Legal Updates

Winning a Detainer Hearing in Philadelphia


Most defendants convicted of crimes in Philadelphia are sentenced to a period of probation. Incarceration is usually implemented in serious cases or for violent offenders who prior offenses suggest they cannot safely exist in society.

In Philadelphia, probation can be reporting or non-reporting.  It is court ordered supervision, where an individual is closely monitored by the State.  The defendant is assigned a Probation Officer (“PO”).  A judge may order that as a condition of probation the defendant take therapy classes, undergo psychological evaluations, submit to drug and alcohol monitoring, perform community service, obtain education or employment, or participate in various programs.

If a defendant violates any of those court ordered conditions they may be removed from probation and placed in prison.  Before this occurs they will be scheduled for a Violation of Probation (“VOP”) Hearing wherein the judge will assess the severity of the violation and whether incarceration is appropriate.

If the defendant’s violation of probation is a new arrest a detainer will be issued.  If a detainer is issued you will be incarcerated until you appear before your back judge on the underlying violation.  For example, an individual who is arrested for Retail Theft is sentenced to three years’ probation. While on probation they are charged with another Retail Theft.  Even if the defendant can post bail on their new case they will remain in custody because the new arrest triggers a detainer.

Defendants who have picked up new misdemeanor offenses while on probation may want to file a motion to lift detainer.  This motion, filed by an attorney on behalf of a defendant, is essentially a request to the back judge to release the defendant from custody.  Once the attorney files the motion the court will schedule a hearing date before the defendants back judge.  The hearing is a great opportunity to make your case to the judge for continued probation, additional treatment, and support if needed.  Things to consider before a VOP/Motion to Lift Detainer include:

  • Asking friends and family members to show up on your behalf
  • Having a clear explanation about why the VOP occurred
  • Considering treatment options (inpatient or outpatient programs)
  • Highlighting positive activities (i.e., employment, care taking, etc.)
  • Fighting the Violation / Beating the new case

In my experience, a defendant who has written documentation proving employment upon release has a better chance of getting a detainer lifted than a defendant without employment prospects.  The courts want individuals to be productive and break out of the negative cycles of re-arrests that so many individuals face. If you hire an attorney, and that lawyer can argue that you have the potential to break out of a negative cycle through employment, education, or intensive treatment it may very well result in the detainer being lifted.

If the detainer is lifted the defendant is released subject to posting of bail. If you are sitting in jail on a detainer, consider an attorney to file a motion to lift detainer.  While not appropriate in all situations, the right defendant may be able to limit their prison time by showing the promise of a productive life outside of prison.

A private criminal attorney can schedule a detainer hearing with the court.  The attorney can also schedule a “bring down” to bring the defendant from their current prison to the courthouse on the day of the Hearing. For more information, call the Law Office of Mark D. Copoulos for a private consultation of your matter.