What is a Preliminary Arraignment in Pennsylvania?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jul 10, 2017 | 0 Comments

When a person is arrested in Pennsylvania, one of the first steps to take place in what can often be a long process is the preliminary arraignment.  Understanding what a preliminary arraignment is will help a person and his or her family understand both the criminal charges and what may lie ahead.

How does a criminal case "start" in Pennsylvania?

In the overwhelming majority of criminal court cases in Pennsylvania, be it in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton, or any of the Commonwealth's 67 counties, a criminal proceeding commences when the appropriate prosecuting official (for example, a police officer, private citizen, or other individual) files a complaint.  A preliminary arraignment and a preliminary hearing hearing will follow. 

What is the purpose of a preliminary arraignment in Pennsylvania?

Although the preliminary arraignment has no relationship to the (formal) arraignment in a criminal court of "record, " the preliminary arraignment serves to "protect the accused's right to know the 'nature and cause of the accusations against him' [or her], [the accused's] right to counsel, and [the accused's] right to reasonable bail.  It also protects the accused's right to be free from unreasonable seizure of his [or her] person" (per the comment to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 540).

When will a defendant's preliminary hearing take place?

To fulfill the above-referenced functions, the preliminary arraignment must be provided following the arrest of an individual.  Therefore, whether the arrest in a court case is by warrant or is warrantless, a defendant must be taken without "unnecessary delay" before an issuing authority who must then hold a preliminary arraignment. 

When a defendant is arrested in Pennsylvania without a warrant and detained, there must be a judicial determination of probable cause within 48 hours.  This principle was established by the United States Supreme Court case of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 44, 111 S.Ct. 1661, 114 L.Ed.2d 49 (1991).

Will I have a preliminary arraignment if I am issued a summons in Pennsylvania?

Under Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure 510 through 512, the procedure in a court case following the issuance of a summons is outlined.  In such cases, a preliminary arraignment is not necessary and the case proceeds directly to a preliminary hearing with bail being set only after the preliminary hearing, if the case is held for court.

An arresting officer may promptly release from custody a defendant who has been arrested without a warrant, rather than take the defendant before the issuing authority, when all of the following conditions have been met per Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 519(B):

  • The most serious offense charged is a misdemeanor of the second degree (M2);
  • The defendant is a resident of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania;
  • The defendant poses no threat of immediate physical harm to any other person or to himself or herself;
  • The arresting officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the defendant will appear [at court proceedings] as required;
  • The defendant does not demand to be taken before an issuing authority.

When a defendant is released, a complaint must be filed against the defendant within five days of the defendant's release and a summons, not a warrant of arrest, is issued -  Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 519(B):

Pennsylvania Attorney for Preliminary Arraignment | Lawyer for Pennsylvania Preliminary Arraignment

If you or a loved one has been arrested in Pennsylvania, including, but 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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