Following an arrest in Pennsylvania, the first event that happens is a pre-arraignment hearing (also known as a preliminary arraignment hearing). There, a court official formally announces the charges against the defendant and sets bail. The hearing must take place within 48 hours of an arrest and often occurs much sooner than that. The defendant may appear in person or via videoconference.
The Pre-Arraignment Hearing Kicks Off Your Criminal Case
In most criminal court cases in Pennsylvania, the preliminary arraignment hearing is the first step of the process following a formal arrest or complaint being made. When an alleged criminal act occurs, someone, usually a law enforcement officer, files a complaint, leading to formal charges.
According to the law, a trial cannot begin until the accused person understands the nature of the accusations against them. The pre-arraignment hearing serves to inform the accused of their rights and the charges they are facing. A bail commissioner or magistrate conducts the hearing, either in person or by videoconference.
What to Expect at a Pre-Arraignment Hearing in Pennsylvania
At a pre-arraignment hearing, you will appear, either by video or in person, in front of an officer of the court, usually a magistrate or bail commissioner. The court representative will inform you of the charges against you. The pre-arraignment hearing is also where your bail gets set and where the court determines if you qualify for a public defender.
Since a pre-arraignment hearing often occurs immediately after an arrest (in bigger cities, such as Philadelphia, it can take 12 to 24 hours), having an attorney present can be difficult, but it is advantageous to do so if possible. Even though you do not have to testify, answer any questions, or make any statements about the charges, an attorney can potentially help you get a lower bail amount.
If you turn yourself in after learning of an arrest warrant against you, you may be able to bring a lawyer and have them be present at the pre-arraignment hearing.
The Location of the Pre-Arraignment Hearing
Pennsylvania law states that a person accused of a crime has the right to a preliminary arraignment hearing without delay. According to federal law, a determination of probable cause must occur within 48 hours. To accommodate this prerogative without undue strain on the courts, many municipalities and jurisdictions conduct pre-arraignment hearings via videoconference.
In smaller cities and counties, you may have your hearing in person. But either way, you will appear before the same official and go through the same process. More than anything else, it serves as a formality and an information session.
How Bail Gets Set at the Pre-Arraignment Hearing
Pennsylvania works on a cash bail system. Once your bail gets set, either you or a friend or family member must come up with the money to free yourself from jail. If you are indigent or unable to find someone willing to front the money, you could languish in prison while waiting for your trial date.
Recently, a national spotlight has shone on bail practices, which often have the effect of punishing people for the crime of being poor. While laws are starting to change, they have not done so fast enough, and many indigent defendants sit in Pennsylvania jails for months for low-level drug offenses because they cannot make bail.
If paying for bail is potentially an issue for you, make sure you have a lawyer before you turn yourself in. An attorney can argue for a lower bail amount based on your financial situation and can convince the court official that you are not a flight risk or danger to society.
A Lawyer Can Help if Your Bail Is Too High
If you were unable to have an attorney present at your pre-arraignment hearing, and the magistrate set the bail at a higher amount than you can pay, an attorney can help you file a bail motion to have it reduced. Through this process, McKenzie Law Firm, P.C., has helped many defendants post bail and enjoy freedom while awaiting trial.
For a Free Case Evaluation with a Member of the McKenzie Law Firm, P.C., Team, Call 610-680-7842 Today
Led by attorney David McKenzie, a former prosecutor, McKenzie Law Firm, P.C., proudly fights for the rights of the accused in Pennsylvania. We believe in the presumption of innocents and can help you move past the charges you are facing. If you have questions about your pre-arraignment or arraignment or need any help with a pending criminal charge, call us today. We offer a free consultation and can be reached at 610-680-7842.