Philadelphia New Bail Process

Starting Monday, April 16th, Philadelphia will be opening its new Bench Warrant Court program. There are a large number of bench warrants issued every day in Philadelphia. Defendants and their families have come to expect that you just go a week later and get a new court date without consequences.

Now the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the First Judicial District feel that jail must be give for those persons who get a bench warrant for no good reason. The new process is that
1) Surrender in Room B04;
2) Escort after processing to the holding cell area outside Room 403;
3) Municipal Court Judge Waters will preside over Bench Warrant Court;
4) Three lists will be generated for the day, 9:30; 10:30 and 11:30;
5) Defendants, with or without private counsel on the case, will be assigned court-appointed counsel who are staffing the room;
6) The court will hear the defendant’s reasons for failing to appear and address the bench warrant issue;
7) If the court determines that the reason for the FTA is not good enough (or via some other unknown standard), then the matter will proceed to a full blown contempt hearing where the client could face significant incarceration on the contempt charge alone;
8) Those taken into custody on bench warrants, or who are arrested on other matters while having an open bench warrant, will have their hearings held in the afternoons, typically by way of video conference (a major confrontation issue, among other problems, arising from this proposed practice).

Contempt proceedings are tricky and attorneys defending these cases need to be aware of numerous procedural, evidentiary, sufficiency, and appellate issues. Before surrendering on any case, make sure counsel is secured and with you at all times during these proceedings. A contempt finding carries with it forfeiture of bail previously paid, up to 5 months and 29 days in jail, and no new bail being set on the underlying case.

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