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Navigating the Justice System

Justice Process and Intervention and Opportunities Map

The following infographics are designed to be a resource for supporters to aid in understanding the justice system and identifying places to engage, advocate and/or intervene.

It is recommended that you complete the Prezi “Justice Process and Intervention Opportunities Map Self-Guided Tutorial” prior to using these resources. Click the button below to view the Prezi.

PREZI

This is the phase where proactive strategies should be considered prior to an individual entering the system and mitigate the risk of incarceration. Points of intervention may include: ​

  • Offer evidence-based trainings to prepare law enforcement to interact and engage with individuals with Autism, I/DD or MH diagnoses.
  • Introduce individual to police and local crisis staff.
  • Assess individual for potential risk and develop strategies to mitigate.
  • Prepare card with emergency contacts and numbers to keep in wallet.
  • Ensure they understand the meanings of, “you have the right to remain silent” and “you have the right to an attorney”.
  • Reduce rates of recidivism with supports for housing and employment.
  • Teach the importance of sharing diagnoses and self disclosure.
  • Utilize social stories as a strategy to assist in preparing for justice
    scenarios.

Even when these strategies are used to help prevent crime, an individual may still be involved in a crime or thought to have been involved in a crime.  At that point the following actions take place:

  • After the report of a suspected criminal act, a pre-arrest. investigation takes place. At this stage, law enforcement investigate whether or not a crime has occurred and if an arrest should be made.
  • If they determine that there is not sufficient evidence to pursue the matter, no arrest is made. This means the individual can stay out of the system, resulting in diversion.
  • Or, they may be referred to a health care of behavioral setting which is referred to as diversion.
  • If the investigation determines there is sufficient evidence to pursue to matter, the individual will receive a summons to appear in court.

This is the phase where someone will be alerted that the individual has entered the justice system. Often times, the call is received by a family  member. Points of intervention may include:

  • Respond to crisis and/or police department.
  • Contact emergency diversion unit, mobile crisis, or peer specialist.
  • Encourage police to take individual to stabilization unit, walk-in service or respite instead of jail.
  • Prep individual for processing phase.
  • Contact the jail and ask them for their process for how you can stay up to date on the current status of the individual (website, phone number, etc.).

If you aren’t able to divert the individual from the previous phase and they are arrested and taken into custody, the following actions take place:

  • Miranda rights are read to the individual and they should be asking to have an attorney appointed to represent them.
  • After this processing needs to occur which starts with a drive through the Sally Port. This is where law enforcement takes an accused individual for the actual processing step. It’s essentially compared to taking someone to a back door of a building, similar to a large garage door. The location where processing happens tends to be loud and overwhelming and could be over-stimulating for someone with sensory sensitives.
  • Once the individual is taken through the Sally Port, the actual processing begins. This phase can take up to 10 hours to complete and will include fingerprints, photos, and medical screening. The individual is usually placed in a holding cell in the local police department or County Jail until the next phase in the process.

This is the phase where it’s important to begin working on the points of intervention at the beginning of this phase, in order for the individual’s counsel to actually use the information provided to them around the time of the bail or detention hearing step. Points of intervention may include:

  • If State supports are not involved, they need to be at this level. Contact defense counsel so they have the appropriate contact information and request that you (and anyone else identified) be added to the individual’s visitor list.
  • Review updates to case, including information about the defense counsel by locating the docket sheet: https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/DocketSheets/CP.aspx
    *De-identify: name, MJ#, and MDJ# for consults
  • Engage the public defender or private defense counsel in (1)identifying necessary medication the individual may need and (2) offering helpful information for the interview with the Behavioral Unit and (3) explain the importance of utilizing social stories as a strategy to assist in preparing for justice scenarios.
  • Identify if a competency evaluation is needed or already occurring.
  • Inform defense counsel of services being put into place and discuss what progress the participant is able to make in
    order for a dismissal or a withdrawal to occur.
  • Discuss completion of a Petition of Competency Evaluation and ARD with the defense before the Adjudication phase.

In this phase the following actions take place:

  • Interview with Pre-Trial Services and/ or Behavioral Unit. At this step, the individual is interviewed in order to gather and analyze background information. The information obtained is then used to make recommendations to the Court concerning bail, release, and other decisions.
  • Charges are then filed and,
  • The preliminary arraignment takes place which is essentially where the judge summarizes the charges that have been made against the defendant and sets bond (usually with conditions for release).
  • The bail or detention hearing is a critical area for intervention! Meaning the points of intervention strategies listed above are going to be beneficial during this step.
  • The preliminary hearing is where the judge determines from the evidence whether there was (a) an offense that has been committed; and (b) the defendant has committed it.

Up to this point, the individual has been in the Magisterial District Court. However, this is the last phase where they will be in this type of court.

This is the first phase that takes place in the Court of Common Pleas. Points of intervention may include:

  • Offer to assist defense counsel in presentence investigation stage.
  • Create a detailed Transition Plan and provide to the defense counsel for presentence investigation.
  • Continue to offer assistance to the defense counsel in the petition to evaluate competency.

In this phase the following actions take place:

  • The formal arraignment is held, and there are two options moving forward. These include Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) or Competency Evaluation.
  • ARD is an intervention program designed for first-time, nonviolent offenders. It is not considered a conviction and does not require jail time. ARD results in probation and diversion from the system.
  • If ARD is not appropriate for the individual they would continue from the formal arraignment into pretrial motions and pre-trial conference which is where the trial date is scheduled and choice of judge or jury is made.
  • If the case is going to trial, the individual may have a competency evaluation completed. This is an evaluation to determine if the individual is competent to stand trial.
  • If a person is not competent to stand trial, they should not be convicted of a crime. To quickly evaluate competency,  consider whether the individual comprehends what it means to be in jail or plead guilty to a crime. If comprehension is in question, the defense needs to consider a petition for competency assessment before the plea and sentencing take place.

  • If the individual is determined incompetent, they divert to the route of treatment.

  • If they are considered competent, they continue the route of a trial or they could go the route of a Change of Plea hearing, also referred to as a Change of Plea Hearing or “colloquy”.

  • The judge can accept the changed plea or reject it. If rejected the case will proceed to trial.

  • The Change of Plea Hearing or a guilty verdict from trial moves the individual to the next phase.

This phase is where the Pre-Sentence Investigation and sentencing occurs. Points of intervention may include:

  • Engage with defense counsel to see if any external support is needed.
  • Initiate an introduction with the social worker.
  • Request to be a part of Department of Corrections treatment team.

In this phase the following actions take place:

  • Pre-Sentencing Investigation which refers to the investigation by the Probation Office into the history of the convicted person.
  • This occurs before sentencing to determine if there are aggravating or mitigating circumstances for the judge to consider before a sentence is imposed.
  • The Sentencing/Appeal step is where the judge imposes a sentence.
  • If counsel decides to appeal the decision, there is another opportunity for diversion.

This is the phase where if the person was convicted and it resulted in jail or prison time, they will have completed their sentence and are now at the max out step or parole step. Points of intervention may include:

  • Within Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) system, start communication with Department of Human Services (DHS), Department of  Corrections (DOC) and County Probation Department.
  • Communicate with defense counsel to ensure plans of terms of release are planned and/or established.
  • Begin prepping necessary paperwork for release (ex. program intake, MA, etc.).
  • Secure housing and employment opportunities.

In this phase the following actions take place:

  • Complete their sentence (max out) or are placed on parole.
  • Apply for applicable state programs.
  • At the end of this phase if they have successfully completed their parole or max out their sentence, they are now out of the criminal justice system.

This is the phase where the individual is officially out of the criminal justice system. If proper supports and services are not in place at this point, you will want to make this a priority. Points of intervention may include:

  • Contact County Assistance Office and ensure Medical Assistance is getting started again.
  • Apply for applicable ODP programs, if this were not started in previous stages.
  • Assist in the preparation of home, medical and/or job plans for release.
  • Be mindful of individuals who experience residual trauma as a result of the experience and ensure strategies are in place to address it.

 

Justice System Process Appendix

Typical Cases in PA judiciary System

Criminal Case: a violation of the criminal law and considered an offense against the community. In a criminal case, an individual can be charged with a felony, misdemeanor or summary offense. Felony charges, such as murder and arson, carry the most severe penalties, while misdemeanors and summary offenses carry lesser penalties. Individuals may be perpetrators, victims or witnesses.

Civil Case and Family Case: includes every type of legal action except adult criminal actions, including personal injuries, contract disputes, juvenile proceedings, adoptions, divorces and faulty consumer goods.

Course of Cases

Criminal Case:

  1. Alleged crime occurs.
  2. Arrest takes place or summons is issued.
  3. Preliminary Hearing is held promptly in one of the Magisterial District Courts or urban Municipal Courts to determine whether there is probable cause for the case to be brought to trial.
  4. The defendant pleads guilty or the defendant proceeds to trial.
  5. If there is a conviction, a sentencing hearing is held.
  6. The defendant can appeal conviction (following a verdict of guilty) to Superior Court. If the appeal is unsuccessful, the defendant can appeal to Supreme Court.

Civil Case:

  1. Dispute develops.
  2. The Plaintiff’s complaint is filed and served.
  3. Defendant is required to file an Answer.
  4. Both sides gather evidence through discovery.
  5. Pretrial Conference takes place between judge and attorneys for all sides to discuss outstanding issues, including possible settlement.
  6. If there is no settlement, trial takes place and a verdict is rendered.
  7. A party can appeal the decision to the appellate court.

Competency Evaluation

A person who is not competent to stand trial should not be convicted of a crime. In order to ensure that the criminal proceeding is fair, a court may order a mental health assessment or a competency evaluation to be conducted prior to a defendant entering a plea and/or standing trial. The purpose of this assessment is to measure the defendant’s abilities to comprehend and participate in the judicial process, which include but are not limited to the defendant’s ability to understand and process information, communicate sufficiently with counsel to assist in the defense, make informed decisions, and to understand the meaning of the charges and the potential consequences and repercussions of the outcomes.

*Stop and consider whether the individual comprehends what it means to be in jail or plead guilty to a crime. If this comprehension is in question, the defense should consider a petition for competency assessment before the plea and sentencing take place. All previous competency assessments are relevant and persuasive but may not be controlling for the current offense. This request for an evaluation is arranged through the defense counsel.

Issues of Competency

In general – issues of competency and individuals with I/DD, what are the potential pathways that could be taken?

Not competent:

  • Dismiss/withdraw charges
  • Supervised release
  • Civil commitment –Mental Health Procedures Act
  • Could be a state hospital commitment (Following request by defense counsel)

Competent:

  • Charges continue
  • Negotiate a deal
  • If convicted, advocacy through counsel
  • Advocate for what state programs and waivers can do for him
  • Could result in a lesser sentence
  • Mental health treatment could be used in lieu of punishment

Restored Competency:

  • Advocate for counsel so they can try to get a deal
  • Use MH treatment as part of that deal

Judicial Structure

Supreme Court is responsible for:

  • Requests for discretionary appeals from the Commonwealth Court and Superior Court
  • Direct Appeals from a lower court’s decision, including when a sentence of death is issued
  • Requests to intervene in a lower court’s proceedings
  • Requests to deliver a body from illegal detention
  • Has 7 justices

Superior Court is responsible for:

  • Appeals in criminal and most civil cases from the Courts of Common Pleas
  • Appeals from orders involving children and families
  • Has 15 judges

Commonwealth Court is responsible for:

  • Original civil actions brought by and against the Commonwealth
  • Appeals from decisions made by state agencies and the Courts of Common Pleas
  • Has 9 judges

Court of Common Pleas is responsible for:

  • Matters involving children and families and other cases of original jurisdiction
  • Appeals from the minor courts
  • Problem solving courts such as Drug court or Mental Health Courts
  • Has 456 judges organized into 60 judicial districts

Magisterial Courts are responsible for:

  • Preliminary arraignments and setting bail with conditions.
  • Preliminary Hearings, determining if felonies and misdemeanors are to be held for Common Pleas Courts
  • Civil cases, such as small claims and landlord – tenant disputes.
  • Magisterial district court has 546 judges
  • Philadelphia municipal court has 27 judges
  • Pittsburgh municipal court has 12 judges

Pleas

If a guilty plea is offered and the Judge accepts the plea: the sentencing follows.

If there is no guilty plea: the case proceeds to trial and verdict (Guilty or Not Guilty).

*Note that a Plea of Guilty and a Verdict of Guilty have the same effect.

Acronyms and Definitions

Community Services/Pre-Justice

  • Arrest/Custody: Miranda rights are read to the individual if he is in custody. At this time, the individual should ask to have an attorney appointed to represent him. The accused individual may be detained in a holding cell at the local Police Department while criminal charges and the Affidavit of Probable Cause are being prepared.
  • Diversion: Steps within the criminal justice system that provides the defendant a way to leave the criminal system.

Entry into the System

  • Processing phase: If possible, teams should be preparing individuals ahead of time before entering this phase because it can be overwhelming for people who have sensory needs. This can include a lot of people surrounding the individual (both law enforcement staff as well as other individuals who are being processed), loud talking, noises, etc.
    • Sally Port: This is where law enforcement takes an accused individual for processing at the Allegheny County Jail. It’s compared to taking someone to a back door of a building, similar to a large garage door. This location inside the walls of the Jail tends to be loud and overwhelming.
    • Process: Once the individual is taken through the Sally Port, the Jail’s processing phase begins. This phase can take up to 10 hours to complete and will include fingerprints, photos, and medical screening. The individual is usually placed in a holding cell in the County Jail until the next phase in the process.

Pre-Trial Services & Prosecution

  • Charges filed: The charges in the Police Criminal Complaint are supported by the Officer’s Affidavit of Probable Cause. The Affidavit of Probable Cause is considered the “road map” of evidence for the prosecution.
  • Pre-Trial interview: An interview that occurs with a goal of determining if the defendant is a flight risk and is a
    potential danger to the community.
  • Preliminary arraignment: The proceeding in which the defendant appears with the arresting police before the Magisterial District Judge. At this time, a copy of the complaint shall be given to the defendant. The judge summarizes the charges that have been made against the defendant and sets bond (usually with conditions for release).
  • Bail or detention hearing: A hearing in which the court determines whether to detain the defendant without bail.
  • Preliminary hearing: Following a hearing (where the accused has counsel), the judge determines from the evidence whether there is a prima facie case that: (a) an offense has been committed; and (b) the defendant has committed it. If so, the judge will order that the case be “Held for Court” for the defendant to stand trial. This stage of the proceedings before the Magisterial District Court provides significant flexibility. You want to do all you can before the case is “Held for Court” and sent to the Court of Common Pleas. In addition to seeking a postponement of the Preliminary Hearing, the defendant can waive the Preliminary Hearing, perhaps in exchange for reduced charges or to obtain/continue mental health or drug treatment. Following a Preliminary Hearing or waiver, the Magisterial District Court will issue a subpoena to the defendant to appear for Formal Arraignment before the Court of Common Pleas.

Preliminary Procedures in the Court of Common Pleas

  • Formal arraignment: A brief meeting between the defendant, counsel and a courthouse clerk to receive the Criminal Information for the case. This Criminal Information provides all of the charges that have been held for court against the individual. This is where the defendant’s “Not Guilty” plea is entered.
  • Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD): An intervention program designed for first-time, nonviolent offenders. It is not considered a conviction and does not require jail time. In exchange for the successful completion of the terms and conditions for the ARD, the Court of Common Pleas will dismiss the charges against the defendant.
  • Pre-Trial motions: When the prosecutor and defense file motions with the Court, such as motions to suppress evidence, notice of alibi, or to limit what evidence may be presented to jurors. *This includes a petition for competency.
  • Pre-trial conference: When the court, prosecutor and defense counsel meet to schedule a trial date, waive a jury trial, or determine if the case can be resolved with a plea agreement.
  • Treatment for competency: Competency relates to the defendant’s mental state after an offense, not before or during it. If a person is not competent to stand trial, they are not able to be convicted of a crime. If they are identified as incompetent, they will receive treatment to restore competency (e.g., forensic unit or psychiatric hospital). Once competency is restored, the criminal procedure will resume.

Adjudication

  • Change of plea hearing: This is a conversation (“colloquy”) between the judge and defendant that occurs during the change of plea hearing. The judge must determine whether the defendant’s change of plea is made knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily. The judge can accept the changed plea or reject it. If rejected, the case will proceed to trial.
    • Plea bargain: Agreement between the government and the defendant where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the charge(s) in exchange for the government’s withdrawal of other charges and/or a more lenient sentence.
    • Open plea: Defendant pleading without any promise from the prosecution as to what sentence it will recommend.
    • No contest: Defendant admits that the prosecution has evidence to support a conviction but doesn’t plead “Guilty.” Nonetheless, the no contest plea, if accepted by the court, results in a conviction.
  • Trial: If the case is not resolved with a guilty or no contest plea, the case will proceed to trial before a jury or judge. If the verdict following the trial is guilty, the case will proceed to sentencing.

Sentencing/Sanctions

  • Pre-sentencing investigation: Refers to the investigation by the Probation Office (into the history of the convicted person) before sentencing to determine if there are aggravating or mitigating circumstances for the judge to consider before a sentence is imposed.
  • Imposition of sentence: The judge imposes a sentence.
    • Incarceration: A sentence that results in the confinement of the defendant in prison or jail. If the maximum sentence is 24 months or more, this will result in incarceration at the state prison. If the maximum sentence is less than 24 months or less, this will result in incarceration at the county jail.
    • Probation: The court-ordered period of correctional supervision to be served in the community.
    • Restitution: A court order that requires payment by the defendant to the victim(s) for the economic harm caused by the offender’s wrongful act.
    • Fines, fees and costs: A court order that requires payment by the defendant to the state, county, and the court of conviction.

Corrections

  • Parole: The release of a prisoner after service of the minimum sentence but before the completion of the maximum sentence. Release on parole is subject to general and specific conditions.
  • Max outs: The discharge of a prisoner, without conditions, following the completion of the maximum sentence.

Re-Integration/Re-Entry

  • Medical Assistance (MA): Also known as Medicaid, pays for health care services for eligible individuals.
  • Memorandum of Understanding (MOU): For example, an agreement between the Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) and Department of Human Services (DHS) that assists individuals in the judicial system in approvals for services and supports when there was a break in Medical Assistance.

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Other downloads

Name Description Type File
Justice Process and Intervention Opportunities Map Document explaining points of intervention and phases of the justice system. pdf Download file: Justice Process and Intervention Opportunities Map
Justice System Process Appendix Document explaining components of justice system including definitions and acronyms. pdf Download file: Justice System Process Appendix

This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.