Defendants charged with criminal offenses in Philadelphia and their families often ask, "Where will I or my loved one have to go court?" All arrests made in Philadelphia County must at least initially be processed through Philadelphia Municipal Court. Municipal Court criminal courtrooms are located in the Justice Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice Center located at 1301 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107, and in several Philadelphia Police Districts throughout the City of Philadelphia. The Criminal Justice Center is also known as the "CJC."
The Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center is located at:
Jurisdiction of Philadelphia Municipal Court
The Criminal Division of Philadelphia Municipal Court has trial jurisdiction over all misdemeanor offenses (M1, M2, and M3) where the maximum prison sentence is not greater than five (5 years and also summary offenses.
Philadelphia Municipal Court has also preliminary hearing jurisdiction for felony offenses. Due to a change in Pennsylvania law (which was the result of a judicial scandal at Philadelphia Traffic Court several years ago), Municipal Court has jurisdiction over all Philadelphia traffic offenses (T.V.R.'s). Municipal Court does not, however, have trial jurisdiction of domestic violence and domestic assault misdemeanor offenses where a charge of contempt of a protection from abuse order (PFA) is also alleged. These trials are heard before a Philadelphia Family Court judge currently presiding in room 6G of Philadelphia Family Court on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
How will a criminal case proceed in Philadelphia County?
All defendants charged with a misdemeanor and/or felony case(s) have a Preliminary Arraignment before a Philadelphia Magistrate formerly known as a Bail Commissioner.
If a defendant is charged with a misdemeanor offense(s) or a series of misdemeanor offenses, the case will get a Municipal Court docket number and will be listed for a pre-trial conference in 30 or more days in room 404 for the pre-trial conference to take place. An exception to this rule is if the criminal case involves a domestic abuse misdemeanor, a mental health or potentially protracted misdemeanor, a fugitive charge, or a misdemeanor that the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office has agreed to list in a diversion program.
If the criminal case is not finally disposed of or diverted at the pre-trial conference, the case will be listed for trial in one of the Philadelphia Municipal Court trial rooms as determined by the geographic zone (based on the applicable Philadelphia Detective Division) where the defendant was arrested. Some Municipal Court misdemeanors such as DUI and domestic abuse charges are not listed by geographic zone, and are instead listed in specific courtrooms.
Can a defendant appeal if convicted in Philadelphia Municipal Court?
If a defendant is convicted after a Philadelphia Municipal Court trial, the defendant has an absolute right to appeal and have a new second trial in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas - Criminal Division on those charges which the defendant was convicted on in Municipal Court. This new second trial is know as a trial de novo (from Latin, meaning “from the new" - when a court hears a case de novo, it is deciding the issues without reference to the legal conclusions or assumptions made by the previous court to hear the case). An appeal for a trial de novo must be filed in writing within 30 days from the Municipal Court sentence. Once an appeal is filed, the defendant will be given an formal arraignment date in room 1104 of the Criminal Justice Center two weeks after the appeal was filed.
At the defendant's formal arraignment, a trial date or a date for a pre-trial conference will be set in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas - Criminal Division. An appeal for a de novo trial "stays" the Philadelphia Municipal Court verdict and sentence. (A stay is a suspension of a case or a suspension of a particular proceeding within a case.) If the defendant wishes to appeal by way of writ of certiorari, the record of the Municipal Court will be sent to the Common Pleas Court Motions Division (presently courtroom 805 of the Criminal Justice Center) for a hearing on the writ of certiorari. Appeals by way of writ of certiorari must be filed within 30 days from the Municipal Court judgment of sentence. An appeal by writ of certiorari does not stay the Municipal Court verdict and sentence. (A writ is an order issued by a legal authority with administrative or juridicial powers, typically a court. A "writ of certiorari" is a type of writ. meant for rare use, by which an appellate court decides to review a case at its discretion. The word "certiorari" comes from Latin and means "to be more fully informed." A writ of certiorari orders a lower court to deliver its record in a case so that the higher court may review the record.) When a Philadelphia Municipal Court case is appealed by way of writ of certiorari, Philadelphia Municipal Court is ordered to deliver the record of the case to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas - Criminal Division.
What happens if a defendant is charged with felonies and misdemeanors in Philadelphia?
If the defendant is charged with a felony offense(s) and/or a felony offense with a misdemeanor offense arising from the same criminal incident, the defendant's case(s) will receive a date for a preliminary hearing within 14 to 21 days from the preliminary arraignment in one of the Philadelphia Municipal Court preliminary hearing courtrooms as determined by the geographic zone (as above, based on the applicable Philadelphia Detective Division) where the defendant was arrested.
Some felony offenses (such as mental health cases, protracted cases, cases where the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office makes an offer for an early resolution, and domestic abuse cases) are not listed by geographic zone, and are instead listed in specific courtrooms. If at the preliminary hearing the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office (known as the "Commonwealth" in court proceedings) establishes a "prima facie" case on any felony offense, the felony offense and any related misdemeanor offense on which a prima facie case was established will be "held for court" to await the filing of an information by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.
What does it mean to be "held for court" in Philadelphia Municipal Court?
A defendant "held for court" will get a date in two weeks for a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas formal arraignment. At arraignment the defendant will receive a pre-trial conference or trail date in the appropriate courtroom. If at the preliminary hearing the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office fails to establish a prima facie case on the felony charge, the case will (unless the judge finds also no prima facie case on the related misdemeanor offenses) be "remanded" for Philadelphia Municipal Court trial in the appropriate trial room on the misdemeanor charges.