Criminal action is a very unique type of action in our society. First there must be a specific criminal statute to which the acts are a violation of; and the Government must prove each and every element beyond a reasonable doubt in order for the jury to find the defendant guilty.
Juries do not find individuals charged, who are referred to as defendants, innocent. They merely find that there are unable to determine his/her guilt. There is no verdict of innocent in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
No one can be charged with a criminal offense unless there is an actual criminal statute which was violated. Acts that have not yet been determine to be criminal may be taken and no charges may be brought.
This office has represented individuals who were charged, commonly referred to as defendants, in cases from the highest, namely a first degree homicide with the request by the Commonwealth for a death penalty, down to what can be described as the least offensive and that would be a disorderly conduct summary offense.
Each criminal case and the charges therein are unique to the circumstances involved in that case. There is no common law like in the tort area in the criminal law area in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Statute must be specific, the proof must be to each and every element of the Statute and the proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict.
It is stated in the Pennsylvania Constitution as it is in the United States Constitution that an individual charged, a defendant, is innocent until proven guilty. That is a legal principle of law although from a practical standpoint there are cases wherein the defendants must prove their innocence given the information and/or testimony of the Commonwealth. Additionally under the Constitution, the Pennsylvania and the United States, an individual who has been charged with an offense, namely a defendant, is not required and cannot be required to testify against himself/herself in the matter. The defendant who does not testify in a jury trial can request a charge to be given to the jury reminding the jury that he/she is not required to testify and the fact that he/she did not testify cannot be used against said defendant to infer any guilty or any other thing as related to the outstanding charge.
All criminal charges under the statutes have a proscribed penalty by listing the crime in a certain class. Those classes would be either a Felony or a Misdemeanor. The minor crimes would be classified as a Summary offense. Summary offenses have a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and/or $ 300.00 fine and are generally handled by the District Court in the Commonwealth.
The major crimes classes each have 3 separate classes. There is a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree in both Felonies and Misdemeanors. Based on the class the maximum sentences is determined both as it relates to jail time but also the amount of maximum fine under that statute.