Arrested in Pennsylvania?
You have been arrested in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and are being taken to the police station in the back of a police cruiser. You are likely wondering what the next steps in your case will be. Discussed below are the steps that will occur in the criminal proceeding after an arrest but prior to trial. (Note that criminal proceedings can also be instituted by filing of a formal criminal complaint under Pennsylvania Law, but this article will only concentrate on the process when the defendant has been arrested without a warrant first being issued).
The Preliminary Arraignment
Pursuant to Section 519 of Pennsylvania’s Criminal Code, after an arrest, the first step in the criminal process in Pennsylvania is a preliminary arraignment. The preliminary arraignment must be held “without undue delay.” A preliminary arraignment is for the purposes of advising the defendant of the initial criminal charges against him or her, for the judge to determine whether the defendant should be released on bond or held in prison pending his or her preliminary hearing, and to schedule a preliminary hearing. Many times, your attorney will waive the preliminary arraignment, as it is more of a formality than the other steps in the criminal process following an arrest.
The Preliminary Hearing
Pursuant to Pennsylvania Law, the next step in the criminal process is the preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing typically takes place within two weeks of the preliminary arraignment. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is for a judge to determine whether or not it is more likely than not, based on the evidence proffered by the prosecution, that the defendant committed the crime with which he or she was charged. The prosecution attempts to present evidence that the defendant committed the offense. The defendant is permitted to cross-examine those witnesses, present his own witnesses, and testify him or herself (99% of the time the defendant, however, does not testify). The preliminary hearing is not an determination of guilt by the judge, but rather a weighing of the evidence to determine if a crime occurred and whether more likely than not the defendant committed that crime.
Formal arraignment is the next step in the process. This is the point at which the criminal defendant receives a formal copy of the charges listing the criminal offenses with which he or she has been charged, enters a formal plea of guilty or not guilty to the offenses with which he or she has been charged and is informed of his or her right to counsel. If the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, which happens in almost all cases, then the case is assigned to a judge and scheduled for trial. The defendant can also waive his or her right to appear at a formal arraignment, but must do so in writing and must be represented by counsel in order to do so.