The Criminal Process
A Brief Summary of the Steps in the Criminal Process
Following the filing of criminal charges, a preliminary hearing is held at a District Judge's office where the District Judge will decide if the Commonwealth has presented prima facie evidence of the commission of a crime and prima facie evidence of your involvement in the commission of the crime. At the preliminary hearing, it is not necessary that the Commonwealth present evidence proving guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." Generally, the defendant does not present any evidence or testimony at this level and most cases are "bound over" for further action to the Court of Common Pleas (the Court House).
- Formal Arraignment
At the conclusion of your preliminary hearing, the District Judge will provide you with notice of your formal arraignment. This court appearance will be at the Court House (or the prison if you are incarcerated). You will be formally advised of the charges filed against you. The identity of your attorney will be entered of record and you will be advised of various rights as well as the proposed trial date. Under most circumstances, a not guilty please is entered at formal arraignment.
Jury Trial: Eleven times per year (one week each month, with the exception of July), a panel of jurors is brought to the Court House to hear criminal trials. Every defendant has a right to a jury trial as long as the maximum potential punishment for the crime charged exceeds more than 6 months of imprisonment. In order for a jury to return a verdict of guilty, or not guilty, the decision of the 12 jurors must be unanimous.
Non Jury Trial: A defendant may waive the right to a jury trial, and then, if the District Attorney agrees, a judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County would decide the case. A non-jury trial may be scheduled for a Miscellaneous Court date or during a regular trial week.
If you have been found guilty of the charges against you, following the verdict you will be sentenced. This is sometimes done immediately following the verdict, but most frequently it is done several months after the trial. Very often the County Probation Office will write a report (a Pre-Sentence Investigation - PSI) about the offense and the person convicted for the sentencing judge to consider at sentencing.
Advice for New Clients
1. Do not talk about your case
If anyone tries to talk to you about your charges, you should tell them that you cannot talk with them unless your attorney is present. Sometimes a police officer or other law enforcement officer might try to talk with you after you have been arrested. They may even promise to speak on your behalf at a later time or agree to reduce or withdraw your charges. Unfortunately, these promises cannot always be enforced.
If friends or family want to talk with you about your charges, you should not talk to them. If the police or the prosecutor find out that you made statements to these people, they could be summoned as witnesses against you and be forced to testify against you. Even innocent statements by you may later be turned into something that makes it appear that you are guilty, even if you are not.
2. Write down everything you remember about your case
Take the time to remember everything you can about the charges against you. Where were you? Who was with you? What were you doing? Sometimes even the smallest bit of information can be helpful in developing your defense. If you have the names of any witnesses, try to get their addresses and telephone numbers.
3. Whenever you appear in court, show respect for the judge
The way you behave in court can have a significant impact on the outcome of your case. It can affect the amount and type of your bail which is set at your preliminary arraignment. The impression you make on the judge can influence whether the judge believes you and your witnesses. Always be calm and polite.
4. At your preliminary hearing, listen to your attorney
In most cases, your attorney will not have you testify at your preliminary hearing. The purpose of this hearing is to find out what preliminary evidence the police have against you. If you testify, the prosecutor will be allowed to ask you questions. This could confuse you or hurt your case later. You should listen carefully and follow the instructions of your attorney.
5. If you are arrested on other charges, notify the public defender immediately
The Public Defender's Office does not receive any notice of new charges filed against you. If you are contacted by the police, rearrested or receive a summons in the mail concerning new charges, you should contact the Public Defender's Office immediately. If you do not do this, there may not be an attorney present to represent you at the time of your hearing.
6. If you are released from jail, move or change your telephone number, contact the public defender
It is very important for the public defender to be able to contact you. Whenever there is a change in your status, you should contact the office and let us know where you are. This is very important when we are preparing your defense and may affect the outcome of your case.