What is the legal definition of murder?

In Pennsylvania, murder charges are the most serious types of charges that people might face. If you are accused of murder, you could face up to life in prison or capital punishment, depending on the type of murder you are accused of committing. Because of the serious nature of murder charges, it is crucial for you to retain an experienced and skilled criminal defense lawyer.

What is the legal definition of murder?

In the U.S., our laws arise from both the statutory law and the common law. The common law is made up of laws that originate from court decisions and customs instead of statutes. The common law definition of murder is an intentional and unlawful killing that is perpetrated with “malice aforethought.”

Malice aforethought refers to the defendant’s intent to kill someone else without a legally justifiable reason. Malice aforethought can also exist when the defendant intentionally causes serious bodily harm that leads to the death of the victim or when the defendant acts with an extreme and reckless disregard as to whether his or her actions could result in the death of the victim, and the victim dies as a result.

In Pennsylvania, murder is now defined in the statutory law instead of the common law. While Pennsylvania’s murder laws originally were derived from the common law, you must look at the murder statute to understand different types of murder offenses, including first-, second-, and third-degree murder.

Under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502, there are three different types of murder. First-degree murder is a criminal homicide that is committed intentionally. Second-degree murder is a criminal homicide that is committed while the defendant was committing a different felony either as the principal or as an accomplice. Third-degree murder includes all other types of murder and is a first-degree felony.

The second-degree murder definition is Pennsylvania’s felony murder law. Under this law, you can be charged with second-degree murder even if you are not the person who committed the killing. This law simply requires you to have been engaged in committing a felony as an accomplice when the killing occurs to be charged with this murder offense.

Manslaughter vs. murder charges in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania recognizes two other types of homicide offenses, including voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. While manslaughter offenses are related to murder charges, there are some distinct differences. While manslaughter charges also deal with the death of someone else, they generally do not include the same type of malice that is found in murder cases.

Voluntary manslaughter is codified at 18 Pa.C.S. § 2503. Under this statute, voluntary manslaughter can be committed in the following two ways:

  • When the defendant kills the victim out of a sudden and intense heat of passion caused by provocation by the victim or by provocation of a third party that the defendant attempts to kill but accidentally kills the victim instead; or
  • When the defendant intentionally kills the victim under an unreasonable belief that the killing is justified.

Voluntary manslaughter is a felony. Prosecutors will sometimes charge defendants with first-degree murder and with voluntary manslaughter to try to ensure a conviction. Juries may find someone guilty of voluntary manslaughter while also finding that he or she is not guilty of first-degree murder. Whether a jury returns a guilty verdict for murder or manslaughter sometimes depends on the degree of culpability that the jury believes the defendant has.

Involuntary manslaughter is found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2504. This offense is committed when a defendant acts with gross negligence or reckless disregard about whether his or her actions could result in the death of the victim, and the victim is killed. Involuntary manslaughter is a first-degree misdemeanor offense in most cases. However, if the victim was younger than 12 and was in the custody, control, and care of the defendant at the time of his or her death, involuntary manslaughter is a second-degree felony.

First-degree murder vs. second-degree murder

Some defendants who commit intentional killings are considered to have greater culpability and to be more dangerous than others under the law. These defendants are charged with first-degree murder, which carries life in prison or capital punishment under Pennsylvania law. A killing that occurs with malice but that does not rise to the level of first-degree murder may be charged as second- or third-degree murder in Pennsylvania, depending on the circumstances.

To determine whether a murder offense is intentional and constitutes first-degree murder, the jury will consider whether there is evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing was premeditated and deliberate. This means that the defendant had the intent to kill the victim and had time to think about it. An example of premeditation and intention includes an estranged husband purchasing a gun and then lying in wait for his estranged wife to shoot her multiple times.

While some states have felony murder rules that make the killing of a person during the commission of a different felony a first-degree felony murder, Pennsylvania’s felony murder rule classifies this type of murder as a second-degree murder offense. An example of this type of murder includes two accomplices who commit a home-invasion burglary and are surprised by the homeowner. If one of the accomplices shoots and kills the homeowner, he or she may be charged with first-degree murder while the other accomplice may be charged with second-degree murder for the homeowner’s death.

Penalties for murder convictions in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, a conviction of first-degree murder can result in either life imprisonment or capital punishment. Second-degree murder convictions carry up to life in prison. Third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter offenses each carry up to 20 years in prison. Finally, an involuntary manslaughter conviction can carry up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Get help from DiCindio Law

If you have been charged with murder or manslaughter, or your loved one is facing such charges, you should contact DiCindio Law today to schedule a free consultation by calling 610-430-3535.

What is manslaughter

What is manslaughter?

 

In Pennsylvania, two types of manslaughter are recognized in the law, including voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. While these crimes are criminal homicides, they are less serious than murder charges. If you have been charged with voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, you should talk to Michael DiCindio at DiCindio Law to learn about your rights and the defenses that might be raised.

Definition of voluntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania

Voluntary manslaughter is defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2503. According to this statute, a defendant is guilty of voluntary manslaughter when he or she kills someone else without legal justification and he or she was acting under the heat of passion that results from serious provocation by the following people:

  • the victim who is killed; or
  • A third person that the defendant tries to kill but accidentally kills the victim instead

A second way in which voluntary manslaughter can be committed is when the defendant kills someone when he or she has an unreasonable belief that the killing is legally justified. To determine whether a killing happened in the heat of passion because of provocation by the victim or a third person, the provoking circumstances will be reviewed objectively. The provoking act must be of such a nature that it would have caused an emotional or passionate reaction in a reasonable person.

If you had time to cool down after the provocation and when you committed the killing, you will not be eligible for a voluntary manslaughter charge and will likely be charged with murder instead. To determine whether you had enough time to calm down between the provoking act and the killing, the state will look at all of the events leading up to the homicide. If enough time passed, the prosecutor may charge the defendant with murder instead.

The unreasonable belief form of voluntary manslaughter refers to a mistaken belief that you needed to use deadly force to protect yourself or someone else from the victim. If the prosecutor can prove that you escalated or created a dangerous situation, the prosecutor may charge you with murder.

Defenses to voluntary manslaughter charges

The defenses that might be raised to voluntary manslaughter charges will depend on the facts and circumstances of how the killing occurred. Some of the defenses might include the following:

  • Self-defense
  • Defense of others
  • Battered women’s syndrome
  • Accidental death with no criminal intent when you were engaged in a lawful action

Penalties for voluntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania

Voluntary manslaughter is a felony in Pennsylvania. If you are convicted of this offense, you can face up to 20 years in prison.

Involuntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania

Involuntary manslaughter is codified at 18 Pa.C.S. § 2504. Unlike other types of criminal homicide in Pennsylvania, involuntary manslaughter does not require that you had an intent to kill the victim. Instead, involuntary manslaughter is reserved for situations in which the killings were unintentional. Involuntary manslaughter is punished by the state to try to prevent activities that are performed with gross negligence or in reckless disregard for human life.

Prosecutors are required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants who are charged with involuntary manslaughter caused the deaths by engaging in grossly negligent or reckless conduct while they were engaging in unlawful or lawful activity. For example, a person may be charged with involuntary manslaughter if he or she recklessly drove a car and caused the death of the victim. The prosecutor must be able to show the link between the defendant’s negligent or reckless conduct and the death of the victim. If the defendant’s conduct cannot be directly or substantially linked to the victim’s death, the prosecutor may not be able to prove a charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Gross negligence or reckless disregard can be proven by the prosecutor by using a reasonable person standard. This involves a comparison between the defendant’s actions to the standard of care that would be expected of a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances. The prosecutor may also analyze whether the defendant ignored an existing danger or continued with his or her activity after substantial risks were obvious.

Defenses to involuntary manslaughter charges

Some of the possible defenses to charges of involuntary manslaughter include the following:

  • The defendant’s actions were not a direct or substantial cause of the death of the victim
  • The killing was accidental and occurred while the defendant was engaged in lawful activity and was not acting with criminal intent, gross negligence, or reckless disregard

It is important to note that Pennsylvania does not allow defendants to raise a defense of voluntary intoxication to involuntary manslaughter charges.

Penalties for involuntary manslaughter

Pennsylvania classifies involuntary manslaughter as a first-degree misdemeanor offense in most cases. A conviction for this offense carries a potential penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

However, if you committed involuntary manslaughter of a child who was younger than age 12 while serving as the child’s custodian, caregiver, or parent, the offense is charged as a second-degree felony. A conviction for felony involuntary manslaughter can include from five to 10 years in prison.

Some examples of activities that can lead to a charge of involuntary manslaughter include the following:

  • Reckless driving
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Speeding or other traffic offenses
  • Child neglect
  • The improper withholding of medical care from a person who dies

Get help from DiCindio Law

If you are facing voluntary or involuntary manslaughter charges, contact DiCindio Law to schedule a free consultation. We can be reached at 610-430-3535 24 hours per day and seven days per week.

Sentencing and Penalties For First Degree Murder

Criminal homicides in Pennsylvania involve the unlawful deaths of people and are divided into three murder offenses and two manslaughter crimes. Murder charges are found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502 and include first-, second-, and third-degree murder. First-degree murder is the most serious murder offense. If you are facing first-degree murder charges or your loved one has been charged with this offense, talk to DiCindio Law for help in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Proving first-degree murder

To be charged and convicted of a murder offense, the prosecutor must be able to prove that you acted with actual malice. Malice is proven by showing that you intended to commit the victim’s killing or that you intended to cause harm. First-degree murder requires an intentional killing, meaning that you intended to kill the victim. First-degree murder charges require the prosecutor to show that you acted with express malice.

The prosecutor must prove that you had a specific intent to cause the victim’s death. Your specific intent to murder may be shown by the state by evaluating your actions, the circumstances, and whether you used a deadly weapon.

First-degree murder vs. other homicide offenses

First-degree murder is an intentional killing that involves planning, premeditation, and deliberate acts. Second-degree murder is charged when a killing happens while the defendant is committing a different felony as a principal or an accomplice. Third-degree murder offenses include all other types of murder and involve malice.

Voluntary manslaughter is a heat of passion killing following provocation by the victim or by a third party or when a person has an unreasonable and mistaken belief that the killing is justified. Finally, involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional homicide that results from grossly negligent or reckless conduct regarding the life of the victim.

Penalties for first-degree murder in Pennsylvania

First-degree murder is the most serious murder crime in Pennsylvania. This means that it may be punished by the most severe possible punishments under the law. Prosecutors have the burden of proving the elements of first-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt before the defendants can be convicted of this offense. To do this, the prosecutors must prove that the defendant committed an unlawful, intentional, and premeditated killing of another person.

First-degree murder is set apart from other homicide and murder offenses by the planning, deliberate acts, and premeditation by the defendant. If the killing was spontaneous or occurred after provocation during a heat of passion, it will likely be charged as a different homicide offense in Pennsylvania.

Under 18 Pa.C.S. § 1102, a person who is convicted of first-degree murder in Pennsylvania may face either life imprisonment or a death sentence. However, if the person is convicted for the first-degree murder of an unborn child, he or she will not face the death penalty but will face life in prison.

Defenses to first-degree murder charges in Pennsylvania

First-degree murder cases are complex and carry extremely high stakes. Your attorney will carefully review and analyze all of the evidence that is being held in your case to identify the best defense strategies to follow. Some of the potential defenses that might be raised include the following:

  • You did not have the required mental capacity to have a specific intent to kill;
  • You were voluntarily intoxicated at the time of the offense;
  • You were insane at the time of the offense and could not distinguish between right and wrong;
  • You were acting in self-defense;
  • You had battered women’s syndrome, which caused you to kill your spouse or partner;
  • The killing was accidental and you did not have criminal intent and were engaging in a lawful activity;
  • You were misidentified as the killer;
  • You have an alibi for the time and date of the killing; or
  • You committed the killing while you were under duress.

Imposing the death penalty

If you are convicted of first-degree murder, your case will enter into the sentencing phase. During this phase, the prosecutor and the defense attorney will present arguments about the punishment that you should face. The prosecutor may present evidence of aggravating factors that support a death sentence. The defense attorney may present evidence of mitigating factors to argue against the death penalty.

Talk to DiCindio Law

Facing murder charges can be devastating and could potentially lead to a life behind bars or a death sentence. Getting help from an experienced attorney is crucial for these types of charges. Contact DiCindio Law to learn about your case at 610-430-3535.

Get The Facts About Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse (IDSI)

A charge of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse or IDSI is a serious felony offense. If you are facing this type of charge, you are likely feeling scared about your future. It is important for you to understand this offense and to get help from an experienced Pennsylvania sex crimes attorney. A lawyer at DiCindio Law can review the evidence in your case to determine the best defense strategies to raise in your case. Here is what you need to know about involuntary deviate sexual intercourse charges in Pennsylvania.

What is involuntary deviate sexual intercourse in Pennsylvania?

Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse is an extremely serious offense. It is codified at Pa. Stat. Ann. § 3123. Under this statute, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse is a felony of the first degree offense. It can be committed when a defendant engages in deviate sexual intercourse in one of the following ways:

  • Using force to compel sexual intercourse
  • Threatening forcible compulsion
  • When the person is unconscious or unaware that sexual intercourse is happening
  • When the defendant administers intoxicants or substances without the knowledge of the alleged victim so that he or she is unable to consent or resist
  • When the alleged victim has a mental disability that prevents him or her from consenting
  • When the alleged victim is younger than 16 and the defendant is more than four years older, and they are not married

This is a very serious offense. However, being charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse is not a conviction. The prosecutor will have the burden of proof to prove the elements of this offense beyond a reasonable doubt before you can be convicted of IDSI and sentenced. When facing this type of charge, you will need to find an aggressive and experienced sex crimes attorney who will fight to protect your freedom and rights. Attorney Michael DiCindio has experience working as a prosecutor and as a criminal defense lawyer. He has handled criminal matters of all levels, including serious sex crimes. He is dedicated to defending his clients against serious felony offenses, including charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.

Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse vs. rape

Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse has some similarities to rape but includes more types of sexual acts. Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse can include the following types of acts:

  • Penetration with objects
  • Anal sex
  • Oral sex
  • Sex acts with animals
  • Sexual intercourse with one of the previously described victims or circumstances

What are the penalties for a conviction of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse?

Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse is a felony of the first degree in Pennsylvania. If you are convicted of this offense, you will face very stiff penalties. This offense carries the potential prison sentence of up to 20 years. You will also face fines of up to $25,000 and be required to register as a sex offender for the remainder of your life.

If you are required to register as a sex offender, you will have to comply with the registration and notification mandates and reveal information about yourself and where you live. Being on the sex offender registry can cause ongoing collateral consequences such as trouble finding a job and somewhere to live. The Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act or SORNA requires sex offenders to register in every jurisdiction in which they live, go to school, and work.
If you fail to comply with the registration requirements, it is a felony offense that can result in time in prison and substantial fines.

Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child

If you are facing charges of IDSI with a child, you will face even more severe penalties upon a conviction. This offense is also a felony of the first degree that is punishable by up to decades in prison. One important thing to note is that it is not a defense to an IDSI with a child charge that you did not know the child was under the age of 13 or that he or she consented to the act.

Defending against involuntary deviate sexual intercourse charges

You should not take a charge of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse lightly because of the high stakes involved. You should seek a highly skilled criminal defense and sex crimes attorney. A lawyer at DiCindio Law can thoroughly investigate what occurred and evaluate the credibility of the alleged victim’s claim. Your attorney may also work closely with experts to analyze and challenge forensic evidence.

Simply facing a charge of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse does not mean that you will be found guilty or that you are guilty. You need to talk to an experienced sex offense lawyer to gain a clear understanding of your rights and the defenses that might be available to you.

If you have been arrested for an IDSI offense, contact DiCindio Law to schedule a free and confidential consultation. Attorney Michael DiCindio will evaluate your case and work to identify every defense that might be raised to fight the charges against you. You need to retain a skilled and dedicated attorney who is willing to fight for your rights when you are facing IDSI charges. Call DiCindio Law today to schedule your consultation at 610-430-3535.

Sentencing and Penalties Voluntary Manslaughter

All homicide offenses in Pennsylvania are serious crimes, including voluntary manslaughter. If you are convicted of voluntary manslaughter, you may face severe consequences. While all homicides are serious, they are not all treated the same. Voluntary manslaughter is a lesser offense than a murder charge, but it still requires you to mount a vigorous defense. At DiCindio Law, we represent people who have been accused of committing all types of crimes, including homicide offenses. Here is what you need to understand about voluntary manslaughter, the penalties, and the possible defenses.

Criminal homicide and voluntary manslaughter

Criminal homicide is defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2501 as being the intentional, reckless, knowing, or negligent killing of another person. Multiple crimes are considered to be criminal homicide offenses, including the following:

  • First-degree murder
  • Second-degree murder
  • Third-degree murder
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Causing or assisting suicide
  • Delivering drugs that cause death
  • Criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer

First-degree murder is the most serious type of criminal homicide and can result in capital punishment or life in prison without parole. Voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are criminal homicide offenses for cases in which the facts do not quite rise to the level of a murder charge. In some cases, however, a prosecutor may charge a defendant with murder as well as voluntary manslaughter when the prosecutor is unsure that he or she will be able to prove the elements of murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors do this to try to ensure that they can secure convictions against defendants whom they believe killed people.

The main difference between manslaughter and murder is the degree of culpability. Murder charges require that the killers acted with malice. Manslaughter is an unjustified killing that does not include malice. The penalties for manslaughter are much less severe than they are for murder. Voluntary manslaughter is more serious than involuntary manslaughter, however.

Voluntary vs. involuntary manslaughter

In Pennsylvania, manslaughter is classified into two types, including voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. These two different types of manslaughter are distinguished by the intent and the circumstances. Involuntary manslaughter is found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2504 and is less serious than voluntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a defendant kills another person while he or she is acting recklessly or with gross negligence while performing a lawful or unlawful act. Involuntary manslaughter is a first-degree misdemeanor carrying the potential of up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

Voluntary manslaughter is more serious than involuntary manslaughter and carries harsher penalties. Voluntary manslaughter is found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2503 and occurs when a defendant kills another person in a heat of passion because of provocation by the victim. It also includes a killing when the defendant is in a heat of passion after being provoked by a third party who the defendant attempts to kill but accidentally kills the victim instead. Finally, it also includes scenarios in which the defendant intentionally killed another person under an unreasonable belief that the killing is justified such as in a case of imperfect self-defense or defense of others.

The provocation for voluntary manslaughter has to be severe enough that any reasonable person would have a passionate reaction. For the killing to be considered to have happened in the heat of passion, the killing must follow the provocation without sufficient time passing for the defendant to calm down. If you are convicted of voluntary manslaughter, it is a first-degree felony that carries up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $25,000.

Potential defenses to voluntary manslaughter charges

The defenses that your attorney might raise to defend you against voluntary manslaughter charges will depend on the circumstances and facts of what occurred. Your lawyer might examine the evidence and investigate the case to determine whether it might have been a negligent or accidental killing instead of an intentional act. He or she might also look to determine whether you might have been acting in self-defense instead of reacting to provocation and if your beliefs were reasonable.

Your attorney will carefully review the facts to identify all of the defenses that you might be able to raise in your case. If you have been charged with voluntary manslaughter, contact DiCindio Law in West Chester to start building your defense. Fill out our online contact form to request a free consultation.

What Is The Difference Between Acquittal and Dismissal?

Criminal charges can be resolved in a defendant’s favor in a few different ways. Two common ways that defendants can receive favorable outcomes are by being acquitted or by having the charges dismissed. While these both involve the charges ending, they may have different results. If you are facing criminal charges in West Chester, DiCindio Law can explain what you might expect to happen in your case and work to secure the best outcome for you.

Understanding acquittals

Acquittals are when a defendant who has been accused of a crime is found not guilty at a trial. A defendant may be acquitted by a judge following a bench trial or by a jury following a jury trial. To secure a conviction of a defendant, the prosecutor is required to prove every element of the crime to the judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt. A person is acquitted when the prosecution is unable to meet its burden of proof for one or more of the required elements of the crime.

It is common for prosecutors to charge criminal defendants with several offenses. If you have been charged with multiple offenses and receive a not guilty verdict for each of them, you will have been fully acquitted. If you receive a guilty verdict for one offense and a not guilty verdict for another, you will have received a partial acquittal.

Can you be charged again for the same offense after an acquittal?

The Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy clause prohibits the state from retrying you twice for a crime when you have been acquitted. This means that the same court will not be able to try you again for that offense after you have won at a trial.

For example, if you were charged with possession of heroin on a specific date and the jury finds you not guilty of the offense, the prosecutor will not be able to file new charges for possession of heroin on that date again. However, if you are caught with possessing heroin on a different date, the prosecutor could file new charges for the new offense.

When does the double jeopardy clause not apply?

If you are charged for the same offense in both federal and state court, the double jeopardy clause will not apply. This is because these two courts are considered to be separate sovereigns. If you are acquitted in state court of possessing heroin, you can still be tried in federal court for the same offense if the heroin was brought into the state in interstate commerce.

Similarly, if you are convicted in state court for possessing heroin on a specific date, nothing prevents you from being charged and convicted for the same offense in federal court. Some states do not allow defendants who were charged in federal court from later also being charged in state court. However, the U.S. Constitution says nothing about dual prosecutions of defendants in both state and federal courts.

You can also face a civil lawsuit for the same offense even if you have been acquitted of the associated criminal offense. A good example of this is O.J. Simpson. While he was found not guilty of killing Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson in his criminal case, he later was found liable for killing them in civil wrongful death lawsuits that their families filed against him.

Dismissal vs. acquittal

In some cases, criminal charges will be dismissed by the court before the defendants’ guilt is adjudicated. A judge might dismiss a case for multiple reasons, including the following:

  • Lack of probable cause or insufficient evidence for the case to go to trial
  • Evidence was obtained in an unconstitutional manner such as a warrantless search or seizure or by failing to read the defendant his or her Miranda rights or to honor them during a custodial interrogation
  • When the prosecutor engages in egregious misconduct such as hiding exculpatory evidence

Under the Constitution, you have rights against illegal searches, stops, and seizures. The prosecutor is also required to share any exculpatory evidence that is uncovered during the prosecutor’s investigation. If a court finds that the prosecutor deliberately hid evidence, the charges may be dismissed. Similarly, the charges may be dismissed when the court finds that the manner in which the police officers conducted their investigation was unconstitutional.

What happens after a dismissal?

When criminal charges are dismissed, the judge or jury has not had the opportunity to determine whether you are not guilty or guilty by hearing the prosecutor’s case or your defense. Since the defendant’s guilt or innocence has not been determined, the charges can be re-filed at a later date. For example, it is still possible for a prosecutor to charge you again if your charges were dismissed for insufficient evidence. The prosecutor might investigate the case more thoroughly and find additional evidence to use against you. If that occurs within the statute of limitations, the case can be refiled against you.

Get help from a criminal defense attorney

If you are facing criminal charges, you should speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer will evaluate the evidence and work to identify all of the possible defenses that he or she might raise for you. At DiCindio Law, we will explore whether there might be grounds for your case to be dismissed. We can also build a strong defense case for trial or work to secure a favorable plea agreement. Contact our law firm today to schedule an appointment by calling us at 610-430-3535.

Why Are Criminal Charges Dropped or Dismissed?

Some people who are charged with crimes do not ever enter a plea or go to trial. Instead, the charges against them are dismissed by the judge or the prosecutor. One of the first things that a criminal defense lawyer will do is to evaluate whether there might be grounds for a case to be dismissed. Some of these grounds include the following:

  • Improper charging document or criminal complaint
  • No probable cause for the arrest
  • An unconstitutional stop or search
  • Insufficient evidence that a crime was committed by the defendant
  • Unavailability of an indispensable witness for the prosecution
  • Evidence needed to prove that the defendant committed a crime has been lost

In some instances, cases will be dismissed following a loss at trial when a defendant wins on appeal. In others, the charges are dismissed long before a trial. At DiCindio Law, we evaluate clients’ criminal cases carefully to determine whether there might be grounds for their charges to be dismissed.

Lack of probable cause for an arrest

Police officers must have probable cause that people have committed crimes before the officers can arrest them. Police officers are not allowed to arrest people because they have inarticulable hunches that they may have committed crimes. The belief that an officer has must be reasonable and based on facts. For example, if an officer sees a person pulling a gun from his or her waistband, he or she would likely have probable cause for an arrest. By contrast, if an officer sees someone who the officer thinks looks shifty but who is not doing anything that amounts to a crime, he or she would not have probable cause to arrest that person. If the officer still arrested the shifty person and subsequently charged him or her with a crime, the charges would likely be dismissed because of the lack of probable cause. However, if the prosecutor later found other evidence that shows that the person committed the crime, the charges could be re-filed.

Improper charging document

Officers must sign charging documents under oath. State laws dictate the types of information that must be contained in a charging document. If a complaint does not comply with the legal requirements because of a substantial omission or error, the prosecutor is not allowed to fix it to give to the court. If an officer writes an improper charging document and subsequently becomes unavailable, the charges against the defendant may have to be dismissed.

Unconstitutional stop or search

Police officers are only allowed to stop vehicles or people when they have reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime or traffic violation is being committed. For example, an officer can stop a car if a person is speeding but cannot just randomly stop a car because of a person’s race. If an officer stops a vehicle or a person when the officer does not have a reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed, the stop is unconstitutional.

Police officers are only allowed to search houses, cars, and people when they have search warrants unless an exception applies. Police can search people without search warrants when the searches are incident to their arrests. They can also search homes in exigent circumstances such as when they hear screams and violent sounds coming from inside. Officers can also search people when they have reasonable beliefs that the people are carrying deadly weapons. Finally, police can search homes, cars, or people when they are given consent to do so.

If an officer conducts a warrantless search when none of the exceptions apply, any evidence that the officer uncovers during the search cannot be used against the person who is charged. If the court rules that a search or stop was illegal and that the evidence is inadmissible, the defense attorney can ask the court to dismiss the case because the prosecution does not have evidence to prove that the defendant committed the crime.

Lack of evidence

To prove a case against a defendant, the prosecutor must be able to present sufficient evidence to the judge or a grand jury to establish probable cause that the defendant committed a crime. There must be enough evidence to demonstrate a factual and objective basis for believing that a crime was committed by the defendant. If the judge or a grand jury fail to find probable cause, the charges will be dismissed. Prosecutors may also dismiss cases in which they have very limited evidence on their own.

Unavailable witnesses and lost evidence

Charges may be dismissed when key witnesses are unavailable to testify or when some important physical evidence is lost. This may happen because the prosecutor may be unable to prove that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If a witness asserts his or her Fifth Amendment rights because testifying might incriminate him or her or if a witness dies or disappears, the prosecutor might not have enough evidence to prove the charges against the defendant.

In some cases, the identification of the defendant as the person who committed the criminal offense is key to the case. When the key witness is unable to identify the defendant, the prosecutor may not have enough remaining evidence to secure a conviction. When a witness says that he or she is uncertain that the defendant is the person who committed the crime, the prosecutor might decide to dismiss the charges.

Defense attorneys sometimes challenge the method the police used to obtain a witness’s identification of a defendant. For example, if the police used a photo lineup with six people, and the defendant was the only person depicted who was the race of the person who committed the crime, the judge may find that the lineup was improper and exclude the identification testimony.

Prosecutorial discretion

Prosecutors occasionally agree to dismiss criminal charges when extenuating circumstances exist. For example, a prosecutor might dismiss minor charges when questions exist about the facts of what occurred. The charges can be dismissed without prejudice, which would allow the prosecutors to refile the charges later within a specific period if new evidence of the defendant’s guilt is discovered.

In rare cases, a prosecutor might agree to dismiss the charges against a defendant when the victim asks him or her to do so. However, victims do not have the power to determine whether a case should move forward. The state is responsible for pressing charges. However, a prosecutor does have the discretion to determine what a just outcome would be. For example, if a sexual assault victim would undergo severe emotional harm by testifying about what happened to him or her and asks the prosecutor to dismiss the charges against the person who was responsible for the assault, the prosecutor might agree to do so.

Dismissals after successful appeals

When a person loses his or her criminal case at trial, he or she can appeal the verdict. If the appellate court finds that prejudicial error happened in the trial, the verdict may be vacated and the case may then be sent back to the lower court for a new trial. If the prosecutor believes that he or she will not succeed in a new trial, he or she may dismiss the case rather than trying it again.

Appeals court finds insufficient evidence to support the verdict

In some cases, the appellate court will reverse a jury verdict because the jury did not have sufficient evidence to support the finding of guilt. In most cases, the defense attorney will file a motion asking the judge to enter a judgment of acquittal that the judge denies. The defense attorney can make this argument again on appeal and may be successful. When that occurs, the appellate court will direct the trial court to enter a judgment of acquittal.

Lack of jurisdiction

Courts must have jurisdiction to hear the cases that are before them. If a court learns that it does not have jurisdiction to hear a particular case, it will dismiss it.

Contact DiCindio Law

If you have been charged with a crime, getting help from an experienced criminal defense attorney is important. A knowledgeable lawyer from DiCindio Law can review your case and determine whether there might be grounds for the charges to be dismissed. Contact us today to schedule a consultation by calling 610-430-3535.

Is there a difference between theft, robbery, and burglary in Pennsylvania?

Many Pennsylvanians confuse theft, robbery, and burglary. If you are unclear about the differences between these three crimes, you need to learn what they are. Understanding these offenses can help you to avoid being charged with one of them. If you have been arrested and charged with one of these offenses, contact DiCindio Law to learn about your charges and the defenses that might be available to you.

Theft in Pennsylvania

You can be charged with theft if you unlawfully take or exercise control over the moveable property of someone else when you have the intent to deprive him or her permanently of that property. Theft offenses differ from robbery and burglary because they don’t involve making threats to others or trespassing on the property of others. Under the theft law, the property includes anything that has value, and the moveable property is the property that can be moved from one location to another.

Theft by deception

Theft by deception involves obtaining or withholding someone else’s property through the use of deception. With this type of theft, the owner gives you control of the property because of your deception. This might include situations in which you create or reinforce a false impression about the value of the item, your intent regarding the item, or the law. It can also include your failure to correct a false impression that you have created or reinforced.

Theft by extortion

Theft by extortion involves you taking or withholding someone else’s property by threat. The threat that you make might include a threat to commit a crime, a threat to accuse someone else of a crime, a threat to expose a secret, a threat to take official action, a threat to testify in a legal case, or other types of threats that are meant to blackmail the victim.

Theft of mislaid property

Theft of mislaid property involves finding some property that has been lost and keeping it for yourself. This could include finding a $100 bill on the sidewalk and pocketing it instead of taking steps to find its rightful owner. You are required to take steps to find the rightful owner and to wait a specific amount of time before you can lawfully claim the property.

There are many other types of theft, including receiving stolen property, shoplifting, theft of trade secrets, theft of services, and others. If you have been charged with any type of theft, you need to talk to a lawyer at DiCindio Law.

Burglary charges in Pennsylvania

Burglary is considered to be a trespass offense instead of a theft offense. A person commits a burglary when he or she trespasses on the property of another person or business with the intent to commit a crime. Even if you did not enter a home with the intent to steal, you can still be charged with burglary if you intended to commit any other crime. You can be charged with burglary when someone is present and when someone is not present. You can also be charged with burglary when you enter a home or a business.

Robbery charges in Pennsylvania

Robbery is the most serious theft offense. Two types of robbery are recognized in Pennsylvania, including general robbery and force used in the theft of a motor vehicle, which is called robbery of a motor vehicle. You may be charged with a robbery if you threatened another person or injured him or her while you committed a theft. Robbery can also occur when you use force to take something away from someone else such as during a mugging.

Armed robbery involves using a knife, gun, or fake weapon to commit the offense. If you injure the other person, you may also be charged with aggravated assault.

Potential defenses to theft, robbery, and burglary

The Pennsylvania penal code contains some statutory defenses to theft, burglary, and robbery. In addition, other defenses might be available to you. Some of the defenses that you might raise include the following:

  • Self-defense or defense of others such as when you take a gun away from someone to protect yourself and others
  • Preventing a serious crime
  • Necessity
  • Duress
  • Involuntary intoxication
  • Insanity
  • Entrapment

You may also have a defense available to you if you did not intend to permanently deprive someone of their property to a theft charge. For example, if you borrowed something from someone with the intent to return the property, you will have a defense to a theft charge. It is also a defense if you are charged with taking the property of another when you believe that the property is yours. This will require you to present evidence showing why you had a good faith belief that you owned the property.

At DiCindio Law, we understand the rules, laws, and procedures that are needed to defend our clients who are charged with all types of theft offenses as well as with robbery or burglary offenses. We work to stay current with changes in the law so that we are better able to present strong defenses for our clients.

Contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer at DiCindio Law

If you have been charged with theft, robbery, or burglary, you need to retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. You should treat all criminal charges seriously because they can result in lengthy jail or prison sentences, stiff fines, restitution, and other penalties. Even after you have completed your sentence, having a conviction for theft, burglary, or robbery on your criminal record can cause long-lasting collateral consequences. You may have trouble finding employment or housing. By getting help from an attorney at DiCindio Law, you might increase your chances of achieving a successful outcome. Contact us today to schedule an appointment by calling us or by filling out our online contact form.

What Is Felony Drunk Driving / Felony DUI?

In Pennsylvania, most DUI cases are charged as misdemeanor offenses. However, the state passed a stricter law in 2018 that makes certain types of DUIs felonies. There are also circumstances under which other DUIs can result in felony charges. If you are facing felony charges resulting from a DUI, it is important for you to talk to a criminal defense lawyer at DiCindio Law as soon as possible.

The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor DUI offense in Pennsylvania, the penalties that you might face will depend on the level of your charge. Pennsylvania grades its misdemeanor DUI offenses by your blood alcohol concentration. If you had a BAC of 0.08% to 0.099%, you will be charged with a general impairment DUI. If your BAC was 0.10% to 0.159%, you will be charged with a high BAC DUI. if your BAC was 0.16% or higher, you will be charged with a highest BAC DUI.

While the penalties for the high BAC and the highest BAC DUI convictions are more severe than they are for a general impairment DUI, they are still misdemeanors. For your first highest BAC conviction, you face jail time ranging from a minimum of 72 hours up to one year, a fine of $1,000 to $5,000, and other penalties. While these penalties are certainly serious, they are not nearly as severe as what you could face if you are convicted of a felony. A felony conviction can lead to substantial prison sentences instead of serving time in county jail. The fines for felony convictions are also more substantial, and a felony conviction can cause lifelong collateral consequences.

When can a DUI be charged as a felony?

Under the Pennsylvania Act 153 of 2018, the law that establishes Pennsylvania’s felony DUI offense, a DUI may be charged as a felony in some situations. You may be charged with a felony DUI when you have three prior convictions for a DUI at any level within the last 10 years. If you have two prior DUI convictions within the past 10 years and had a minor under the age of 18 in your car, you can also be charged with a felony DUI. This is when your BAC is at least twice the legal limit of 0.08%.

These are now third-degree felony offenses under 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3803. Under Pa.C.S.A. § 15.66, a conviction for a third-degree felony can result in a prison sentence of up to 7 years.

DUI for an accident that causes serious injuries

If you are charged with a DUI for an accident that caused serious injuries to others, you may be charged with aggravated assault with a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. This is charged as a second-degree felony under 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3735.1. The maximum prison term for a conviction of a second-degree felony offense in Pennsylvania is 10 years.

DUI for an accident that causes a fatality

If you were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and cause an accident that results in the death of someone else, you may be charged with homicide by vehicle while under the influence. A conviction for this offense may be a second or a first-degree felony, depending on the circumstances. Under 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3735, a conviction may be a second-degree felony that carries a minimum sentence of three years in prison up to 10 years in prison. If you are convicted of another DUI offense while your sentence for homicide while driving under the influence charge, the offense will be a first-degree felony. This may result in a sentence that has a maximum of more than 10 years. There are also different minimum sentences. You will face a minimum of five years in prison if you incurred one prior conviction while you were waiting to be sentenced. You may also receive consecutive sentences of five years each for each person who was killed.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is treated harshly under Pennsylvania law whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony offense. However, the stakes for you are much higher when you are charged with a felony for your DUI offense. If you are convicted of a felony, you may face a sentence of years in prison combined with substantial fines and a loss of your driving privileges.

Even after you have finished your sentence, you may face ongoing consequences for having a felony on your record. The collateral consequences of a felony DUI conviction could include having difficulty finding work, the loss of a professional license, inability to get security clearances, trouble finding an apartment, and humiliation. When you have the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney at DiCindio Law, you may be able to secure a more favorable outcome to your charges. Fill out our online contact form today to request a consultation so that you can learn more about the options that might be available to you.

Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground Law: What You Need To Know

“Stand your ground” laws have been particularly divisive ever since the case involving the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012. Some critics of these laws have referred to them as “shoot first” laws. Proponents of these laws argue that innocent people are kept out of prison because of them. While these laws might be controversial, they may help people who are charged with homicide or assault for defending themselves. It is important for you to understand the rules that apply to these laws and how they might impact your case’s outcome. If these laws might apply to you, the criminal defense lawyers at DiCindio Law may be able to help you to assert them in your defense.

What is a “stand your ground” law?

Florida passed the first “stand your ground” law in 2005. Many states have passed their own similar laws since that time, including Pennsylvania. Under Pa. Cons. Stat. § 505(b)(2.3), a person who is not acting in a criminal manner and who is not illegally possessing a firearm who is attacked in an area in which he or she would normally have a duty to retreat has a right to stand his or her ground and to use force to protect himself or herself, including deadly force. However, this exclusion to the duty to retreat only applies if the person had the right to be in the place where he or she was. He or she must reasonably believe that using force was necessary to protect against imminent serious bodily injury, death, sexual intercourse, or kidnapping. The attacker must also have been armed with a real gun, an imitation gun, or another lethal weapon such as a knife at the time that the person stood his or her ground.

A serious bodily injury is an injury that may cause permanent disfigurement, a high risk of death, or that causes an impairment of the function of an organ or a body part. This means that Pennsylvania’s stand your ground law does not apply to an ordinary bodily injury such as a minor laceration. In cases in which the person had an imminent fear of an ordinary bodily injury, he or she would not be able to raise the stand your ground law as a defense.

For the weapon that the attacker has, it must be something that the person sees.  Other states may not require that the person sees a weapon in the attacker’s possession.

Using deadly force and stand your ground laws

There are some restrictions on Pennsylvania’s stand your ground law that are important to defendants who are facing charges of assault or homicide. Using deadly force will not be considered to be justifiable in situations in which the person who used the force was not defending herself or himself against serious bodily injury, death, sexual intercourse, or kidnapping.

In other circumstances people are not required to retreat from their own homes or workplaces unless they provoked the attack or were attacked by a coworker that they knew at their jobs. Not having to retreat while you are in your own home is also called the castle doctrine. The exceptions to your duty to retreat will not apply if you used force against an on-duty police officer who you knew or should have known was an officer.

Contact DiCindio Law

If you are facing serious charges for homicide or assault for defending yourself after you were attacked, it is important for you to learn whether you might be able to assert a defense under the state’s stand your ground law. The experienced criminal defense lawyers at DiCindio Law can review the facts of your case and help you to understand whether the stand your ground law might apply or if a different defense might be available to you. Contact our office today by calling 610.430.3535 to learn about the options that you might have.


DISCLAIMER
The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.

Michael D. DiCindio, Esq. is a West Chester criminal defense lawyer and personal injury attorney who represents individuals accused of crimes or injured by the negligence of others throughout all of Chester County, including West Chester, Phoenixville, Malvern, Coatesville, Paoli, Downingtown, Tredyffrin, West Goshen, Honey Brook, Oxford, Devon, Pottstown, Chesterbrook, Parkesburg, Kennett Square, and Avondale