PENNSYLVANIA CRIMINAL PROCESS
WHAT TO EXPECT WITH AN ARREST IN PENNSYLVANIA
An arrest typically begins with an encounter with the police. A DUI arrest in Pennsylvania typically begins with a traffic stop. An officer will usually cite a traffic violation (weaving, red light violation, etc.) to justify the stop. After approaching your vehicle, the officer may ask you to complete a series of field sobriety tests. These test may include following a pen with your eyes, walking line, or lifting one leg. The officer may also ask you to submit to a breath test. After completing their investigation, you may be arrested and taken down to the police station where you will be placed before a Judge for your Preliminary Arraignment.
A Pennsylvania Preliminary Arraignment occurs before a Magisterial District Judge. The purpose of this proceeding is for Judge to inform you of the charges against you, inform you of your right to be represented by an attorney, set bail, and schedule the Preliminary Hearing.
Often times, for low graded crimes such as DUI, the Magistrate will set your bail at ROR “Released on your own Recognizance” or unsecured bail.
ROR means that you do not have to post any money to be released from custody and you will not have to meet any bail conditions during your bail period.
Unsecured bail means that you do not have to post any money to be released from custody pending your trial but you do have to meet certain conditions during your release. These conditions may include being monitored by a bail agency or a stay-away order from the complainant.
If you are charged with a more serious crime, the Judge may require you to post money to be released from custody pending your trial or may deny bail all together. Please review our bail information page for more on this topic.
A Pennsylvania Preliminary Hearing is the first substantive hearing in the criminal justice process. At this stage, the prosecutor must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a crime may have been committed and the crime was likely committed by the defendant.
A Preliminary Hearing in Pennsylvania is not a trial and there are restrictions on what types of evidence a defense attorney can admit. Nonetheless, a preliminary hearing is a valuable tool to establish testimony and elicit facts for trial.
In some cases, it may be possible to have charges changed, reduced or dismissed at the Preliminary Hearing.
Once the Preliminary Hearing is concluded, any charges that are held for court are moved to the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas for a Formal Arraignment.
Any charges that have been held for court will be formally read against you at the Formal Arraignment. Much like a Preliminary Arraignment, at the Formal Arraignment, you are advised you of your rights and asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
PRE TRIAL CONFERENCE OR CALL OF THE LIST
Depending on where you were arrested, after the Formal Arraignment your case will be scheduled for a Pre Trial Conference or Call of the List. Both hearings serve the same purpose – to advise the trial Judge of the status of the case. If a plea deal has been negotiated, many times the case can be disposed of at this time. If a trial needs to be scheduled, the Judge will be advised and schedule the trial accordingly.
Cases that do not reach a plea agreement are listed for trial. Trial can occur before a jury or as a bench trial with the Judge sitting as the jury. The burden of the Commonwealth at trial is beyond all reasonable doubt. This means that the Commonwealth must prove your guilt on each and every charge beyond all reasonable doubt. If your case is being heard before a jury, all 12 jurors must agree that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for you to be convicted.
If you enter into a negotiated guilty plea or are found guilty at trial, your case will proceed to a sentencing hearing. At this hearing, your attorney will be able to present evidence of justification, rehabilitation, etc. After each side has made their arguments, the Judge will hand down his sentence.