Pennsylvania Supreme Court strengthens witness protection

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is allowing indicting grand juries to be used statewide in certain cases to enhance safeguards against witness intimidation.

Under a new set of Rules of Criminal Procedure, an indicting grand jury would be permitted in lieu of preliminary hearings in cases in which witness intimidation has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur. Judicial districts abandoned the use of indicting grand juries nearly 20 years ago in favor of other procedural options authorized under an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution. The new rules permit their resumption.

Any of Pennsylvania’s 60 judicial districts could petition the Supreme Court for approval to use the new procedures under the rules that take effect in 180 days. Once Supreme Court approval is given to a district, a prosecutor could seek approval of the president judge on a case-by-case basis to use an indicting grand jury, but only in cases involving witness intimidation.

“The intimidation of witnesses in criminal proceedings threatens the integrity of the criminal justice system and puts justice at risk,” Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille said in announcing the new rules. “Providing more flexibility to ensure the safety of witnesses who come forward to testify in cases involving violent acts recognizes their personal safety and promotes greater trust and confidence in the judicial system.”

A “grand” jury is so named because 23 jurors and up to 15 alternates would serve on the panel, rather than the standard 12-member trial jury. An indicting grand jury determines whether to indict the defendant, so that the defendant would face trial in the Court of Common Pleas. The new rules do not impact the defendant’s constitutional right to confrontation since the defendant is still entitled to confront his or her accusers at trial. Indicting grand juries are used in a number of other states and federal courts.

The effort to curtail witness intimidation came from a panel of legal experts the Supreme Court appointed to address issues challenging the Philadelphia criminal court system. The commission of judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers, led by Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, recommended re-instituting the indicting grand jury in Pennsylvania as a way to address the problem of witness intimidation.

The comprehensive set of new rules and related rules changes incorporating the recommended procedures was developed by the Supreme Court’s advisory Criminal Procedural Rules Committee.

(For a copy of the new rules:

Register of Wills increases fees effective July 1, 2012

Effective July 1, 2012, the Register of Wills fee schedule goes into effect. The new fee schedules will be available June 15th. Feel free to pick one up at the Register of Wills office or they can mail them to you. Call Cindy at 724.830.3183 for a copy or for any questions.

Notice on Civil/Orphans' Court Motions

Judge McCormick, Jr., will hear motions on June 8, 2012, for Judge Caruso. On June 15, 2012, Judge Caruso will not hear motions.

Notice from the Register of Wills

Change to Renunciation Forms regarding an estate effective immediately. If the renunciation is filled out in the office, no notarization is required. However, if the form is filled out prior to coming into the office, the form must be properly notarized.

Attention Court-Appointed Counsel

The guidelines for court appointed counsel have been updated effective immediately and are available from the Court Administrator’s office, Room M10. If you do not have a copy of the revised guidelines, please come to the Court Administrator’s to obtain a copy. There are important changes to the billing process. Thank you!

Retention of Paper and Electronic Court Records to be Consistent Under New Guidelines

HARRISBURG—The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania is taking steps to ensure that the retention of electronic magisterial district court case records be consistent with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s Record Retention and Disposition Schedule with Guidelines, beginning April 1. The Supreme Court’s schedule standardized the retention of official court records and generally requires:

  • summary case records be retained for three years after final disposition or final payment of all court assessments;
  • criminal case records be retained for seven years after final disposition or after the date they were held or waived for Common Pleas court;
  • civil and landlord tenant case records be retained for seven years after entry of satisfaction of judgment; final disposition, or if appealed, seven years from the result of the appeal;
  • miscellaneous case records be retained three years after the case was filed in the magisterial district court.

For example, magisterial district court records concerning a conviction for a minor traffic offense will no longer be available in paper or electronic record form three years following final payment of all court assessments.

Notice on Civil/Orphans' Court Motions

Judge McCormick, Jr. will not be hearing civil or orphans’ court motions on the following Fridays: April 13, 2012, April 20, 2012, May 25, 2012, June 1, 2012, August 24, 2012, and September 14, 2012. Judge McCormick, Jr. will hear civil and orphans’ court motions on the following Thursdays: April 12, 2012, May 31, 2012, and September 13, 2012, at 9:00 am. Please mark your calendars accordingly.

Judge Caruso, Judge Marsili, and Judge McCormick, Jr., will not be hearing civil or orphans’ court motions on Friday, April 20, 2012.

All PA Criminal Courts Now Accepting Credit, Debit Card Payments Online

All PA Criminal Courts Now Accepting Credit, Debit Card Payments Online

District Judge Computer System Upgrade Complete; Internet Payments, Increased Access, among New Features Improving Court Efficiency

HARRISBURG –Traffic tickets and other court-ordered fines, costs and restitution issued anywhere in Pennsylvania can now be paid online with a credit or debit card at one convenient location on the state judiciary’s Web portal site .

The courts online payment feature, known as “e-Pay,” was expanded to all magisterial district courts with the installation of a new system between April 2010 and December 2011, creating, for the first time, a one-stop shop for defendants to make multiple magisterial district court and Common Pleas payments on the Internet with a single transaction fee of only $2.75.

“By providing an easy way to settle court-ordered costs, defendants can avoid facing arrests, contempt of court proceedings, driver’s license suspensions and/or additional collection agencies fees,” said Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille.

The state’s Common Pleas courts began offering e-Pay in 2010, and with its expansion to all magisterial district courts by the end of 2011, it is increasingly becoming the method of choice for defendants paying court-ordered fines, fees, costs and restitution. Daily collections through the online payment option have climbed to $140,000, and Chief Justice Castille said it appears to be contributing to higher court collection levels that totaled nearly $470 million in 2011. (See recently released court disbursement reports.)

Legal and Health Care Professionals Invited to Event

The Saint Thomas More and Saint Luke Societies of the Diocese of Greensburg invite legal and health care professionals to attend "A Lenten Evening of Recollection" on Wednesday, March 14, 2012, at 6:30 PM in the Bishop Connare Center, Parlor Room.

The featured speaker is the Very Reverend Lawrence A. DiNardo, VE, JCL, Vicar for Canonical Services, Director, Department of Canon and Civil Law Services, Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The theme for the evening will be "The New Evangelization: Really New or Rediscovered?"

Please RSVP to (724) 552-2644.

To receive notices of future events directly, provide your e-mail address to: For notice of St. Luke Society events, send an e-mail to For notice of St. Thomas More Society events, send an e-mail to

Attention Court-Appointed Attorneys

Pursuant to the court appointed attorney guidelines, court appointed counsel is asked to submit Fee Petitions on a timely basis. For criminal cases, fee petitions should be submitted at the conclusion of the preliminary hearing and quarterly thereafter for each case, excluding capital cases, which shall be submitted monthly.  For family cases, petitions should be submitted after each review hearing and/or case disposition. If you need a copy of the current guidelines, please contact the Court Administrator’s Office, Danielle Frye, at 724.830.3393.

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