The prosecution process begins when you receive a summon to appear for a preliminary hearing in Chester County, PA. You'll likely receive a document titled “Preliminary Hearing Notice” that details the date and time of the beginning of your dealings with the criminal justice system. Your immediate response should be to contact a criminal defense attorney. Retaining a legal professional prior to the date of a preliminary hearing is ideal for people who want favorable results.
For defendants in this predicament who don't have a coherent understand what is going to happen next, here is an overview of preliminary hearings, what they entail, and what can be accomplished with the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney.
What is a Preliminary Hearing?
A preliminary hearing in Chester County is essentially an opportunity for the prosecution (the Commonwealth) to provide evidence that supports the elements of the alleged crime, and that you are probably the one that committed. This is referred to as a “prima facie” case. Though a preliminary hearing appears identical to a trial, it's differentiated from one due to its goal and evidentiary standards.
A preliminary hearing is intended to ensure that there is enough sufficient evidence to place a defendant on trial. Unlike a trial, there will not a verdict of a guilty or not guilty at this stage. If a prosecutor fails to fulfill their burden of proving a prima case, it deters the occurrence of an unlawful arrest, detention, and other unwarranted repercussions. However, if the prosecution presents enough proof to substantiate probable cause, a defendant will be charged.
Probable cause is a very low standard of evidence. The prosecution need only present testimony, witnesses, and evidence that is accepted as true by a jury to win a preliminary hearing and get you charged. If this burden is met, a case will progress to the Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings.
Where Do These Hearings Take Place?
In Chester County, your preliminary hearing will be scheduled in the municipality in which the alleged crime was committed. There are 17 district courts located within the Chester County region. Where you were apprehended and the police department what made the arrest will dictate where your preliminary hearing will be located.
What to Expect at a Preliminary Hearing in Chester County
A preliminary hearing in Chester County is usually scheduled within 10 days of the initial arrest, but dates may vary. At this hearing, you and your attorney are granted the right to present an argument, examine evidence and cross-examine witnesses. Of course, your attorney will be doing most of the legwork, by arguing your case and finding weaknesses and inconsistencies in the opposition's case. But the overall goal is to execute a plan to achieve the outcome you and your attorney believe reflects your best interest. This outcome could consist of dismissed or withdrawn charges, or a sentence reduction. It could also include negotiating a plea deal with the prosecution, before a hearing or while it ensues. Whatever your agreed upon plans are, your attorney should have the experience and skills to get a favorable outcome.
If, after all sides are heard and arguments are made, a judge believes the Commonwealth did not meet the burden of proof to put you on trial, your case will be dismissed. Defendants usually file an expungement in these situations to rid their criminal record of charges. However, if the burden of proof is met, the charges against you will stand, and you'll be notified of your arraignment date.
Many defendants feel defeated when they get an unfavorable outcome at a preliminary hearing, but it's actually pretty common for the prosecution to win in this phase of the process. Given the low burden of proof that must be met in these cases, the prosecution often wins with the weakest of evidence. It's important that you understand that the establishment of probable cause in a case is never indicative of an actual trial outcome or conviction whatsoever.
Waiving a Hearing
Defendants have no choice but to attend court on their court date if they don't choose to waive their preliminary hearing and speed up the process. To waive a hearing basically means that you understand that the Commonwealth will meet is the burden of proof and that you just want your case to proceed to arraignment. A waiver is in no way an admission of guilt, so it won't be used against you. But it does rob defendants of certain rights that can be used to your benefit down the line.
The decision to waive a preliminary hearing depends on your circumstances. Only an attorney is knowledgeable enough of the law, the trial process, and the possible benefits of a waiver. For defendants who've acquired charges that involve substance abuse like a DUI, it may be best to waive a hearing for them to be admitted to an accelerated rehabilitative disposition (ARD) program; while other defendants may do so to honor the agreement of a prospective plea to reduced charges for example. A legal professional who understands the facts of your case can help you make an informed decision of whether waiving a preliminary hearing is the right decision for you.
Experienced Chester County Criminal Defense Attorney
If you received notification of a preliminary hearing in the mail, it is imperative that you contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. As mentioned above, Bucks county hearings oftentimes are scheduled within 10 days of an initial arrest, giving you and your attorney very little time to prepare. In order to maximize your chances of a favorable outcome at this stage in the process, you absolutely need the help of a skilled and experienced attorney.
Joseph D. Lento has represented numerous clients at preliminary hearings on charges ranging from minor offenses to serious felonies. Every case calls for planning, strategizing, and attention to detail. If you've been charged with any crime and have been ordered to attend a preliminary hearing, contact Joseph D. Lento today online or by phone at (215) 535-5355 at the earliest available opportunity.