Being charged with a crime in Pennsylvania can be overwhelming and scary. People who have been charged with their first criminal offenses may feel bewildered by the process and not know what to expect. All states, including Pennsylvania, have rules in place that govern how the criminal process works. Getting help from an experienced criminal defense attorney at DiCindio Law can help people to understand the process and the rights that they have. Here is an overview of the criminal case process in Pennsylvania.
1. A crime is alleged to have occurred
When the police believe that you have committed a criminal offense, they will charge you with a crime. If someone reports an alleged crime to the police, they will start investigating what happened. In cases like DUI offenses, the police officer will charge the person at the scene. In complex cases like homicides or fraud, the police may first have to conduct investigations before they determine who should be charged.
2. The person who is charged is booked
If you are arrested, you will be transported by the police to jail to be booked. The officers will record your personal information, take mugshot pictures, and fingerprint you. Pennsylvania also requires people to be medically screened before they are placed in holding cells. While all of this is happening, the arresting officer and the prosecutor will start drafting the complaint.
3. The complaint is filed with the magistrate judge
After the investigation is completed, the police officer will file the complaint with the magistrate judge. The complaint will include your identity, the offenses with which you have been charged, and a summary of what happened. Private citizens are also allowed to file complaints if they have been approved by an assistant district attorney.
4. The magistrate issues an arrest warrant or summons
Once the magistrate judge receives the complaint and reviews it, he or she will issue an arrest warrant or summons. A summons may be issued in less serious cases in which the police officers did not arrest the defendant or when the defendant has posted bond and has been released from custody. The summons gives you notice of when to appear for the preliminary hearing in front of the magistrate judge. An arrest warrant allows you to be held in jail or to be arrested if you are not in custody.
5. Bail is set
If you are in jail and have been charged with a crime, bail has to be set within 12 hours of when the complaint is filed. In some cases, the defendants may be released on personal recognizance without bail. If you are released on your recognizance or post bail, you must show up for the scheduled court appearance. If you fail to do so, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.
6. The arrestee may have a preliminary arraignment
If there has been a warrantless arrest or an arrest warrant has been issued, you will have to appear in front of the magistrate judge for a preliminary arraignment. Typically, this hearing happens within 72 hours of when the arrest occurs. At this hearing, the complaint will be read, and you will be given a copy. You will be advised of your rights, and a preliminary hearing will be scheduled.
7. The preliminary hearing will be held
Within 10 days of the preliminary arraignment, the preliminary hearing will be held. This hearing occurs before the magistrate judge. The prosecutor or police officer will be required to present evidence that demonstrates probable cause that a crime has occurred and that you are the person who committed the offense. If the prosecutor or police officer presents a prima facie case of a crime, your case will move forward. If not, the case will be dismissed.
8. The information is filed
If your case moves forward after the preliminary hearing, the magistrate judge will notify the clerk of courts and the district attorney. The district attorney will then file the information. The information is a charging document that summarizes the case against you. The district attorney can also decline to file the information or change the charges.
9. You will be formally arraigned
If your case proceeds, you will appear for the formal arraignment. At this hearing, you will be given a copy of the information and advised of your rights. After your arraignment, your defense attorney can file pretrial motions. Your attorney might ask for specific types of evidence, file motions to suppress evidence, and others that depend on the circumstances of your case. The district attorney’s office will then respond to the pretrial motions.
10. A pretrial conference will be held.
A pretrial conference will be scheduled after your arraignment. At your pretrial conference, you will appear with your attorney and the prosecutor before the judge. The future of your case will be determined. You can decide to accept a plea offer or go to trial. You can accept a negotiated plea, enter an open plea, enter a no-contest plea, or enter a not guilty plea.
11. A trial may be scheduled
If you enter a not guilty plea, a trial will be scheduled. You will have the right to decide to have a trial before a jury or before the judge. Most defendants ask for jury trials. Trials are normally scheduled within 180 days. In felony cases that do not involve homicides, the trials must be scheduled within six months of when the complaint is filed. In misdemeanor cases, trials are scheduled within 90 days. At your trial, the prosecutor will have the burden of proving that you committed the offenses with which you have been charged beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are found guilty, you could be sentenced immediately or at a later date. If you are found not guilty, your case will be over.
12. The sentencing hearing will happen
If you are found guilty, a sentencing hearing will be held. Some crimes in Pennsylvania have mandatory minimum sentences. There are also sentencing guidelines and scores for the gravity of the offense. The judge will normally have discretion and will consider what is contained in the presentence report that has been prepared. The judge may consider your past criminal record and the circumstances of the offense to determine the jail or prison sentence. The judge might also order other penalties such as probation, fines, and others. If there are any victims, you may be ordered to pay restitution to them.
The rules of criminal procedure in Pennsylvania govern how the criminal process works. If you have been charged with a crime, getting help as early as possible in the process is important. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help to guide you through the process and can explain your rights. He or she might secure a better plea offer or fight the charges on your behalf. Contact DiCindio Law today to schedule a consultation to learn more about your case and how we might be able to help