Criminal Process

For someone in the unfortunate position of dealing with a criminal charge in Pennsylvania, the confusion and anxiety about going through the process and doing things correctly can make the entire situation much 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.

No matter what you or a loved one are going through, West Chester criminal defense attorney Michael J. Skinner can assist you. With considerable experience as a defense attorney and time spent on the other side of criminal law issues as a Chester County prosecutor, attorney Skinner knows how to successfully navigate the obstacles that get in most people’s way. Sometimes a clear explanation, honest advice, and skilled execution can be the difference in putting you in a favorable position with regard to a criminal law issue.

If you need assistance with a criminal matter in West Chester, Exton, Phoenixville, Kennett Square, Oxford, Coatesville, Downingtown, or anywhere in Chester County, call the Skinner Law Firm at (610) 436-1410 or contact us online. We offer free, initial consultations where attorney Skinner will personally review your situation and needs.

Our Pennsylvania Criminal Process Services

We regularly assist people in Southeastern Pennsylvania dealing with:


Expungement is the legal term for having something removed from your record or sealed from public view. Pennsylvania offers several options to expunge or seal prior criminal charges and convictions, depending on the circumstance. This usually requires petitioning the court and meeting certain requirements, but with a lawyer’s help, you may be able to wipe your slate clean.


Extradition is the process of transferring a person arrested in one state to another. Determining proper jurisdiction can be challenging, but a lawyer can facilitate a smooth process and negotiate a favorable resolution.

Felony Charges

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.

Misdemeanor Charges

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.

Probation Violations

When someone receives probation instead of time in jail for an offense, it is usually a far better outcome. However, probation has its own challenges and usually strict guidelines. Violating these guidelines can return you to custody, so if you or a loved one are accused of violating probation, reach out to a lawyer today.

Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision

This is an agreement among the 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that governs how and when states can transfer probation and parole supervision. If you meet the necessary guidelines, an attorney can assist with transferring your supervision to a new jurisdiction.


Discovering that an active warrant has been issued for your arrest is terrifying. Sometimes these warrants are years or even decades old, which makes resolving the matter a bureaucratic mess. Whether you a dealing with a bench warrant, an extradition warrant, or a warrant for violating probation, we can work to have it rescinded or arrange a positive resolution.

Criminal Investigations

In many cases, law enforcement will conduct investigations and prior to filing formal charges and making an arrest. This usually involved questioning those involved and compiling evidence to substantiate a criminal charge. By having a capable lawyer during the investigation, you can prevent evidence from being illegally obtained, protect yourself against making incriminating statements, and may be able to have the in investigation closed out without formal charges being filed.

False Imprisonment

The police do not have unlimited power to arrest people and hold them in custody. Unfortunately, innocent people are often forced to spend time behind bars for crimes they did not commit. If you or someone you love was wrongfully imprisoned, a lawyer may be able to help secure their release and pursue damages for the harm committed against them.

our awards & memberships

  • A professional non-profit dedicated to the improvement of the criminal defense bar, and to providing valuable information to the public about drunk driving laws. Members of the NCDD are considered the most experienced DUI defense attorneys in the United States and Canada.

  • The preeminent organization in the United States. NACDL serves as a leader in identifying and reforming flaws in the criminal justice system, and addressing systemic racism, and ensuring that the criminal defense bar is fully equipped to serve all accused persons at the highest level.

  • PACDL is the premier network of the best defense attorneys in PA with a mission to educate, advocate, and inspire by providing support for criminal defense lawyers, promoting effective competence, leveling the playing field, and protecting freedoms.

  • The Pennsylvania Bar Association promotes and protects the legal profession, the rights of Pennsylvania citizens and access to justice for all. Membership is open to any lawyer in good standing who is licensed by the Bar of Pennsylvania.

  • The American Bar Association is one of the world’s largest voluntary professional organizations, with over 400,000 members and more than 3,500 entities. Their mission is to serve its members, the legal profession, and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession.

  • The CCBA promotes professionalism, inclusion, and collegiality within the Chester County legal profession, and enhances the quality of life of its members and the practice of law within the community.

  • The NORML Legal Committee (NLC) is composed of attorneys committed to the overall goals of NORML. NLC attorneys meet each year to discuss emerging legal issues related to defense of marijuana consumers and to support each other in the pursuit of justice.

  • The American Institute’s Criminal Law Division is an impartial third-party rating service recognizing the excellence of fellow practitioners. To help clients across the United States make educated decisions, we compile an exclusive list of the “10 Best” Attorneys for each State. Our “10 Best” is a prestigious honor extended only to those who have reached the top of their profession while doing so with the client’s satisfaction being of paramount importance.

  • The American Institute’s DUI/DWI Division recognizes the excellence of practitioners in the field of DUI/DWI defense. We compile an exclusive list of the “10 Best” Attorneys for each State for potential clients to utilize. We look for Attorneys that have achieved unparalleled success but most importantly have done so for the benefit of their client. Very few Attorneys can do so and our organization recognizes this significant achievement.

  • Attorney Michael Skinner has been consistently recognized as among the best lawyers in Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties. Attorneys are nominated via peer balloting, then vetted through our editorial process in various fields of practice.

  • The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 is an invitation-only organization composed of the premier trial lawyers from each state. Membership is extended only to the most qualified attorneys who demonstrate superior qualifications of leadership, reputation, influence, stature and public profile. Each of our distinguished members possesses the knowledge, skill, experience, and success held by only the best and finest lawyers in America.

  • The Super Lawyers list recognizes no more than 5 percent of attorneys in each state. The Rising Stars further distinguishes no more than 2.5 percent of attorneys, and to be eligible, a Rising Stars candidate must be either 40 years old or younger, or in practice for 10 years or less who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.

Understanding the Pennsylvania System

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 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. This is why a capable and experienced legal counsel is so important in helping you deal with pending charges. A qualified lawyer will have the knowledge and understanding to give you a chance at reducing your charges or possibly getting them dismissed.

Additionally, by being well versed in how your case will move through the criminal system 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.

The 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.

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, 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.

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.

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.

Pre-Trial Motions

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

  • Request for particulars and discovery
  • Motions for continuance
  • Severance or Joinder
  • Suppression

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


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.

Hire him. Don't wait.

I don’t think it is possible for a better outcome than what was achieved by Michael J Skinner.

5 Stars Review 5


Mike Skinner in the best.

He is very nice and will work with to help get you the best possible outcome.

5 Stars Review 5


More than exceptional

He was very negotiable and understanding of my circumstances.

5 Stars Review 5


I am beyond grateful.

Going above and beyond for their clients is an understatement.

5 Stars Review 5


He’s worth every penny.

If you work with him, he will get you what you want/deserve.

5 Stars Review 5


Always available

Anyone faced with a DUI charge needs Mike Skinner.

5 Stars Review 5


I will be forever indebted to...

I am thankful I found and chose Michael Skinner.

5 Stars Review 5


Mike is by far the best...

His calm presence is also very reassuring for his clients. Highly recommend choosing him.

5 Stars Review 5


I am grateful he helped me.

Extensive experience with defending DUI’s and I saw this confidence in the courtroom.

5 Stars Review 5


Micheal and his firm are top...

Michael Skinner EXPERTLY handled a very sensitive case.

5 Stars Review 5


Mike Skinner helped me immensely.

Mike’s attention to detail and professionalism put my mind at ease.

5 Stars Review 5


Gave me realistic advice.

He was able to reduce my son’s sentence from a potentially harsh fine, loss of driving privileges or even jail time, down to a few community service hours.

5 Stars Review 5


I’m very happy with Mike Skinner’s...

I was a little nervous about everything and just 5 minutes of talking with Mike, I felt at ease.

5 Stars Review 5


There for me every step of...

From day one I felt comfortable with him and confident that he would help me get the best outcome available.

5 Stars Review 5


Thank you, Skinner Law!

I went to Skinner after researching all the law firms in the area and without a doubt would go to him for everything.

5 Stars Review 5


Mr. Skinner went above and beyond

He is very informative and knowledgeable. I had no trouble contacting him to answer questions or give me advice.

5 Stars Review 5


I could not thank him more.

He took me through everything step by step and charged me a fair price for his service.

5 Stars Review 5


I would highly recommend him.

I was nervous regarding my situation, but after a brief conversation describing my charges and the delicacy of my situation, Michael assured me he could easily handle this case.

5 Stars Review 5


Placed into the ARD program.

Michael and Nichole made me feel comfortable as you truly feel that you are discussing your problem with friends.

5 Stars Review 5


I am eternally grateful

Mike Skinner resolved this case in the best way possible, and I am eternally grateful for his advice and counsel.

4 Stars Review 4


Best lawyer in Delaware County

He was extremely helpful and knowledgeable.

5 Stars Review 5


Recommend him 110 %

Working with Mr. Skinner has been a pleasure.

5 Stars Review 5


A masterful defense lawyer

Michael Skinner and his staff made me completely comfortable and confident

5 Stars Review 5


He listened and told me where...

Michael was able to give me clear guidance on my legal options and explained each step of the process.

5 Stars Review 5


Michael had listened intently

I would highly recommend him to anyone facing charges or violations in Chester County.

5 Stars Review 5


Mike Skinner is an excellent attorney.

He was able to get me a lesser sentence and always treated me with respect throughout.

5 Stars Review 5


Professional and Understanding

He is very professional and understanding of each person’s needs.

5 Stars Review 5


He was able to have everything...

His diligence and professionalism are unmatched making it a pleasure to have been a client.

5 Stars Review 5


Has a lot of knowledge and...

Mr Skinner always kept us updated about the case and was prompt with his responses.

5 Stars Review 5


Mike is the guy to call!

A top-notch attorney in West Chester.

5 Stars Review 5


Thank you, Mr. Skinner

Michael Skinner is an excellent lawyer that knows your rights, and he will indeed fight for you.

5 Stars Review 5


Average 4.96774193548 out of 5 rating based on 31 Reviews
See All Reviews

Pennsylvania Court Resources

  • Magisterial District and Municipal Courts – These are the first level of Pennsylvania’s judiciary. They are responsible for whether serious criminal cases go to the Court of Common Pleas, preliminary arraignments and preliminary hearings, and set bail, except in murder or voluntary manslaughter cases.
  • Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas – The Courts of Common Pleas are organized into 60 judicial districts and are the trial courts of Pennsylvania. Major civil and criminal cases are heard here.
  • The Commonwealth Court  – One of Pennsylvania’s two statewide intermediate appellate courts. The Commonwealth Court is primarily responsible for matters involving state and local governments and regulatory agencies. It also acts as a trial court when lawsuits are filed by or against the Commonwealth.
  • Pennsylvania Superior Court – The other of the state’s intermediate appellate courts. The Superior Court is often the final arbiter of legal disputes in appeals in criminal and most civil cases from the Courts of Common Pleas.
  • Pennsylvania Supreme Court – The highest court in the Commonwealth, the Supreme Court hears discretionary appeals from the Commonwealth Court and Superior Court, direct appeals from a lower court’s decision, including when a sentence of death is issued, intervenes in a lower court’s proceedings, an requests to deliver a body from illegal detention

Contact Skinner Law Firm

As you can see, the process for dealing with Pennsylvania’s criminal system is extensive, complicated and time-consuming. These are all reasons why you should take the time to retain qualified legal counsel to represent you. A capable attorney will be able to guide you through the process while making sure your rights are protected. Attorney Michael J. Skinner of the Skinner Law Firm has been helping alleged criminal offenders effectively navigate the system for years, 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 across Chester County and the surrounding cities of Southeastern Pennsylvania for years and they will do everything in their power to fight for you.