The Criminal Process
Summary of the Criminal Process
Preliminary arraignment - if arrested and brought to Central Booking
If you have been arrested and brought to Central Booking, you will be brought before the duty Magisterial District Judge (MDJ) via video. The MDJ will ask you questions related to your ties to the area (address, how long have you lived there, what family do you have in the area), employment, and prior criminal history in order to determine what amount of bail to set. This must occur without unnecessary delay. Because of the speed of this proceeding, the Public Defender's Office will not be able to represent you at this stage.
After you have been preliminarily arraigned by the (duty) MDJ, or after charges have been filed in the mail, a preliminary hearing will be scheduled. This hearing will be held at the MDJ's office. At this hearing, the Judge will determine whether or not the Commonwealth has established a prima facie case showing that a crime has been committed and that you were involved in the commission of the crime. This is a lower standard than the proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is required at trial. Generally, the Defendant does not present any evidence or witnesses because the judge is not permitted to determine which witness is more credible.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge can chose to dismiss all or some of the charges, or bind them over to the Court of Common Pleas. You will also be given notice of the dates of your Formal Arraignment and Pretrial Conference.
The Formal Arraignment is meant for you to receive formal notice of the charges against you, to be advised of important pretrial rights such as the right to request Discovery and to file pretrial motions, and to enter a formal plea to your charges. In York County, the Formal Arraignment, contrary to its name, is handled informally. It takes place (almost) every Friday at 9 am in the Multipurpose Rooms 5009 or 5010. There will not be judge present to preside over it and for that reason, all Defendants enter a NOT GUILTY plea to their charges by signing a form when called up by one of the Assistant District Attorneys or a member of the District Attorney's Office and you will be handed a copy of the charges against you ("Informations"). If you have applied for a Public Defender prior to your Formal Arraignment date, you will have signed a Waiver of your arraignment during the time of your interview and the form will be submitted for you so that you will NOT need to attend your Arraignment. Your assigned attorney will be sent a copy of the Informations and the Discovery materials. The Public Defender's Office will automatically file a request for Discovery in ALL cases so you do not need to call your attorney to ask them to do that. The deadline for filing an application for the ARD program and any pretrial motions to suppress evidence are due no later than 30 days from the date of your arraignment.
Pretrial Conferences are held once per month. This is the time you will appear before the Court of Common Pleas Judge to whom your case is assigned. Usually, this is the time to enter into a guilty plea or to list the case for trial. Your assigned Public Defender will send you a letter to confirm your pretrial conference date and time. There are many cases scheduled for each time slot and you must count on being present in court all morning or all afternoon.
You have the right to a jury trial in every case in which you are charged with an offense that carries more than 6 months imprisonment. Your jury will consist of 12 jurors, who are picked from residents of York County. In order to find you either guilty or not guilty, the jury must agree unanimously on the verdict.
For jury trials, there is a two-week trial term (one week in July) every month during which jury trials are held. You must be available to come in on 1 hour's notice. For this reason, it is important that you keep your attorney informed of any changes in contact information. Once the case is called in for trial, the case will start with the selection of the jury (Voir Dire), followed immediately by the trial.
If you request to have a trial by judge (bench trial), and the Commonwealth does not oppose such request, then the trial will be scheduled for a specific date and time before the judge assigned to your case.
If you have been found guilty of the charges against you, or if you pled guilty without a negotiated plea agreement, then you will be sentenced. This could take place immediately, or at another date scheduled by the judge after the completion of a pre-sentence investigation report by the Probation Department.
Post-Sentence Motions & Appeal
If you were sentenced without a plea agreement, and you do not agree with the sentence imposed by the judge, your attorney can file a Motion for Reconsideration of Sentence. This must be filed within 10 days from the date you were sentenced.
If you feel you have issues filing an appeal, you must discuss this with your assigned attorney. An appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania must be filed within 30 days from the date of your sentencing. If it is decided that an appeal will be filed in your case, then it will be reassigned to the Appellate Attorney within the Public Defender's Office. The Appellate Attorney will keep you informed of the status of your case.
If an appeal to the Superior Court is denied, then you should consult with the Appellate Attorney to determine whether or not to file a Petition for Allowance of Appeal, which is a request to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to file an appeal there. The Supreme Court only accepts a small number of cases to hear on appeal every year.
If you believe you received ineffective assistance of counsel from your trial or appellate attorney, and you believe that you should be entitled to a new trial on that basis, you must file a PCRA (Post-Conviction Relief Act) petition. The Public Defender's Office will represent in such cases only if appointed by the judge. A PCRA petition must be filed within 1 year from the date your case becomes final, which usually is when your appeal is denied, or when you have been sentenced (if you did not file an appeal).