbids or commands such action. It is a wrong that the government deems to hurt not only to the victim, but also to the public at large, and it is punishable by the government.

What defenses are available to a person charged with a crime?

An accused has the right to use any or all of the defenses that are applicable in the circumstances of the case. A criminal case may be defended based upon the lack of evidence, and a defense attorney may seek to have the court exclude any evidence that was found or seized by the police in violation of constitutional protections. Legal defenses may include an alibi or misidentification, self-defense, and entrapment. A criminal attorney can assist you to determine the best defenses and strategy applicable to your situation.

When is a police warrant required?

The U.S. and state constitutions require generally that police searches and seizures be reasonable and based upon probable cause, and many searches and seizures require a court-issued warrant. Probable cause exists to issue an arrest or a search warrant when an affidavit presents sufficient information from which a magistrate could reasonably conclude there was a fair probability that a person has committed a crime or a place contains evidence of a crime.

What is an investigative detention?

A police officer may briefly stop and question a person, without a warrant, when the officer observes unusual conduct that gives rise to a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is taking place. An investigative detention occurs when the officer briefly stops the suspicious person to make reasonable inquiries to confirm or dispel the officer’s suspicions. The investigative detention becomes illegal if it is based only on insufficient factors that include the race or sex of the suspect, curiosity or rumor, or the suspect’s presence in the crime area or his nervous behavior.

What is the definition of "criminal trespass?"

Although the definition for “criminal trespass” differs from state to state, in general the offense of criminal trespass is committed when someone enters or remains on another’s property without the permission of the owner. Defenses against criminal trespass may be available if the property was open to the general public, or the conduct did not substantially interfere with the owner’s use of the property.

What is arson?

If a person willfully, maliciously, and deliberately, with an intent to cause injury or damage to a person or property sets fire to, or attempts to burn or aids or procures the burning of a forest land or property, or any structure he or she may be charged with committing arson. This includes placing of any explosive or flammable material or substance with intent to set fire to any structure or any property or the forest land.

Could my driver's license be suspended if I refuse or fail to submit to blood alcohol tests?

Yes. The Pennsylvania Vehicle Code provides that if any person arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance refuses a request to submit to chemical testing, the test shall not be given but, upon notice by the police officer, the Department of Transportation shall suspend the person’s driver’s license for a period of one year.

What is assault?

The Pennsylvania Crimes Code provides that a person is guilty of a simple assault if he or she: (1) attempts to cause or intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another; (2) negligently causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon; or (3) attempts by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury; or (4) conceals or attempts to conceal a hypodermic needle on his or her person and intentionally or knowingly penetrates a law enforcement officer. Just pointing a gun at someone can constitute an assault.

What is a Miranda Warning?

The Miranda warnings require that an accused should be warned that he or she has a right to remain silent, and any statement made by the accused can be used as evidence against him or her. The accused has a right to the presence of an attorney during questioning and if the accused cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint an attorney. The warnings do not apply to any volunteered statements. The accused may waive his or her Miranda rights, provided the waiver should be made voluntarily and knowingly.

Can a minor enjoy the same Miranda rights?

Yes. A minor child enjoys the same rights regarding the Miranda warnings as an adult and may invoke the privilege against self-incrimination. The minor may ask to see or telephone his or her parent or guardian or some other adult standing in a relationship to the minor similar to that of an attorney.

Still have questions?

Get in contact with one of our attorneys now to get your free meeting

Ask Now