What You Need to Know About Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure

If you were arrested for a crime in Pennsylvania, it’s important to understand the next steps in the legal process. Here’s everything you need to know about criminal procedure in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s criminal procedure requires individuals to file a criminal complaint to the district judge’s office. Preliminary arraignment occurs after the filing of a criminal complaint. Trial and sentencing are the last steps in Pennsylvania’s criminal procedure.

Steps to Take for Criminal Procedures in Pennsylvania

After an individual commits a crime, another party may report the crime to the police or the police can witness the crime. an investigation begins after the reporting of a crime. Investigations include gathering evidence, interviewing the victim or witnesses, and examining the crime scene.

Related: Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure: Explained

Here are the steps involved in criminal procedures in Pennsylvania:

1. Criminal Complaint

The police file a criminal complaint to the district judge’s office. The filing of a criminal complaint initiates the criminal process. The police can make a warrantless arrest and then file a criminal complaint in the district judge’s office. Criminal complaints provide information such as the name of the defendant, the crimes charged, and a short summary of the crime.
If for any reason the police do not file a criminal complaint, an individual can file a private complaint. A private complaint needs approval from the District Attorney.
After the filing of a complaint, the judge issues a summons or arrest warrant. The issuing of a summons or arrest warrant depends on the case’s severity

2. Preliminary Arraignment

If Pennsylvania police arrest an individual for a felony or first-degree misdemeanor, the arrested individual must have a preliminary arraignment with a district judge.
At the preliminary arraignment:

  • The defendant is notified of their rights
  • The defendant is given a copy of the criminal complaint
  • The district judge sets bail
  • A preliminary hearing is scheduled.

For less severe crimes, the arresting officer can deem a preliminary arraignment to be unnecessary.

In cases where arresting officers deem preliminary arraignment as unnecessary:

  • The defendant is not a threat to themself or others
  • The defendant can be trusted to appear in court when required

3. Preliminary Hearing

In Pennsylvania, preliminary hearings take place before district judges. During the preliminary hearing, the police and the district attorney’s office must prove the defendant is the likely perpetrator of that crime. If this is not proven, the district judge will dismiss the case.

Related: Pennsylvania Civil Statute of Limitations on Sexual Assault

4. Filing Criminal Information

After the preliminary hearing, the district judge sends the case’s paperwork to the county clerk of courts. The county clerk of courts will inform the district attorney. The district attorney then files formal criminal charging documents specifying charges against the defendant.

5. Formal Arraignment

During the formal arraignment, the defendant receives a copy of the criminal charging documents, also known as “information.” A judge informs the defendant of their rights, particularly pretrial rights.

6. Trial

The trial will be a jury or non-jury trial. All criminal cases in Pennsylvania are jury or non-jury trials. In jury trials, twelve citizens of Pennsylvania must come to a unanimous decision on the defendant’s guilt or innocence. If the jury can’t make a decision, a mistrial occurs and the case may undergo retrial.

In a non-jury trial, the judge alone is responsible for deciding the case’s outcome. Non-jury trials occur if the defendant and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth (the DA office and the police) agree upon the necessity of a non-jury trial.

7. Sentencing

If a trial finds a defendant guilty, the court establishes a sentencing date. A judge decides what the sentence will be. Sentences vary by state.

In Pennsylvania, the sentence depends on the:

  • The severity of the crime
  • The defendant’s previous record

There are minimum sentences for certain crimes in Pennsylvania.

FAQs about Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure

How does a criminal case differ from a civil case?

Criminal courts oversee criminal cases. Criminal cases can include crimes such as disorderly conduct, robbery, murder, assault, and other violent acts.

What is a prima facie case?

A prima facie case has clear evidence a crime occurred and a likelihood a defendant committed the crime. In Pennsylvania, there must be prima facie evidence for a case to move forward past the preliminary hearing.

Contact Us

If you or a loved one would like to learn more about Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure, get your free consultation with one of our Criminal Defense Attorneys in Pennsylvania today!