The criminal process in Chester County is initiated when a police report is filed by an arresting officer. The prosecutor (the Commonwealth) will then determine if the case should be charged, or if the matter should be pursued. If charges are filed, the process will begin.
If you've been charged with a crime and don't know what to do next, your first step should be to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney. You should also know the basics of the system. In this article, we'll address the process, and what to expect now that charges have been filed against you.
Once charges have been filed, what's known as a preliminary hearing will be scheduled. This hearing kickstarts the criminal prosecution process. It will take place within 30 days of an arrest in the district where the alleged crime took place. If you can, you should retain an attorney before this hearing. The outcome of a preliminary hearing will set the tone for the rest of the process.
At this hearing, the prosecution will have the burden of proving that there is enough evidence to justify putting you on trial. In other words, the prosecutor will present evidence that could convince a reasonable person that the law has been broken and that you are responsible for breaking the law. The evidentiary standard in a preliminary hearing is “probable cause,” which is significantly lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in trials.
If the judge decides that this burden has been met, the court will progress to the Court of Common Pleas. If the judge rules that there isn't enough evidence to continue, the case will be dismissed.
Approximately 30 to 60 days after a preliminary hearing is an arraignment. At an arraignment, a few things will occur. The court will read you your official charges, an amount for bail will be set, and most importantly, you and your attorney will be asked to enter a plea. An experienced attorney will be able to present the best option for your unique situation.
As its name indicates, a pre-trial conference is scheduled a few weeks before a trial to notify the judge of the status of a case. A case can be in several states: it could be going straight to trial, be delayed, or a plea deal may be in the works. Whatever state a defendant's case in and the course of action that will be taken will be discussed between a criminal defense attorney, the prosecution, and a judge in this phase.
If it is decided that a case will proceed, it will go to trial. A trial will either be conducted before a judge and jury, or solely a judge. In the majority of criminal cases, the verdict will be decided by a jury. If you aren't familiar with how a trial is conducted, here's a general overview of the order of events:
- Opening statements
- Presentation of prosecution's evidence
- Presentation of defense's evidence
- Closing arguments
Chester County Criminal Defense Attorney
If you've been arrested for the first time, you should consult with a Chester County criminal defense attorney to discuss your options. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully represented numerous clients who've acquired misdemeanor and felony charges and has helped them get their sentence reduced, and their charges dismissed. For a case evaluation, contact him today online or by phone at (215) 535-5353.