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Criminal Complaint filed by Police or District Attorney Criminal complaint: A formal, written statement filed with the Court alleging a specific person committed a specific criminal act.
Summons or Arrest Warrant Issued Arrest warrant: A document issued by a judicial officer ordering law enforcement to arrest a specific person suspected of committing a specific criminal act. Summons: A document issued by a judicial officer that is sent via mail and/or served upon a specific person alleging that they committed a specific criminal act.
Preliminary Arraignment First appearance by accused in front of a District Magistrate and/or Judge in which the accused is informed of the criminal charges that have been filed against him/her. Judicial Officer will inform the accused of his/her rights and offer to provide a lawyer if accused cannot afford one
Preliminary Hearing Court proceeding before a Judicial Officer to determine if sufficient evidence exists to bind the case over for trial in the Court of Common Pleas. “Sufficient evidence” is determined by evidence and/or witness testimony.
Information Filed Information: formal charging document issued by District Attorney, listing all charges against an accused. District Attorney reserves the right to add and/or dismiss charge(s).
Formal Arraignment Defendant receives copy of information and is informed of rights, including those regarding the filing of pretrial motions and pleadings such as discovery. Discovery: a motion filed by the defense requesting to see particular evidence in the possession of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Pretrial Conference After all pretrial matters are resolved, the defendant must decide to enter a plea of guilt and accept the District Attorney’s plea offer (usually a lower level of punishment than if found guilty at trial) or proceed to trial by pleading not guilty.
Trial or Plea Disposition Defendant pleads either guilty or not guilty. If defendant pleads guilty, he/she has the right in most cases to choose between either a jury or bench trial. Jury trial: A twelve person jury selected by both the prosecuting and defense attorney decide an accused’s guilt or innocence after hearing all of the evidence presented at trial. Bench trial: The judge decides both the verdict of the case and the sentence if the defendant is found guilty.
Jury Trial/Non-Jury Trial In both trial types, the prosecution presents its case followed by the defense. After all evidence is presented and witnesses have testified, the defense attorney then gives his/her closing argument, followed by the Commonwealth’s closing argument. After deliberation, the jury then returns its verdict. If defendant is found not guilty, he/she is immediately released from custody. If found guilty, the defendant then awaits sentencing by the judge.
Pre-Sentence Investigation County probation office prepares a report on the defendant’s prior criminal record and summarizes the crime(s) committed. In most cases, victims are given the opportunity to make a statement.
Sentencing Judge, in most cases, holds discretion at sentencing. Some crimes in Pennsylvania mandate the imposition of minimum sentencing requirements. In addition to the results of the pre-sentence investigation, judges may also consult Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines. He/she can sentence the defendant to a prison term, probation, parole and/or any combination thereof. Additionally, the judge may require the convicted to pay restitution (monetary damages) to the victim(s).
Appeal A defendant can appeal his/her case at the trial level to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Further appeals can then be made to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and/or be reviewed by a court in the Federal Circuit.