What Happens if I'm Arrested in Pennsylvania?

  In Pennsylvania, a criminal charge can be initiated by summons via U.S. mail or by arrest. If you are sent a summons in the   mail, your first criminal proceeding is the preliminary hearing. If you are arrested in Pennsylvania, your first hearing is a   preliminary arraignment.

 Arraignment is a process where the magistrate will review your criminal history, work history and ties to the  community to determine what your bail should be. Bail is an amount of money that the District Magistrate  believes will secure your future appearance in court if you were released from custody. For example, if the crime  is a low graded misdemeanor like Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”) or Possesion of a small amount of drugs and you have strong ties to the community it is likely that the Magistrate will give you ROR (“released on your own recognizance”) or unsecured bail. ROR means Released on your Own Recognizance and you don’t have to post any money in order to secure your release from jail pending the outcome of your trial. It also means that you would not be required to check in or be monitored by a bail agency. With unsecured bail or non-monetary bail, you also don’t have to post any money, but you are required to adhere to certain bail conditions which are set by the District Magistrate.

If you have been charged with a serious offense or felony, such as Kidnapping, Possession with Intent to  Distribute (“PWID”) or Aggravated Assault, the District Magistrate may require you to actually post money to   secure your release from custody. In the very serious cases such as homocide, the District Magistrate could deny   bail altogether which means you would be required to remain in jail until the charges are dismissed or until your     sentence has been concluded.

 At your preliminary arraignment, the Districtt Magistrate will also set a date for your preliminary hearing.

 All bail decisions made by the District Magistrate can be appealed to a Common Pleas Court Judge for review.

 Before a case can proceed to trial, there first must be a preliminary hearing before a District Magistrate. At the preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth (Police/District Attorney) must present evidence to the Magistrate that a crime was committed and that by a preponderance of evidence (more likely than not or 51%) you were the person who committed the crime. If the Magistrate finds that the Commonwealth has presented sufficient evidence that you committed the crime you are charged with, then he or she will bind the case over for trial. If the Commonwealth has not met its burden of proof, some or all of the charges could be dismissed.

A preliminary hearing is not a trial so there are limitations on what evidence, if any, a defense attorney could present. Nonetheless, a preliminary hearing is a valuable tool to a defense attorney as it gives them an opportunity to evaluate the evidence against their client and cross-examine the witness or witnesses before the actual trial. In some cases, it may be possible for your lawyer to get the misdemeanor or felony charges reduced to a summary offense, which is like a traffic ticket, where you pay a fine and avoid prison or probation.

After the preliminary hearing, if the District Magistrate finds that there is sufficient evidence to hold your case over for trial, he or she will schedule your formal arraignment at the Court of Common Pleas in the county where you were arrested. The formal arraignment is the day your case is transferred from the lower district magistrate/district court to the trial level court, which is the Court of Common Pleas. At the formal arraignment you are advised of certain rights and asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

After your formal arraignment, your case will be listed for a status conference. These status conferences have different named including pretrial conference and call of the list, depending on the county. At this hearing, your lawyer will meet with the District Attorney and advise the Judge on what the status of the case is. The Judge will be advised on whether a plea deal being considered, whether the case will immediately proceed to trial or whether it is necessary for the case to be delayed to discover new evidence. In some cases, it may be possible for your lawyer to work out a favorable plea deal at the Pretrial Conference or the Call of the List that would resolve the case without having to go to trial.

If a plea deal is not reached at the Pretrial Conference or the Call of the List, your case will be listed for trial. 
At the time of trial, the Commonwealth must prove that you are guilty of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. A reasonable doubt is a doubt that would cause of reasonable prudent person to pause or hesitate before making an important decision in their life. You are not be required to present any evidence or to testify but you have the right to do both if you wish. All 12 jurors have to agree that you are either guilty or not guilty.

If your case ends with a conviction, either due to a guilty plea or a finding of guilt after trial, the next step is a sentencing hearing. If you have pled guilty, the sentencing hearing can either take place on the day of the plea or on a subsequent date. If you were convicted after a trial, the sentencing hearing will usually be held at a later date, usually 90 days later.

At your sentencing hearing you, or your lawyer, is be permitted to present arguments for the sentence that you feel is warranted based on your criminal offense. Often times, this is your chance to explain why the crime was committed, how you plan on rehabilitating yourself and apologize for your conduct in hopes that you receive a lighter sentence.

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