criminal

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.)

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.

Database of Pa. Court Records Now Available via Mobile App

From Betty Ward, Law Librarian

Monday, October 31, 2011

A new mobile app allows smartphone users to search for crimes people have committed in Pennsylvania, from illegal parking to murder.

Docket In Your Pocket, which is available for iPhones, iPads and Android devices and sells for $2.99 on all platforms, allows users to search by name through a database of 32.5 million court records dating to 2000.

The records, drawn from the state judiciary's database of court dockets, include information about minor offenses, such as traffic tickets and noise violations, in addition to robberies, drug charges, assaults, rapes and murders. The app's inventor, Matt Haindfield, 40, said the app may be useful to singles for vetting dates and to parents for checking up on baby sitters.

The app also includes data about civil disputes of $12,000 or less, allowing users to search to see if, for example, a company was sued for violating a contract, Mr. Haindfield said. He is working county by county to make civil disputes of more than $12,000 available.

Mr. Haindfield, a civil litigation attorney in Iowa, said he thought of the app when he suspected a witness in a case to be lying about his criminal background. During a break in the witness's deposition, Mr. Haindfield attempted to search for the witness's criminal records on his iPhone.

"When operating in the mobile environment, it was very difficult, almost impossible, to get the information I needed," he said. Unable to find an existing app, he originally devised Docket in Your Pocket to be a tool for lawyers before realizing its potential general applications.

He started with Pennsylvania because the state's criminal data was already easily available and because the state has a large population of smartphone users, Mr. Haindfield said. He plans to launch similar apps in each state over the next few months, starting with other states with large populations of smartphone users and accessible court data, such as California, he said.

After that, he plans to release a "master app" that will search criminal records in all states, and possibly create similar software for other platforms in the future, such as a browser-based application, he said.

"We do have some ambitious development goals," he said.

Practice Tip of the Week

Dan JosephPractice Tip of the Week

by Dan Joseph, Esquire

In both civil and criminal cases, hiring your own investigator is mandatory for proper pre-trial preparation. The investigator should take statements, signed and dated on all pages and an acknowledgment by the witness that this is in fact his or her statement. This allows the statement to be used not just for impeachment but for substantive evidence. Most important is that the investigator take statements even from those witnesses that have given statements to either the police or insurance investigator. It is amazing how the statements will differ depending on what questions are asked and how they are asked. Do not ever simply accept the statements of witnesses contained in police reports without taking your own statements from those witnesses. To avoid becoming a witness in your own trial, always use an investigator to take the statements. That way if their trial testimony differs from the statement, you can always call the investigator to testify. It is very effective when you place the investigator’s credentials before the jury and then have the investigator tell the judge or jury what the witness told them.

Dan Joseph is a partner with New Kensington law firm of George and Joseph. Dan has been in practice for 38 years.

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