Philadelphia Preliminary Arraignment Court - Effective Attorney Advocacy

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jun 23, 2017 | 0 Comments

The preliminary arraignment is far more important that most defendants, defendants' families, and even most attorneys realize.  Arraignments are heard every four hours, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center, located at 1301 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107.  The Criminal Justice Center is also known as the "CJC."

What takes place at a preliminary arraignment in Philadelphia?

Preliminary arraignments take place in the basement of the Criminal Justice Center where a "Bail Commissioner" makes the determination on how much bail will apply in each particular criminal defendant's case.  There is a representative from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and a representative from the Defender Association of Philadelphia.  Private criminal defense attorneys will address the matter when representing clients at the preliminary arraignment.

Will bail be set at the preliminary arraignment?

While the preliminary arraignment is primarily used to determine how much bail, if any, a defendant must pay to be released pending trial, it is also an opportunity for the criminal defendant's defense attorney to collect information about the prosecution's evidence and simultaneously provide effective bail arguments.  (Charges brought by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania against a criminal defendant in Philadelphia will be prosecuted by the "prosecution," as the names implies.  The "prosecution" will most often be represented by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, although the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office also prosecutes certain criminal cases in Philadelphia.)

Because the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office will not provide the criminal defendant's "PARS" report to the defense attorney at the preliminary arraignment (or prior), the criminal defense attorney is at a significant informational disadvantage.  That does not mean, however, that the defense attorney is powerless to passionately advocate for the defendant.  Another consideration is that all preliminary arraignments are done over the closed circuit television (CCTV) system, and a defense attorney can no longer interact with the defendant.  Thus, rarely will the attorney be able to obtain useful information from the defendant at this stage.

What factors will be considered when bail is set in Philadelphia at the preliminary arraignment?

In light of these limitations, the defendant's attorney should contact family members, loved ones, or friends who can shed light both on the circumstances of the arrest, but more importantly, on the character of the accused such as their age, family relations, whether the defendant has any children, marital status, occupation, employment history, education, community involvement, family relations, prior criminal contacts (if any), prior failures to appear at court ("FTA's") (if any) and "ties" to Philadelphia.

Especially important considerations are whether the defendant has any children and with whom the children live, how long the defendant has been employed, and whether the defendant has any prior criminal history.  For example, if a defendant is a medical doctor with 15 years experience at a Philadelphia hospital, has two young children who live with her and the children's father (the nurse's husband), and has never been arrested before, it is critical that such information is emphasized to the Court.

The defendant's attorney should also determine as many facts of the case as possible, and what prospective witnesses may be available.

Can a defendant be bailed out after the preliminary hearing?

At this early stage of criminal court proceedings in Philadelphia, most family members are only concerned about getting their loved one out of jail as quickly as possible.  When determining bail, a bail commissioner needs to be provided information whether the accused is a flight risk and a strong showing of family support at the preliminary arraignment is a powerful demonstration that the accused is not a flight risk.  Therefore, the defendant's family members are encouraged to come to the Criminal Justice Center to be present for the hearing. 

It is a rare event when the benches in the courtroom where the preliminary arraignment takes place are lined with concerned family and friends in the middle of the night.  A defendant and his or her family should not underestimate the influence that a show of support has before the bail commissioner.  Indeed, it is often the deciding factor in a bail determination and can save the defendant and his or her family both money in bail, and therefore, time in jail.  In addition, if the defense attorney is able to obtain relevant information about a potential defense, the attorney can effectively blunt the prosecution's arguments that are based entirely on police reports. 

What is 10% bail in Philadelphia?  What is "ROR" bail?  What is "SOB" bail?

The information that the defendant's attorney is able to collect prior to addressing the preliminary arraignment is invaluable.  The information the defense attorney can provide the bail commissioner about the defendant, as well as any potential defenses (judiciously disseminated) is likely not contained in any police reports that the Court has at its disposal.  With such information presented, another version of events can be demonstrated to the bail commissioner (in contrast to what the prosecution presents), and this other perspective with which to view the defendant may in turn affect the amount of bail requested and set. 

The hope and goal would be to have bail set as low as possible (10% of the set bail amount is generally required to be posted in Philadelphia), or when appropriate, have the defendant released on his or her own recognizance ("ROR"), or be allowed to sign his or her own bail ("SOB").  ("ROR" bail means that the defendant is released from custody on the belief that the defendant will in good faith appear at future court dates.  When "SOB" bail is set, it means that although a bail amount is set, no money has to be posted for the defendant to be released from custody.  When bail is made "SOB," bail would only become due if the defendant failed to appear to Court at a later time.)

Attorney for Preliminary Arraignment in Philadelphia | Lawyer for Setting of Bail at Preliminary Arraignment

If you or a loved one is charged with a crime in Philadelphia and has concerns about the setting of bail at the preliminary arraignment, or any questions or concerns related to the preliminary arraignment, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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