Do I really need an attorney? This is a question that has dogged people for as long as there has been lawyers. For many of us, the notion of being summoned to court or to be accused of a crime is both foreign and fearful. Those that question for the need for the lawyer because they have nothing to hide often find that the process is as might opponent as the prosecutor and the police. In Pennsylvania, an individual who is facing criminal charges of either a misdemeanor or felony grading will normally be summoned to appear for a preliminary hearing.
In many cases, the defendant facing a preliminary hearing is unsure of what to expect. It is not uncommon for an individual to actually appear at the preliminary hearing without a lawyer and learn that that he is facing judgment in front of a judge with a prosecuting attorney in addition to the police. History has told us, that in many cases, the bewildered unrepresented individual agrees to waive his rights to a preliminary hearing and have the matter scheduled for trial. Not only does this waiver of the preliminary hearing result in him giving up his right to fight whether the prosecution has the burden to proceed, but he then learns that the cost of representation at the trial level is significantly higher than the cost of retaining experience counsel to contest the case at the preliminary hearing level.
In Pennsylvania a defendant must receive a summons notifying them of what can occur during the preliminary hearing. The summons should include the right to secure counsel, make the defendant aware that bail will be set, and notify them that if they failed to appear that the case will proceed in the defendant’s absence. Where the defendant fails to appear a bench warrant will be issued for the defendants arrest.
The summons for the preliminary hearing should include a copy of the criminal complaint with an affidavit of probable cause spelling out the police or district attorney’s basis for the filing of charges.
The summons will also likely include a fingerprinting order requiring the defendant to be fingerprinted regardless of the outcome of the case.
The preliminary hearing is not the trial. In some cases, defendants make the mistake of thinking that an attorney is not necessary. That is the farthest thing from the truth. At the preliminary hearing the Commonwealth or the police have to establish a prima facie case that an offense has been committed and the defendant has committed before the issuing authority the Magisterial District Justice shall hold over the defendant for court on the offenses.
In these circumstances, the Commonwealth has to produce competent evidence to support every element of every charge that they attempt to accuse the defendant. Confused? Then the first step maybe to obtain a free consult from an experienced criminal defense attorney. The team of criminal defense lawyers at Ciccarelli Law Offices looks forward to educate and advocate for our clients.