What is the Criminal Court Process in Pennsylvania?
The criminal process in Pennsylvania begins with a criminal investigation and ends with a sentencing hearing if there is a conviction, either after trial or by way of a plea agreement. An overview of the criminal process follows:
You may or may not be aware of this step in the process when it is happening. In some circumstances you are arrested right after you allegedly committed the criminal act for which you are accused. In other instances, however, someone may make an accusation against you that takes the police some time to investigate, particularly if the charges would require the police to interview witnesses or gather evidence before making an arrest. If you find out you are under investigation for any criminal offense, you should seek assistance from an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately, before you talk to the police. If the police want to question you about any criminal allegations, you should inform the police you want an attorney present before you answer any questions.
Often, your arrest is the first indication you have that you are being accused of committing a crime. Depending on the circumstances, and the allegations against you, you will either (a) be arrested and taken to a magisterial district court where you will have a preliminary arraignment, bail will be set and you will be scheduled to appear for your preliminary hearing, or (b) the arresting officer will release you, file the charges with the magisterial district court, and you will receive a summons to appear for your Preliminary Hearing. It is important for you to seek qualified legal counsel as soon as possible after you have been charged with any criminal offense.
The preliminary hearing will be held before the magisterial district justice assigned to your case. At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution has the burden presenting a prima facie case against you, i.e. that there is probable cause to believe that the charged offense(s) occurred and that you were the person who committed those offense(s). If the commonwealth meets its burden, your charges will stand and your case will proceed to the next step. This proceeding is the first opportunity you and your attorney have to begin evaluating evidence against you and potentially cross-examining the witnesses who will testify against you at your eventual trial. It is therefore extremely important that you have a qualified criminal defense attorney present to represent your interests at this critical stage of the proceedings.
Your Formal Arraignment will occur at the Court of Common Pleas in the county where your charges were filed. Before the Arraignment date, the prosecution will file an official Bill of Information against you, formally charging you with the offenses you are accused of committing. The purpose of the arraignment is to formally advise you of the charges against you and for you to enter a plea. Generally, unless your attorney has already secured a favorable plea bargain that you wish to accept, you will plead “not guilty” at this hearing.
(Discovery, Motions, Plea Agreements). During this phase of the proceedings, your attorney will request discovery, i.e. that the prosecutor turn over all of the evidence against you so you and your attorney can prepare for trial. Your attorney will also evaluate your case and determine if any pre-trial motions are appropriate, such as motions to suppress evidence, motions to dismiss, etc. Finally, during this stage of the proceedings, your attorney and the prosecutor may discuss any plea agreements that might be offered. You and your attorney will discuss any such offers and determine if it is in your best interest to enter a plea bargain or proceed to trial.
During trial, the prosecutor has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the crime(s) for which you have been charged. The district attorney will present the state’s evidence, and your attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine all Commonwealth witnesses and attack the Commonwealth’s evidence. After the Commonwealth rests, your attorney will have the opportunity to present a defense and present evidence and testimony. You may wish to testify on your own behalf, but you cannot be forced to testify because you have the right to remain silent. The prosecutor will have the opportunity to cross-examine any defense witnesses and attack any defense evidence. After the evidence has all been presented, the jury will deliberate and attempt to reach a verdict. A verdict, regardless of whether it is guilty or not guilty requires all 12 jurors to agree. If all 12 jurors do not agree on a verdict, that will result in a “hung jury” and the prosecutor will decide whether he wants to schedule a new trial or dismiss the charges.
SENTENCING & APPEALS
Following either entry of a plea agreement or a guilty verdict at trial, the court will schedule sentencing. In some circumstances, your attorney may recommend that you file post-sentence motions or appeals challenging your sentence, alleging your conviction should be overturned, or alleging that your rights had been violated in some way that would have affected the outcome of the case. Your attorney will discuss any such motions or appeals with you at the appropriate time.
The above criminal court process is complicated and confusing. It is extremely important for you to have experienced criminal defense counsel to represent you throughout this process to ensure your rights are not violated and that you achieve the most favorable outcome possible. Contact the experienced criminal defense lawyer at Dusharm law LLC today at (717) 204-7820 so we can schedule a free initial consultation, evaluate your circumstances, and develop a comprehensive defense strategy for your unique situation.
What is the Criminal Court Process in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, all prison sentences carry a minimum and maximum term as well as, in some cases, a probationary sentence. Offenders generally must remain incarcerated for their entire minimum prison sentence but then may be eligible for parole for the remainder of their sentence. Please see the below chart for the typical maximum sentences that may be imposed depending on the grading of the offense:
MAXIMUM PRISON TERM
Third-Degree Misdemeanor (M3)
Second-Degree Misdemeanor (M2)
First-Degree Misdemeanor (M1)
Third-Degree Felony (F3)
Second-Degree Felony (F2)
First-Degree Felony (F1)
*Note: Some offenses have mandatory sentencing schemes that may fall outside the general guidelines set forth above.
Under the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines, many factors go into determining what sentence is likely under the circumstances of any individual case. You should contact a qualified criminal defense attorney to discuss the details of your situation and determine what sentence you might be facing under the circumstances of your case.
Are There any other Consequences I should be Aware of?
There are a number of “collateral consequences” you may suffer as a result of having a criminal conviction on your record, in addition to any imprisonment, probation and other sentencing terms that may be imposed. Those include:
Loss of gun ownership rights
Loss of custody rights
Inability to find employment
Inability to find housing
Difficulty getting accepted into college
Difficulty getting professional licenses (or losing any such license you already have)
Being required to register as a sex offender (only for sexual offenses)
In the area of criminal defense, the stakes literally could not be higher. It is imperative that you contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer at the earliest possible opportunity to effectively protect your interests. Our criminal defense lawyer, Tammy Dusharm, has years of experience representing individuals accused of committing all types of criminal offenses. She is compassionate and will work with you no matter what your situation involves to achieve the best possible outcome. Contact Dusharm Law LLC now at (717) 204-7820 so we can discuss your situation in detail and begin working on developing the best legal strategy to address your situation.