In Montgomery County, the criminal process is started when a police report is filed by an officer. At this point, a prosecutor (the Commonwealth) will determine if the case will be charged, or if the matter should be pursued. If charges are filed, the process will officially 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. It's also important you 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.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled within 30 days of the initial arrest. It is usually conducted within the district that the alleged crime took place. This hearing is a defendant's first court date and will set the tone for the rest of the criminal prosecution process. This is why it's recommended that you don't attend a preliminary hearing without an attorney by your side.
At this hearing, the prosecution (the Commonwealth) will have the burden of proving that there is enough evidence to put you on trial. In other words, the prosecution will have to present evidence that could convince a reasonable person that a crime was committed and that it is likely that you were somewhat affiliated with this crime. The evidentiary standard in a preliminary hearing is “probable cause,” which is significantly lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in an actual trial.
If a judge decides that the burden has been met, the case will advance to the Court of Common Pleas. If, however, a 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 number of things will occur: the court will notify you of your official charges, an amount for bail will be set, and most importantly, you and your attorney will be asked to enter a plea. It is imperative you have an attorney by your side to weigh the options for your unique situation.
As its name implies, a pre-trial conference is scheduled a few weeks before trial to inform the judge of the status of a case. A case may be set to go straight to trial, delayed, or a plea deal may be in the works. Whatever state a defendant's case happens to be in, 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 a plea deal isn't negotiated, the case will go to trial. A trial will either be conducted before a judge and jury or solely a judge. However, in the majority of criminal cases in Montgomery County, the verdict is decided by a jury. If you aren't familiar with how a trial is conducted, here is a general overview of the order of events:
- Opening statements
- Presentation of prosecution's evidence
- Presentation of defense's evidence
- Closing arguments
Montgomery 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.