At our Firm, we get calls everyday from individuals who just got arrested. Many are scared, many have questions, and many just want to know what happens now. While every criminal case is different, there are various stages in every criminal case that must occur in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
In Pennsylvania, when an individual is arrested, generally their first appearance before a judge will occur at this stage. At the preliminary arraignment, a judge will inform the newly arrested individual what charges are being brought against them and will set their bail. The judge may also advise them of their right to seek counsel and that if they are unable to afford one, they will be permitted to apply for a public defender.
At a preliminary hearing, the District Attorney presents evidence that proves there is enough evidence that a crime has been committed and that the individual charged is most likely the one who committed the crime. If the District Attorney has established their "prima facie" case, the Judge will then send the case up to the Court of Common Pleas. If the Judge determines that the District Attorney has not established their case, he/she may dismiss the charges and the case will end right then and there.
Preliminary hearings are generally held in district courts in the county in which the individual was arrested.
At the preliminary hearing an individual cannot be found guilty of the crime they are being charged with. Remember the Judge is just making a determination as to whether or not there is enough evidence to have the case proceed onward to the Court of Common Pleas.
If the Judge at an individual's preliminary hearing determines to hold all or some of the charges against them over for Court, the individual will be given a formal arraignment date that usually occurs 1 to 2 months after their preliminary hearing date. The formal arraignment occurs at the Court of Common Pleas in the county in which the individual was arrested in.
At the formal arraignment the individual charged will go before a trial commissioner in Court. There, the individual will be presented with information pertaining to the charges against them. At this hearing the individual will be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. It is important to note that if an individual is being represented by counsel prior to this hearing, their attorney will most likely waive their appearance at this hearing and they will not have to attend. However, it is important that the individual check with their attorney before deciding not to attend. If they do not attend and the arraignment was not - in fact - waived, a bench warrant can be issued against them for not appearing and they could be arrested.
This hearing’s purpose is to see how the case will go forward (i.e. trial, guilty plea, alternate disposition, etc.). This hearing is also an opportunity for an individual's attorney to address any issues with discovery that is being sought from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In most cases, the pre-trial’s primary aim is to see whether or not the individual charged will be fighting (litigating) the case or disposing of the case in another manner. If an individual decided to enter into a negotiated guilty plea, the pre-trial conference can hear the guilty plea (whether it be an open guilty plea or negotiated between an individual's attorney and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania).
As discussed earlier, if the individual charged entered into a negotiated guilty plea, then their sentencing will most likely occur immediately after the guilty plea is made on the record. However, if an individual entered into an open guilty plea (a plea in which no agreement on sentencing has been reached between their attorney and the District Attorney), they can have their sentence scheduled (known as "deferred") for a later date if they so choose. This is generally done in order to give an individual time to gather information to present to the Judge at sentencing that will help him/her decide what type of sentence that individual should receive.
At sentencing, an individual and their attorney will be able to address the Court and explain to the Judge why they think the individual should receive a lighter/less harsh sentence than what the District Attorney is recommending. It is important to note that the District Attorney can also present evidence to the Judge to persuade the Court to impose a harsher sentence than the one the individual was "hoping" for - so it is advisable to only enter into an open guilty plea after one discusses the decision with an experienced attorney who knows the details of the case and background of that person.
If an individual, after thorough discussion with their attorney, determines their case has a strong likelihood of being won, they may decide to go to trial and argue the facts and applicable laws before the Judge. In many cases, the Judge at the pre-trial conference will be the same Judge who presides over the case. If an individual is found guilty on some or all of the charges before the Judge or jury, they will then be given a sentencing date. If they are found not guilty on all of the charges, then all further court appearances will cease and the case will be over.
I Am Facing Criminal Charge... Who Can I Call?
At The Town Law, we understand just how stressful facing criminal charges can be. With our vast experience handling criminal cases throughout Bucks County, Delaware County, Chester County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia County in Pennsylvania, we are well-equipped to ensure you get the best result possible with attentive attorneys by your side throughout the process. Contact our firm today for a free consultation. Our staff of experienced attorneys is dedicated to the best outcomes for all of our clients.