Daniel J. Wright
Pennsylvania Criminal Arraignment
Many criminal lawyers State College PA residents can turn to, can give more information beyond the following basics of Criminal Procedure in Pennsylvania.
Criminal Procedure in Pennsylvania includes (2) arraignments for every criminal case. The first one is called the preliminary arraignment and the second is called the formal arraignment. Although it may seem obvious, the preliminary occurs before the formal. Both are important because they trigger court timelines for both the defendant and the prosecution.
Preliminary Arraignment: The very first time a defendant meets with a judge (generally a Magisterial District Judge) the preliminary arraignment occurs. The Judge reads the police complaint to the defendant and informs the defendant of the possible range of sentences. A copy of the charges is given to the defendant and bail is set by the judge. The Prosecution is rarely present at this phase and this first hearing can occur at any time of the day on any day of the week. The judge must set a date at this time for the next hearing (preliminary hearing) and the Prosecution must conclude the case within a year of this date.
This hearing often occurs when the defendant is placed under arrest. Either the defendant has been taken into custody immediately following an alleged crime or the defendant has turned themselves in after being contacted by the police. If the crime is relatively minor (misdemeanor), the preliminary arraignment may take place at the preliminary hearing because the police complaint has been mailed to the defendant.
Formal Arraignment: After a defendant’s preliminary hearing (that hearing’s importance and function is not discussed here) the Prosecution has 30-60 days to file formal charges against the defendant; signed by the District Attorney. This document is called the trial information and generally includes the same charges the police charged prior to the preliminary hearing. The prosecution must file this document prior to or on the day of the formal arraignment.
On the date of the formal arraignment, the defendant must enter a not guilty or guilty plea.
The most important function of this hearing is that it triggers discovery and pretrial motion deadlines.
Although these two (2) hearings seem fairly simple; they are very important and any defendant should consult with an attorney to fully discuss their importance.
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