Magistrate hearings are a preliminary hearing process for both the civil and criminal courts of Pennsylvania. While most magistrates decisions are appealed, winning at a magistrate hearing can offer significant advantages in both civil and criminal cases.
Flaherty Fardo has significant experience in providing defense and representation at all Pittsburgh and Allegheny County Magistrate hearings including:
Pennsylvania has hundreds of Magistrate Offices throughout the entire state. Magistrates have enormous powers with regards to both criminal and civil litigation matters. All criminal defendants arrested of a crime first appear before a licensed Magistrate in the local community where the crime was committed.
The first step of the criminal process is called the preliminary hearing, and it is at this first very important stage that defendants can ask the Magistrate Judge to have the charges against them dismissed. The biggest difference at a criminal hearing and a magistrate hearing is that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not have to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt at a magistrate hearing. To the contrary, all that is necessary at this preliminary hearing is that the state put forward a prima facie case that has a crime has occurred. The standard is whether it is “more likely than not” that a crime occurred rather than “beyond any reasonable doubt”.
It is important to have proper representation at magistrate hearings and try to get any charges filed dismissed if possible. Bail can also be set at magistrate hearings.
In November 2010, Pennsylvania House Bill 2172 became law for all civil magistrate hearings in Pennsylvania. Accordingly, the jurisdictional limit of Pennsylvania’s magisterial district courts was increased from $8,000 to $12,000 in civil cases. The $12,000 jurisdictional limit should factor interest and costs when determining the jurisdictional limit.
All Magistrate decisions in Pennsylvania can be appealed (de novo), which means ‘fresh’ or new’, and entitled the parties to a new hearing without admitting the decision from the Magistrate.
For this reason, most Magistrate civil decisions are appealed. In fact, parties that lose by not appearing at a civil Magistrate hearing, can often appeal that decision within 30 days and receive a new trial at an arbitration hearing.
Even though magistrate decisions can be appealed, individuals should never ignore judgments or decisions from magistrates office because they can recorded as final judgments in the county courts if they are not timely appealed.