Pennsylvania Criminal Process
If you have been charged with a crime in Pennsylvania, you are more than likely feeling nervous and confused about what will happen next. For individuals who don’t have experience dealing with the judicial system, going through the criminal process can be an overwhelming and intimidating experience.
Hiring a knowledgeable defense attorney who is well versed in the criminal process will be of great benefit to you. It will ensure that you are making informed legal decisions, which will give you the best chance of avoiding the pitfalls of inadequate legal counsel.
West Chester Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you are facing charges for any criminal offense in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Willow Street, Coatesville, Downingtown, Norristown, Exton, Newton Square, or the surrounding areas, you can turn to the experienced team at Ciccarelli Law Offices to fight for your freedom. Hiring a West Chester criminal defense attorney means that you are hiring a dedicated team of defense attorneys who are ready and willing to serve you.
Call Ciccarelli Law Offices today at (610) 692-8700 to set up a consultation on your charges. The sooner you contact us, the sooner we can begin gathering evidence and preparing a defense strategy that could keep you from behind bars.
Key Elements of the Pennsylvania Criminal Process
- Criminal Complaint
- Preliminary Arraignment
- Plea Bargaining
- Formal Arraignment
- First-Time Offenders
The first formal aspect of the criminal process involves a law enforcement officer filing a criminal complaint against the alleged offender. The complaint will identify the defendant and lay out what he or she is being charged with, and provide a summary describing the incident from which the charges stem from.
Some of the most common complaints filed in Pennsylvania are for crimes involving:
- Traffic Offenses
- Possession of a Controlled Substance
- Possession with Intent to Deliver
- Drug Trafficking
- Possession of Marijuana
- Simple Assault
- Aggravated Assault
- Domestic Assault
- Sexual Assault
- Criminal Trespass
In cases where the police decline to file a complaint, the alleged victim can file a private complaint. However, in order for the criminal process to proceed, the private complaint must first be approved by an Assistant District Attorney. If the complaint is approved, the process continues.
A warrant may be signed for a judge for the defendant’s arrest. The warrant instructs police to arrest the defendant wherever he or she may be found.
If the defendant does not attend a schedule hearing in court, a warrant may also be issued. These is often called a “failure to appear.” If there is a warrant out for your arrest, any traffic stop may turn into a night in jail or more.
At an arraignment, the defendant will appear before a judge, be notified of the charges against him or her, and be advised on his or her rights. The preliminary hearing will also be scheduled three to 10 days from the date of the arraignment.
After the defendant has been officially charged, the determination on bail is made. Depending on the severity of the crime, bail can either be set or denied. If bail is set, the defendant can pay to be released from jail with the promise of appearing in court for trial. If bail is denied, the defendant will remain in custody until the conclusion of his or her trial.
The preliminary hearing is one of the most critical steps in the criminal process. During this hearing, the prosecution must show evidence that a crime has been committed and that the defendant is most likely the culprit. If the prosecution is able to do that, the case can go to trial, if not, it can be dismissed.
At this time, your defense attorney can file pretrial motions and employ tactics that can weaken the prosecution’s case against you, or potentially have the charges dropped altogether.
After the preliminary hearing when the prosecution has proven that there is enough evidence to bring your case to trial, either your attorney or the prosecution can initiate the plea bargaining phase.
During plea bargaining, both sides try to come to an agreement that is acceptable for the parties involved. In exchange for a guilty plea, the defense will usually seek reduced charges or reduced penalties in an attempt to avoid the potential for harsher penalties in the event that the defendant is found guilty at trial.
During this arraignment, the defendant will be formally charged with the crime(s) he or she is alleged to have committed. The defendant will be required to enter a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If the defendant enters a plea of guilty or no contest, a sentencing hearing will follow. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case will be moved to trial and the defendant and his attorneys will be given time to prepare. All pretrial motions must be filed within thirty days of the formal arraignment.
When the defendant pleads not guilty to the charges against him, he can choose to be tried by a 12 jurors or by a single judge. In either instance, the prosecution’s case is presented by an Assistant District Attorney who must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime(s) he has been charged with. If tried by a judge, the judge will make a decision on the guilt or innocence of the defendant, based on the evidence presented.
In cases tried by a jury, all twelve jurors must reach a unanimous verdict. If the jurors are unable to reach a verdict that is unanimous, the case can be retried with a different group of jurors. If a unanimous verdict of not guilty is reached, the defendant will be immediately released from custody. If a guilty verdict is reached, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled 14 to 90 days from the time you were found guilty.
During sentencing, a judge will listen to arguments made by the prosecution and defense in regards to their sentencing recommendations/desires. The judge will then access which penalties are required by statute, as well as any other penalties that are appropriate for the committed offense.
If you are facing your first criminal offense, you might have options available to you that may allow you to expunge your conviction. The Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposal (ARD) program allows certain offenders willing to plead guilty and fulfill certain requirements to kep a clean record.
The requirements usually involve community service, and, when the charges involve drugs, substance abuse treatment. Your West Chester defense attorney will be able to tell you whether you qualify.
Fighting to Protect Your Freedom
Being charged with a criminal offense can be a stressful event. If you have been charged with a crime, no matter how significant or insignificant you think the charges are, it is important that you take things seriously from the start. Contact the dedicated team of defense lawyers at Ciccarelli Law Offices to ensure that you have a team on your side that is capable of providing quality legal representation.
If you have been charged with a crime anywhere in the Philadelphia region, including in Chester County, Lancaster County, Delaware County or Montgomery County, you can turn to us. We have offices conveniently located in West Chester, Philadelphia, Kennett Square, Lancaster, Malvern, King of Prussia, Springfield, Radnor and Plymouth Meeting. Contact us today at (610) 692-8700 to set up a consultation about your charges.