Criminal Defense Attorneys for Harassment Charges in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
FIGHT BACK AGAINST CRIMINAL HARASSMENT CHARGES
The Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers of Goldstein Mehta LLC can help you or your loved one with criminal harassment charges in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Our defense attorneys recognize that even misdemeanor and summary offenses can have significant consequences because of the fact that any criminal conviction can result in jail time or probation. A conviction can also make it extremely difficult to obtain employment. We have extensive experience representing clients in these types of sensitive cases. We know the defenses to these charges, and our criminal lawyers have proven track records of obtaining successful results. Our criminal defense lawyers offer a 15-minute criminal defense strategy session to every potential client who is facing charges of harassment or any other criminal charges. Call 267-225-2545 today for a free consultation with one of our award-winning defense attorneys.
WHAT IS CRIMINAL HARASSMENT?
CONTACT ONE OF OUR PHILADELPHIA HARASSMENT LAWYERS NOW
Depending on the allegations, harassment is either a misdemeanor charge or summary offense under Pennsylvania law. It is similar to simple assault in that it can often involve pushing, striking, or making physical contact with someone. However, instead of requiring that the defendant cause or attempt to cause bodily injury, the statute requires only that the defendant have the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another. Many criminal defendants who are charged with simple assault also find themselves charged with harassment because of the similarities in the statutes.
Because the statute requires a lesser mens rea in terms of not requiring the government to prove that the defendant intended to cause bodily injury, it may be easier for the government to prove that the defendant committed harassment than it is for the government to prove that the defendant committed a simple assault. Harassment also has a lower gradation than simple assault and is typically a misdemeanor of the third degree or a summary offense.
Under state law, harassment is considered a less serious offense when compared to simple assault because a new Pennsylvania law permits defendants with a misdemeanor of the third degree conviction to seek an expungement of the conviction after ten years if the defendant does not get arrested again during that time period. This law went into effect in 2016, and it is known as Pennsylvania's Limited Access Order Law. It allows a defendant who has been convicted of many different ungraded misdemeanors, misdemeanors of the third degree, and certain misdemeanors of the second degree to obtain a court order sealing the record of the conviction. Although the conviction still exists and may be revealed to law enforcement and state licensing agencies, the conviction information will generally not be available to potential private employers. Therefore, there are big differences between the two types of convictions.
What Type of Conduct Results in Harassment Charges?
The prosecution may bring charges when defendants are accused of pushing police officers or resisting arrest. In that scenario, it is often charged as a lesser offense along with simple assault and aggravated assault charges. It is also commonly seen on its own or along with disorderly conduct charges. In general, it could involve following someone, pushing someone, or engaging in some other type of behavior intended to cause alarm or annoyance.
Finally, it is commonly seen along with stalking charges because harassment does not always involve physical conduct. Instead, it can also include behavior that is commonly thought of as stalking, and it is often charged as a lesser included offense of stalking. Stalking typically involves a course of conduct, but harassment charges can arise from only one incident.
For example, if the defendant acts with the intent to annoy or alarm someone and follows the person, engages in a course of conduct, or communicates lewd things or threats about the person, those types of behaviors could lead to a harassment case. The statute is very broad and potentially covers a wide variety of behavior. This makes it absolutely critical that you retain a defense lawyer who knows the elements of the statute and relevant case law. Retaining an experienced defense attorney will maximize your chances of successfully defending against criminal charges. Our top-rated Philadelphia, PA criminal defense lawyers have the necessary experience and skill to fight all types of allegations.
WHAT HAPPENS AT A TRIAL ON HARASSMENT CHARGES?
The type of trial that will occur in a harassment case depends on the jurisdiction in which the defendant was charged. In the suburban counties, misdemeanor charges are treated the same as felony charges and most defendants have the right to a preliminary hearing. If a case is held for court at the preliminary hearing, then it will proceed to the Court of Common Pleas for trial before a judge or jury.
In Philadelphia, however, misdemeanors are treated very different from felonies in ways that often benefit the defendant. If the charges are brought in Philadelphia, then the case will be heard in the Philadelphia Municipal Court. This is because all misdemeanor cases are initially heard by a Municipal Court judge instead of tried to a jury.
Municipal Court trials proceed in much the same way as a jury trial or bench trial in the Court of Common Pleas, and all of the normal Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence apply. However, the main difference between a Municipal Court trial and a Court of Common Pleas trial is that the defendant does not have the right to a jury at the Municipal Court level. If the Municipal Court judge finds the defendant guilty, the defendant can automatically appeal for a trial de novo in the Court of Common Pleas before a different, higher-ranking judge or before a jury.
As soon as the defendant files the notice of appeal for a trial de novo, the Municipal Court conviction is immediately vacated as if it never occurred. At the trial de novo, the defendant receives a brand new trial as if the trial in the lower court never happened, and the defendant may choose to have the case decided by a Common Pleas judge or by a jury. However, the transcripts from the Municipal Court trial may still be used to impeach the witnesses at the trial in the Court of Common Pleas. This makes the Municipal Court trial in some ways the equivalent of a preliminary hearing.
In some cases, if it is clear that the evidence was insufficient at the Municipal Court trial and the judge made a mistake in finding the defendant guilty, it is even possible to file a Motion to Quash (also known as a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the suburban counties) the charges in the court of Common Pleas. If the Motion to Quash is granted, then the Common Pleas Court judge will dismiss the charges without a trial. Strict speedy trial rules also apply to de novo appeals from the Municipal Court in that the prosecution must bring the defendant to trail within 120 days of the filing of the de novo appeal. If the prosecution is not ready to proceed at the first lisitng on appeal, it may not be able to comply with the speedy trail statute (Rule 1013).
Most criminal defendants do not appeal cases from the Municipal Court to the Common Pleas Court because Common Pleas judges tend to give tougher sentences following a conviction, but if the defendant truly wants to fight the case at every possible opportunity, then the Commonwealth must convict the defendant twice in order to obtain a final conviction. The Commonwealth must first convict the defendant in the Municipal Court and then again in the Court of Common Pleas if the defendant demands a new trial. In rare cases, the Commonwealth may demand a jury in the Municipal Court, and the Municipal Court trial would then be cancelled and replaced by a preliminary hearing. The prosecution typically only does this in DUI cases involving a second or subsequent offense.
Defenses to Harassment Charges
Our top-rated Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers have handled countless misdemeanor cases and cases involving harassment charges in the Philadelphia Municipal Court and surrounding counties. We have obtained full acquittals at trial, successfully won cases through the strategic use of pre-trial motions, and our experienced criminal attorneys have also been able to obtain entry into diversionary programs like ARD and AMP for our clients when the circumstances warranted it.
Potential defenses to these charges could include:
- Lack of intent
- Sufficiency of the evidence
The actual defenses which we would raise in a specific case will vary depend on the nature of the allegations and evidence in the case. For example, in some cases, it may be possible to show through cross examination that the complainant has fabricated the allegations and the defendant did not actually commit the crime. Likewise, it may be possible to show that the defendant was not acting with the requisite intent to harass, annoy, or alarm or that the defendant had a legitimate reason for engaging in the conduct.
Finally, these cases may also raise free speech concerns under the First Amendment. It is not constitutional for the government to prosecute a defendant merely because the recipient of the defendant's speech does not like the speech. Instead, the government must actually prove that the defendant acted with the requisite level of intent and that the defendant's speech was not constitutionally protected speech. For example, criminal harassment charges for yelling mean things at a politician would likely raise First Amendment concerns which could lead to an acquittal depending on the facts of the case. Thus, depending on the case, the First Amendment could provide a defense to criminal charges. Each case is different and requires a thorough evaluation of the discovery and investigation into the allegations against the defendant.
SENTENCING FOR HARASSMENT CONVICTIONS
Even though harassment is only a misdemeanor, if you are facing charges, it is critical that you hire experienced and talented criminal defense counsel to assist in your defense. Misdemeanor convictions can be damaging to a person's ability to obtain employment, professional certifications, financial aid, or lawful immigration status. Misdemeanors often do not result in jail time in the Philadelphia Municipal Court, but the collateral consequences can still be devastating. If the sentencing judge finds the behavior involved sufficiently distasteful or the defendant has a particularly nasty criminal record, it is possible to receive jail time for a misdemeanor conviction.
It is critically important that if you are facing charges, you speak with one of our attorneys so that we can review the allegations against you, investigate the case, and determine the best possible options for you. Our defense lawyers have tried hundreds, if not thousands, of cases in the Philadelphia Municipal Court with great success. We also have extensive experience in negotiating with the District Attorney's Office for admission into pre-trial diversionary programs or pleas to lesser offenses and/or sentences.
Call Our Top-Rated Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorneys Today
If you or a loved one are facing charges of harassment or any other misdemeanor charge in the Philadelphia Municipal Court or the surrounding counties, call 267-225-2545 today for a complimentary criminal defense strategy session. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys are often available for same-day phone consultations or in-person meetings so that we can start investigating, obtaining exculpatory evidence, and building a defense immediately. We have experience trying hundreds, if not thousands, of these cases, and we have a tremendous record of success. If you are facing criminal charges, we can help you get the best possible outcome in your case.
The Harassment Statute
§ 2709. Harassment.
(a) Offense defined.--A person commits the crime of harassment when, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another, the person:
(1) strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects the other person to physical contact, or attempts or threatens to do the same;
(2) follows the other person in or about a public place or places;
(3) engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which serve no legitimate purpose;
(4) communicates to or about such other person any lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures;
(5) communicates repeatedly in an anonymous manner;
(6) communicates repeatedly at extremely inconvenient hours; or
(7) communicates repeatedly in a manner other than specified in paragraphs (4), (5) and (6).