The criminal justice system is a complex web of substantive laws, procedural rules, constitutional rights, and more. It is understandable that individuals without specific knowledge of the criminal process can be confused and afraid if they are faced with criminal allegations. It is important to contact a qualified criminal defense attorney who understands the criminal court system in Philadelphia as well as how to defend against criminal charges under Pennsylvania law. The following is some brief information regarding the steps of a criminal case in state court.
Your case will likely begin when law enforcement officers place you under arrest. They may arrest you for various reasons, including:
- Based on an arrest warrant stemming from a law enforcement investigation;
- Based on a bench warrant issued for failure to appear in court;
- Based on probable cause that you are involved in criminal activity, usually at a traffic stop or if an officer believes they witnessed the commission of a crime.
Once you are arrested, you will be taken to the police station and booked into jail. At times, the jail will set a bond that you can pay and be released on the premise that you will return to court or lose your bond money. If you cannot pay your bond or no bond is set, you will remain in jail until your first court appearance.
Arraignment and bail hearing
The first time you arrive in criminal court following your arrest, a judge in the lower district court will inform you of your charges, which is called the “arraignment.” At this time, the judge will review your case file and will determine whether to set bail or require any conditions of bail. At this stage, your attorney can make arguments regarding why you should be released without bail or conditions required or argue for a lower amount of bail.
Though charges have been issued against you at this point, in order to conduct a trial on these charges a prosecutor must demonstrate that they have sufficient evidence to charge you with the crime. This evidence does not have to be equal to the evidence needed to convict you at trial as they do not have to prove your charges beyond a reasonable doubt, but simply have to show that it is “more likely than not” that you committed the crime. You are entitled to representation at this hearing and a defense attorney can challenge that the prosecution has sufficient evidence. If the court finds there was not enough evidence, your case will be dismissed. If the court finds sufficient evidence existed, you will then be formally arraigned and expected to plead “guilty” or “not guilty” to your charges.
Discovery and negotiation with prosecutors
Before your case goes to trial, your attorney will gather evidence and conduct investigation to defend against your charges. Any evidence discovered can then be used in plea negotiations with the prosecutor to see if they will reduce your charges or recommended sentence if you agree to plead guilty. If your charges are wrongful or if the prosecutor refuses to offer a favorable agreement, your case will proceed to trial.
Trial is a formal procedure conducted in front of the court and a jury of your peers. The prosecutor will present evidence and your attorney will present evidence to challenge the prosecution’s case and present legal defenses. The 5th Amendment  gives you the right not to testify if you so choose. At the end of your trial, the jury will decide whether or not you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It is crucial to have an attorney defending you at trial who fully understands trials procedures, rules of evidence,  and effective defense tactics to avoid wrongful conviction.
Contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia today
The criminal justice process can be complex, confusing, and drawn-out. Many defendants are unsure of what is happening or what decisions they should make. If you have been arrested, it is critical that you call a skilled criminal defense attorney who can guide you through every step of the process and provide professional legal advice regarding your rights and options along the way. With an experienced defense lawyer from The Zeiger Firm on your side, you can ensure that you will stay apprised of any new developments in your case and have someone aggressively protecting your rights and building an effective defense for you. Please call us as soon as possible at 215-546-0340 to find out how we can help you.