The criminal justice system in Philadelphia follows a set of steps that are designed to allow law enforcement to do their jobs, while also guaranteeing the due process rights of suspects and defendants, all while maintaining uniformity between cases.
Managing this tightrope walk is tricky, but to see how it works, you need to understand how all of the pieces fit into place. Here is what you can expect, after you have been criminally charged in Philadelphia.
Preliminary Arraignment: Where You Hear the Charges Against You
In Philadelphia, you will learn of the charges that are being levied against you at the preliminary hearing. This hearing takes place within 72 hours of your arrest.
After reading you the charges, the judge at your preliminary arraignment will tell you about your rights to an attorney, and will then set bail based on a handful of factors. The judge will then schedule a preliminary hearing for between three and ten days in the future.
The Preliminary Hearing
At the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor will reveal the evidence against you in an attempt to convince the judge that there is enough for the case to go forward. This is a low standard, and only the flimsiest cases are dismissed at the preliminary hearing. However, the hearing is useful because it allows you and your attorney to learn about the prosecutor's case, and provides an opportunity to discuss a plea arrangement.
The Formal Arraignment: Where You Enter Your Plea
One to two months after the preliminary hearing, you will have your formal arraignment. There, the judge will again read the charges against you, and you will enter your plea: Guilty, not guilty, or another plea that you and your attorney agree is in your best interests.
If you plead guilty, the case will progress to sentencing. If you plead not guilty, the judge will set deadlines on pretrial filings.
The Pre-Trial Conference
The next step in your case is the pre-trial conference. This is where the prosecutor, your defense attorney, and the judge check in with each other to make sure everything is progressing the way it is supposed to. It is also where most plea bargains are finalized, and where your defense attorney makes discovery requests for some of the evidence that the prosecutor will be using in their case against you.
If no plea deal is struck in the pre-trial conference, the trial date will be set.
Trial, Verdict, and Possible Sentence
If no resolution has been reached before the trial date, your case will go to trial, which ends in the verdict. If the verdict is that you were not guilty, you will be free to go. However, if you are found guilty, the case will progress to the sentencing stage.
Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento
If you have been arrested and charged with a crime in Philadelphia, having an attorney at your side can not only drastically increase the odds of beating the charge, but can also minimize the stress and uncertainty you go through, while doing it. Contact Joseph D. Lento, Philadelphia's criminal defense attorney, online.