The Criminal Process After You Are Arrested in Pennsylvania

After you have been arrested in Pennsylvania for a crime, whether the arrest occurred in Philadelphia, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County or any of the other 67 counties in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania it can be a long and stressful journey to justice. Our goal at Jarmon Legal is to guide you through this process with an open, honest and straightforward approach that will ease the burden off of you so that you can continue on with your life during this criminal process and after. Here is what to expect after you have been arrested in Pennsylvania.


The first official event in the Pennsylvania criminal justice process is the preliminary arraignment. After a person is arrested for a misdemeanor or felony they will be taken in front of a Magistrate at the local district court where they will be arraigned. Arraignment is a process where the magistrate will review your criminal history, work history and ties to the community to determine what your bail should be. Bail is an amount of money that the Magistrate believes will secure your future appearance in court if you were released from custody.

For example, if the crime is a low grade misdemeanor like Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”) and you have strong ties to the community it is likely that the Magistrate will give you ROR (“released on your own recognizance”) or unsecured bail. ROR means that you don’t have to post any money in order to secure your release from custody pending the outcome of your trial. It also means that you would not be required to check in or be monitored by a bail agency. Unsecured bail is different. With unsecured bail, while you also don’t have to post any money, you would be required to adhere to certain bail conditions which are set by the Magistrate.

If you have been charged with a serious offense or felony, such as Possession with Intent to Distribute (“PWID”) or Aggravated Assault, the Magistrate may require you to actually post money to secure your release from custody. Or, in the extreme case, the Magistrate could deny bail altogether which means you would be required to remain in custody until the charges are dismissed or until your sentence has been concluded.

At your preliminary arraignment, the Magistrate will also set a date for your preliminary hearing.


After you have been arrested and charged with a criminal offense, and before your can be tried on that offense, there first must be a preliminary hearing in front of the local Magistrate. At the preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth (Police/District Attorney) must present evidence to the Magistrate that a crime was committed and that by a preponderance of evidence (more likely than not or 51%) you were the person who committed the crime. If the Magistrate finds that the Commonwealth has presented sufficient evidence that you committed the crime you are charged with, then he or she will bind the case over for trial. If the Commonwealth has not met its burden of proof, some or all of the charges could be dismissed.

A preliminary hearing is not a trial so there are limitations on what evidence, if any, a defense attorney could present. Nonetheless, a preliminary hearing is a valuable tool to a defense attorney as it gives them an opportunity to evaluate the evidence against their client and cross-examine the witness or witnesses before the actual trial. In some cases, it may be possible for your lawyer to get the misdemeanor or felony charges reduced to a summary (citation) offense where you pay a fine and avoid prison or probation.


After the preliminary hearing, if the Magistrate finds that there is sufficient evidence to hold your case over for trial, he or she will schedule your formal arraignment at the Court of Common Pleas in the county where you were arrested. The formal arraignment is the day your case is transferred from the lower magistrate/district court to the trial level court, the Court of Common Pleas. At the formal arraignment you are advised of certain rights and asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.


After your formal arraignment, your case may be listed for either a Call of the List or Pretrial Conference, depending on the county of your arrest. Both are status conference hearings to advise the Judge on what the status of the case is. Here the Judge will be advised on whether a plea deal is in the works, whether the case will immediately proceed to trial or whether it is necessary for the case to be delayed to discover new evidence. In some counties, it may be possible for your attorney to work out a favorable plea deal at the Pretrial Conference or the Call of the List that would resolve the case without having to go to trial.


If a plea deal is not reached at the Pretrial Conference or the Call of the List, your case will be put on the trial list. When your case is put on the trial list, it is expected that your case will proceed to a full trial and the court will take steps to secure a jury panel to hear your case.

At the time of trial, the Commonwealth must prove that you are guilty of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. A reasonable doubt is a doubt that would cause of reasonable prudent person to pause or hesitate before making an important decision in their life. You would not be required to present any evidence or to testify but you have the right to do both if you wish. All 12 jurors would have to agree that you are either guilty or not guilty.


If your case ends with a conviction, either due to a guilty plea or a finding of guilt after trial, the next step will be a sentencing hearing. If you have pled guilty, the sentencing hearing can either take place on the day of the plea or on a subsequent date. If you were convicted after a trial, the sentencing hearing will usually be held at a later date.

At your sentencing hearing you, or your attorney, will be permitted to present arguments for the sentence that you feel is warranted based on your criminal offense. Often times, this is your chance to explain why the crime was committed, how you plan on rehabilitating yourself and apologize for your conduct in hopes that you receive a lighter sentence.