Criminal Cases in Pennsylvania Step by Step

Attorney Chris PowellArrest – The arrest procedure begins when a police officer believes you have committed an offense and you’re taken into custody. The officer must have probable cause or reasonable suspicion, observed the crime in progress or have an arrest warrant. Many arrests are made for crimes taking place outside of your home and without a warrant being issued.

Miranda Warning – In Pennsylvania, you have certain rights and the state has the burden of proof. The police officer must inform you of your Miranda rights; if not, nothing you say is admissible as evidence at trial. You must be told you have the right to remain silent and that what you say can be used against you in court. You must also be told that you have the right to a criminal defense lawyer, to have them present during questioning and that one will be provided to you if you can’t afford one. If you decide to speak during your arrest, you may stop at any time.

Booking – At the jail, personal information will be collected, you will be fingerprinted and photographs will be taken of you. Your personal items will be confiscated and a full body search will be conducted before you are put into a holding cell. You will also receive a medical screening. If charges are not made for lack of evidence, you will be released. If you are charged, you will be processed for your first appearance before a judge. You will be interviewed by a Magisterial District Judge, or Magistrate, to decide the amount of bail, and whether you will be released without bail or remanded to custody.

Bond and Release – All defendants in Pennsylvania have a right to bail and that bail must be set within 12 hours of the criminal complaint being issued. Nights, weekends and holidays are exceptions. If bail is posted, you will be released and expected to appear at a later court date. Sometimes defendants are released on their own recognizance without bail. If you fail to show up for a court date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.


Preliminary Arraignment – Within 72 hours of arrest, you must appear in court for a preliminary arraignment. The preliminary arraignment is common in Pennsylvania. This is when you will receive written charges, bail will be set at this time, if it hasn’t been already, and a preliminary hearing will be scheduled.

Preliminary Hearing – In Pennsylvania, the preliminary hearing is used to determine if the case against you will go to trial. It must occur within three to ten days from your arrest. This is not the time to plead guilty or innocent, but for the court to determine if there is sufficient evidence to send the case for adjudication before a judge or jury in the Court of Common Pleas. You can receive a reduction in charges, dismissal of your case or a fine assessment at this time. If a plea has been reached, there is no preliminary hearing.

Formal Arraignment and Plea Options – At the Court of Common Pleas, the formal arraignment is when the charges against you are read. You will be advised of your rights and you must have a lawyer at this time. You will reply with a plea; however, in many counties in Pennsylvania, you are not required to do so at this time. You can plead guilty, not guilty, no contest or you may stand mute. If you choose to stand mute, your plea will be entered as not guilty.

Pretrial Conference – Depending on the county of Pennsylvania you are in, your next court date will be a pretrial conference. At this time, you may request a continuance, plea bargain or list the case for trial. If you list for trial, you will be given a date for jury selection and trial. The judge will give instructions, motions and set deadlines for jury selection.

Plea Bargaining – In Pennsylvania, many criminal cases are resolved through a plea bargain. The prosecution and defense will agree to a compromise, subject to court approval. If no deal is reached, you will be charged.

Trial, Verdict and Sentencing – The prosecution has the right to choose whether your case will be tried before a judge or jury. In Pennsylvania, most criminal defendants request a jury trial. You should be brought to trial within 180 days. Non-homicide cases must be ready to try in six months, misdemeanors within 90 days. Sentences can include house arrest, probation or incarceration.

Being charged with a crime can be scary and confusing. Trust Powell Law to guide you through every step of the criminal process. Contact us online or call (570) 961-0777.



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