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For someone who is in the unfortunate situation of dealing with a criminal charge in the state of Pennsylvania, the confusion and anxiety about if you are going through the process in the correct manner will surely make the entire state of affairs even more difficult. Like many things in life, once you understand the basic process of whatever you are focusing on, everything from that point forward will be a little easier to handle.

Understanding how to go about fighting a criminal charge in Pennsylvania will give you not only peace of mind knowing that you are taking the correct actions, but also a better chance of beating your charges or reducing them to the absolute minimum sentencing.

Being well versed in the criminal process will allow you to focus on moving on with your life rather than worrying you are not doing what you need to do. Although understanding the process is paramount in fighting an alleged charge, it is just as important to retain legal counsel that can competently handle your case.

Criminal Justice System in Pennsylvania

No matter how big or small the charge may be, a criminal conviction can potentially have debilitating short-term and long-term consequences to your social and professional life. Both misdemeanor and felony charges can follow you for years, or possibly the rest of your life if you do not take the correct steps in your defense strategy. This is why a capable and experienced criminal defense attorney is so important in helping you deal with your pending charges. A qualified defense lawyer will have the legal knowledge and understanding of the criminal process to give you a chance at reducing your charges, or possibly getting them dismissed.

Michael J. Skinner of the Skinner Law Firm has many years of experience in handling many different types of criminal charges and will use this legal understanding to develop a proper defense in order for you to be put in a favorable position with regard to the alleged offense you are a currently accused of. Call (610) 436-1410 or send an online message to schedule a free consultation to go over the specifics of your case.

Pennsylvania Criminal Process Information Center

Criminal Complaint

A criminal complaint is the first formal aspect of the criminal process after the initial investigation. This is where the law enforcement officer initiates the criminal process and files a complaint with the district justice.

The complaint will focus on identifying the defendant and listing the crimes charged, along with a brief factual summary upon which the charges are based.

If the police decline to file a complaint, a private person is permitted to file a private complaint. In this situation, an Assistant District Attorney must first approve the private complaint before it can proceed. Once approved, the process will be the same as if the complaint had been filed by a police officer.

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Arraignment / Bail

If a warrant of arrest is issued, or if the process was initiated by a warrantless arrest, the defendant must appear before the district justice for a preliminary arraignment. At this time the defendant will be provided with a copy of the complaint and advised of his or her rights. In addition to this, a preliminary hearing will also be scheduled, which according to Pennsylvania law, needs to be scheduled “not less than three days but not more than ten days hence. Basically, this means that the preliminary hearing will be scheduled 3 to 10 days from the time of arraignment.

Bail is set after you have been formally charged and the police officers are ready to release you from custody. By paying bail, you are agreeing to appear in court at a specific date and time. It is also possible that you’ll have to wait to post bail until after a judge has heard your case. Depending on the severity of the charges, you might remain in jail until a formal hearing or arraignment. At that time, a judge might decide to set or deny bail.

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Preliminary Hearing

The preliminary hearing will be heard before a district justice and will focus on the Commonwealth, or state, showing evidence (prima facie case) that a crime has been committed and that the defendant is probably the perpetrator of that crime. A police officer or an assistant district attorney will be at the preliminary hearing to present the case. If a prima facie case is presented, the case will be held for court. If a prima facie case is not presented, the defendant will most likely be discharged.

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Formal Arraignment

After the preliminary stage of the charge is taken care of, the next step is a formal arraignment. This may or may not be in front of a judge. The defendant will be provided with a copy of the formal charging document (Information) and advised of his or her rights, which includes the defendant’s ability to file various pretrial pleadings. In most cases, the district attorney will not be represented at a formal arraignment, but it is the obligation of the DA’s office to respond to any of the defendant’s pleadings.

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Pre-Trial Motions

After the formal arraignment, you are able to file pretrial motions, some of which include:

Any of these pretrial motions need to be filed within thirty days of the formal arraignment.

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Trial / Plea Bargain

A defendant entering a plea of not guilty may choose to be tried by a jury of twelve citizens or by the judge alone. At trial, the case for the state is presented by an assistant district attorney who must establish the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant is under no obligation to present evidence or testimony but may do so if he wishes.

If the defendant is tried by a jury, the jury must return a unanimous verdict. If the defendant is tried without a jury, the judge must be the one to decide the verdict. If the defendant is found not guilty, he or she will be immediately discharged. If found guilty, the defendant may be sentenced immediately, or sentencing may be deferred pending a pre-sentence investigation into the background of the defendant. If sentencing is deferred, the defendant is subsequently returned to court and sentenced; at any sentencing hearing, an assistant district attorney will appear and present the Commonwealth’s position.

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Misdemeanor Offenses

Although a misdemeanor offense is not as serious as a felony offense, the state of Pennsylvania still has strict penalties when a person is convicted of a misdemeanor offense.

Some common misdemeanor offenses include:

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Felony Offenses

As the most serious criminal classification in Pennsylvania, felony offenses usually come with extremely harsh punishments and sentencing for those who have been convicted of a crime. A first-degree felony will come with a presumptive sentence of up to 20 years in prison, while even a third-degree felony may include up to a 7-year prison sentence.

Some common felonies on Pennsylvania include:

Skinner Law Firm | Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyer

As you can see, the process for dealing with a criminal charge is extensive, complicated and time-consuming. These are all reasons why you should take the time to retain qualified legal counsel to defend you in the court of law. A capable criminal defense attorney will be able to guide you through the process while making sure your rights are protected. Michael J. Skinner of the Skinner Law Firm has been helping alleged criminal offenders effectively deal with their pending charges so they can move on with their life.

Call (610) 436-1410 to schedule a free consultation to discuss the details of your case. The Skinner Law Firm has been proudly representing individuals in Chester County, Delaware County, Lancaster County, Montgomery County and the surrounding cities of Southeastern Pennsylvania for years and will do everything in his power to fight for you.


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