- Crime Committed
- Police Notified
- Police Investigate
- 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.
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).
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.