This is the first Court date, held in room 404 of the Criminal Justice Center. It is a simple, but necessary procedure. Here, the court gives notice of the precise charges which have been filed, the accused acknowledges the existence of the charges. Counsel is required at this stage. If a private counsel has been retained, then the attorney will file an entry of appearance at this time which will notify the Court of the attorney client relationship. Discovery will normally be passed at this time. Discovery is the term given to the paperwork required to prepare a defense against criminal charges. This package will include police reports, property receipts, witness statements, as well as any laboratory reports which may be involved. If the District Attorney is unable to pass discovery, a second arraignment date will be assigned. Once discovery is ready, a trial date will be assigned.
In order to streamline the procedure, there is no specific pretrial conference listing in the Philadelphia Municipal Court. Instead, trial is set for the very first listing. Some smaller matters can be resolved at the arraignment stage. Otherwise, plea agreements can be negotiated and reached on the day of trial.
If a plea or other negotiation is not reached, motions and trial are set to proceed at the first listing. Each Judge of the Municipal Court will have his or her own practices and customs, but generally, no more than one continuance of trial date is given. If the Commonwealth is not able to proceed at the second trial listing, defense counsel should move to dismiss the case. There are no jury trials in the municipal court. Rather, all cases are decided by the assigned judge.
The appellate rights which a criminal defendant retains after trial before the Municipal Court are significant. There is an automatic right of appeal, to the Court of Common Pleas, for a new trial. In other words, an unsatisfactory result is dismissed, and the case will move on to formal arraignment before the Common Pleas Court. Thereafter, the accused will receive a second round of motions hearings and, if necessary, ultimately a new trial. This trial may be presided over by a judge or jury, at the option of the defendant.