What is Phoenix Court?
The Pittsburgh Criminal System has a number of specialty Courts. Phoenix Court is a deferment program similar to ARD, but designed for repeat offenders. It provides you the option to plead guilty to one or more of the offenses charged and avoid going to jail.
If you have read my post on Preliminary Hearings, you know that one of your options at the Prelim is to plead to the charged crime(s) or a lesser included offense. The option to plead guilty and avoid trial exists throughout the entire criminal process, even through trial, until a jury finds you guilty or innocent. Years ago, criminal defense attorneys were complaining that the Prosecution was offering awful plea agreements to defendants in exchange for going to trial. As a result, a few legislators headed to Phoenix, Arizona to learn about their deferment program. The result is Phoenix Court.
Who Qualifies for Phoenix Court?
Phoenix Court is designed for repeat offenders. That means you have been charged with crimes multiple times. A common example is a DUI. The first time you are charged with a DUI, under most circumstances, you are eligible for ARD. But, what about the second or third time? If you are charged with a DUI for the second or third time within 10 years, you are looking at significant jail time if you are found guilty. However, through Phoenix Court, you have the option to avoid jail.
What Can You Expect From Phoenix Court?
Phoenix Court will offer you the best possible plea agreement in exchange for going to trial. Once past your preliminary hearing, you will be formally arraigned on your charges. If you qualify for Phoenix Court, you will receive your plea offer at your formal arraignment. Your offer may include two choices. One choice may include house arrest, classes, and fines. The other option may include jail time, classes, and fines. The offer of house arrest will be longer than the offer of jail time. You will also receive a date for your Phoenix Court hearing. You will have to decide whether to take the Phoenix plea by that date.
What Happens After Your Phoenix Court Date?
If you choose to take one of the Phoenix pleas, you will plead guilty to the charge or charges in the Phoenix Agreement. The judge will walk you through the agreement and will find you guilty of the crime(s). The judge will then sentence you according to the Phoenix Agreement. You will have to report to Probation after sentencing to receive more information.
What are the Drawbacks to Phoenix Court?
The first drawback is that you can never be sure if you will qualify for Phoenix Court. The Prosecutor’s office has never published official guidelines for Phoenix Court. An experienced Criminal Defense Attorney will have an idea of what crimes and what facts typically qualify for Phoenix Court, but will never be able to guarantee it. You will have to be prepared to take your case to trial in order to determine if Phoenix Court is an option for you.
Another drawback is that you will have to plead guilty to a crime in order to be accepted into the Phoenix Program. Unlike ARD, where you may have your record expunged, you will have a permanent record after Phoenix Court. This permanent record will follow you.
What Should You Do?
You should contact an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney as soon as possible. Too many people wait until the last minute or later to contact an attorney. Sometimes, it can be too late to go back and fix the mistakes.
When you call my office, I will set up a time to sit down and evaluate your case. I will listen to all of your facts and determine your best options. If you decide to retain me as your attorney, I will be there for you every step of the way to make sure you do not give up more rights than are necessary. I will counsel you in deciding whether to plead or fight your case at the Preliminary Hearing, whether to accept a Phoenix Offer, or whether to fight for your freedom at trial.
Call (412) 209-0657 and ask for Matthew Becker.