Written by attorney Forest Dean Morgan

An Overview of the Pennsylvania Criminal Justice System



At this proceeding the defendant is provided with a copy of the Complaint and advised of his rights; also at this time a preliminary hearing is scheduled and bail is set. If you are charged via a Summons, your arraignment will occur at the time of your preliminary hearing. PRELIMINARY HEARING

At the preliminary hearing the Commonwealth is required to present a prima facie case (evidence that a crime has been committed and that the defendant is probably the perpetrator of that crime). If a prima facie case is presented, the case will be held for court. If a prima facie case is not presented, the defendant should be discharged. It is essential that you have an attorney prior to the Preliminary Hearing because the attorney may be aware of particular defenses that are available at this level. PROCEDURE BEFORE THE


The District Attorney's office will then file a formal charging document ("Information,") with the clerk of courts. The information will specify, in particular, the offenses charged against the defendant. FORMAL ARRAIGNMENT

The defendant will be provided with a copy of the Information and advised of his rights, including his rights to file various pretrial pleadings. Generally, all pretrial motions, including requests for a bill of particulars and discovery, and pre-trial motions including motions for suppression of evidence should be filed within thirty days after the formal arraignment. IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT YOU RETAIN COUNSEL TO MEET THESE DEADLINES! PRETRIAL CONFERENCE

Generally, the defendant and his lawyer and an assistant district attorney will appear before the assigned judge and the court will be notified if the matter will be resolved through a guilty plea, trial, or whether a continuance is requested. This can occur multiple times. PRE-TRIAL MOTIONS & HEARINGS

In the event that the police made an error, or violated the law during their search or interrogation, a Suppression Motion may be filed to exclude evidence at trial. If successful, evidence will be excluded and your case may be dismissed. TRIAL/GUILTY PLEA/A.R.D. ADMISSION

Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may wish to go to trial, have your attorney negotiate a plea agreement, or apply for admission in the ARD program. SENTENCING

In Pennsylvania there are a number of mandatory minimum sentences that must be imposed if a defendant is convicted of a specified crime. However, most sentences are imposed based upon "sentencing guidelines." The guidelines were established by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing and take into account the gravity of the offense and the defendant's prior criminal record. The judge may consider different alternatives, such as a fine, probation, community service, a sentence to jail or prison, or a combination.

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