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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.
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.
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.
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.
In general – issues of competency and individuals with I/DD, what are the potential pathways that could be taken?
Supreme Court is responsible for:
Superior Court is responsible for:
Commonwealth Court is responsible for:
Court of Common Pleas is responsible for:
Magisterial Courts are responsible for:
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.
Entry into the System
Pre-Trial Services & Prosecution
Preliminary Procedures in the Court of Common Pleas
|Justice Process and Intervention Opportunities Map||Document explaining points of intervention and phases of the justice system.||Download file: Justice Process and Intervention Opportunities Map|
|Justice System Process Appendix||Document explaining components of justice system including definitions and acronyms.||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.