What Happens at a Preliminary Arraignment in Pennsylvania?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jul 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

When a person is arrested and charged with a crime, especially if one is a Pennsylvania first-time offender, there will be many questions as to what lies ahead.  Because the preliminary arraignment is one of the first steps in the Pennsylvania criminal court process, questions as to what happens at a preliminary arraignment often arise.  Appearing before the court for the first time can be a burdensome experience, but understanding what takes places at a preliminary arraignment in Pennsylvania, be it in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton, or any of the Commonwealth's 67 counties, will help ease the burden. 

What are the "rules" regarding Pennsylvania preliminary arraignments?

Preliminary arraignment procedures in Pennsylvania are governed by rule of criminal procedure 540.

At the preliminary arraignment, the issuing authority (the judge in most Pennsylvania counties, and the magistrate in Philadelphia County) must give a copy of the complaint to the person charged with the criminal offense(s); the person charged is known as the "defendant" in court proceedings. If the defendant was arrested with a warrant in Pennsylvania, the issuing authority must also provide copies of the warrant and supporting affidavits, unless they are not available at the time of preliminary arraignment, in which event they must be provided no later than the first business day after the preliminary arraignment - Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure 540 (B) and (C).

What happens if a person is arrested without a warrant in Pennsylvania?

If the defendant was arrested without a warrant, the defendant may not be detained unless the issuing authority makes a determination of probable cause.

What will take place at the preliminary arraignment?

The issuing authority (the judge in most Pennsylvania counties, and the magistrate in Philadelphia County) must read the complaint to the defendant, but  must not question the defendant about the charges. The issuing authority must also informed the defendant of: 1) the right to secure an attorney of choice and the right to assignd counsel; 2) the right to have a preliminary hearing; and 3) if the criminal offense is bailable (meaning bail can be set and posted), of the amount of bail demanded and of the type of bail acceptable under the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure (abbreviated Pa.C.R.P.)

DUI-Related Charges and the Preliminary Arraignment

The presiding judicial officer at a preliminary arraignment on the Pennsylvania DUI-related offenses codified as 75 Pa.C.S.A. 1543(b)(1.1) - Driving While Operating Privilege is Suspended or Revoked, 3802 - Illegally Operating a Motor Vehicle not Equipped with Ignition Interlock, and/or 3808(a)(2) - Tampering with an Ignition Interlock System may not reduce or modify the original charges without the consent of the prosecution; known as the "Commonwealth" in Pennsylvania criminal court proceedings.

How long after the preliminary arraignment will the preliminary hearing take place?

Unless the preliminary hearing is waived by a represented defendant, the issuing authority must fix a day and hour for the preliminary hearing not less than three nor more than 10 days after the preliminary arraignment, unless extended for cause shown. The issuing authority may fix an earlier day at the request of the defendant or the defendant's attorney, with the consent of the complainant and the attorney for the Commonwealth (the prosecutor). The issuing authority must then give the defendant notice of the time and place of the preliminary hearing.

When will bail be set after being arrested in Pennsylvania?

After the preliminary arraignment, if the defendant is detained, the defendant must be given an immediate and reasonable opportunity to post bail, obtain a defense attorney, and notify others of the arrest. This opportunity usually consists of permitting a defendant to call his or her attorney, family, friends, or bail bondsman.

What happens if bail is not posted after the preliminary arraignment?

If the defendant does not post bail (or more accurately, if a third party does not post bail on the defendant's behalf - family for example), the issuing authority will commit the defendant to jail as provided by law. If a monetary condition of the bail is set, the issuing authority must except bail at any time prior to the return of the docket transcript to the Court of Common Pleas of the applicable Pennsylvania county.

In Philadelphia, if bail is not posted in a timely fashion after bail is set at the preliminary arraignment (usually within two hours), the defendant will be transported to the jail complex on State Road to be processed.  Once transported to State Road, even if bail is posted shortly after the approximate two-hour time frame expires, the defendant will not be released until after being processed by the jail which can take up to 24 hours or longer.  This is why if a person arrested in Philadelphia is trying to be released from custody as soon as possible after being arraigned, bail has to be posted immediately, or at least within approximately two hours.

Will the preliminary arraignment be "face-to-face" or done via video?

Under Rule 540 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, the issuing authority may conduct the preliminary arraignment by using two-way simultaneous audio-visual communication.  When the defendant's attorney is present in the courtroom, the defendant must be permitted to communicate fully and confidentially with defense counsel immediately prior to and during the preliminary arraignment. Because the use of audio and visual communication to conduct the pulmonary arraignment is at the issuing authority's discretion, an issuing authority may order that a defendant appear in person for arraignment.

In Philadelphia, bail is set 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the basement of the Criminal Justice Center, located at 1301 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107.  Because a person arrested in Philadelphia will either be held in custody at the applicable Philadelphia Police District, or when applicable, at the Philadelphia Police Headquarters, known as the "Roundhouse" located at 8th and Race Streets in Center City Philadelphia, defendants will not appear in person at their preliminary arraignment.  Rather, per the Rules of Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure, the preliminary arraignment will take place via video; specifically, by using two-way simultaneous audio-visual communication.

The Waiver of the Preliminary Hearing at the Preliminary Arraignment

A defendant who was represented by counsel at the preliminary arraignment may, at that time or later, waive his or her preliminary hearing. A defendant who is not represented by his or her attorney, however, may not waive the preliminary hearing at the preliminary arraignment, but the defendant may do so later.  (There are significant considerations regarding when waiving a preliminary hearing will be in a defendant's prospective best interests, and when doing so would not be the best course of action.  The defendant and his or her attorney must discuss such a critical decision in full before deciding on the best course of action at the applicable time.)  In most, if not arguably all instances, there is no foreseeable benefit to waiving a preliminary hearing at the time of the defendant's preliminary arraignment.  Even if such a  strategy is deemed best at a later time, that is a decision that should be made at that later time.

Pennsylvania Preliminary Arraignment Attorney | Lawyer for Preliminary Arraignment in Philadelphia

When faced with criminal charges, it is critical to take the necessary steps as early as possible to secure the best possible outcome.  If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with a crime in Pennsylvania, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, or Northampton County, 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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