Court Expectations for Criminal Charges in Pennsylvania

When a person faces criminal charges for the first time, this can be confusing and sometimes frightening. The best way for a person to learn more about their options and what they can expect at court is to consult with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney.

The Criminal Process in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, an individual charged with a crime can expect a warrant to be presented for their arrest, assuming it was not an on-site arrest. The warrant will include the date and time to turn themselves in to the District Attorney’s office, the court, or a detective working on the case.

Within a 24-hour period, a person will see an arraignment court judge who will determine whether to set bail or bond given the charges. After the arraignment, an initial preliminary hearing court date will be given and the individual charged with the crime will receive a subpoena to appear for their first court date.

At the arraignment, the Commonwealth will indicate the specific charges and the evidence that the government has against the client so that the matter can continue onward. Should the Commonwealth meet its burden of a prima facie case that a crime has been committed, the matter will be held over for a trial at a later time.

Unique Aspects of Criminal Cases in Pennsylvania

Unlike in many other states, an accused person in Pennsylvania is usually entitled to a preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth, through the representative from the District Attorney’s office, has to call witnesses to make a prima facie case that a crime has been committed. The Commonwealth has to show that the individual charged with the crime, is more likely than not, the individual that committed the crime.

If the burden is met then the case will go to trial. What makes this process unique is that defense counsel has the ability to cross-examine witnesses from the very beginning. This allows them to judge the witnesses’ credibility and to better understand how the prosecution might present the case in the future. Only a few other states offer this option.

In addition, a person has the right to be tried later on by the judge or jury. In other jurisdictions, a person does not have that right. However, in Pennsylvania, the District Attorney’s office, which is also known as the Commonwealth, has the right to demand a jury at a later time. A person who has been charged with a crime in Pennsylvania needs a criminal attorney from Pennsylvania who understands these nuances. Please do not hesitate to contact our firm with questions and to set up an initial consultation.