For those unfamiliar with the Criminal Justice System and the procedure below may serve as a helpful guide.
After an alleged crime is investigated, the police initiate the criminal process by filing a complaint with the appropriate Magisterial District Judge or by making a warrant-less arrest followed by the filing of a complaint. The complaint identifies the accused, lists the crimes charged and contains a brief factual summary upon which the charges are based.
If a complaint has been filed against you, Attorney DeLuco can provide a free consultation so that you know what to expect moving forward.
If you are ever arrested, you will appear before the Magisterial District Judge for a preliminary arraignment. You do have the right to have your own attorney present at this initial proceeding. At this time, you should be provided with a copy of the complaint and advised of your rights. Also at this time, bond is set. Bond will depend of the severity of the charges, your perceived danger to the community, and risk of fleeing.
Additionally, a preliminary hearing is scheduled, not less than three days but not more than ten days after the preliminary arraignment. The District Attorney usually will not be represented at a preliminary arraignment.
The preliminary hearing is also convened before a Magisterial District Judge. At the preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth is required to present a prima facie case or by showing both 1) evidence that a crime has been committed and 2) that you are probably the perpetrator of that crime. Depending on the County you are charged in, either the arresting police officer and/or an Assistant District Attorney will usually appear and present the case on behalf of the Commonwealth. If a prima facie case is presented, the case will be held for court. If a prima facie case is not presented, you should be discharged.
The preliminary hearing is an important part of the criminal process for someone charged with a crime. It is possible for a case can be settled at this stage where charges will be lowered and/or dismissed. Alternatively, you or your lawyer will have the opportunity to cross examine the Commonwealth’s witnesses (usually the police officer). This testimony can be used for impeachment should the case proceed to trial.
After holding a case for court, the Magisterial District Judge will send notice to the Allegheny County Department of Court Records. They will notify the District Attorney of the charges that were held for court. The District Attorney’s Office will then file a formal charging document, called an information, with the Department of Court Records. The information lists, in specific and numbered counts, the offenses charged. At this stage, the District Attorney may exercise discretion and terminate the prosecution by declining to file an information or by adding or deleting charges.
The next proceeding is the formal arraignment. Neither the District Attorney nor a Judge be will present. If you have hired private counsel, he or she can usually attend the formal arraignment in your place. At this stage, you or your attorney will be provided with a copy of the information and the Commonwealth’s discovery. Also at the formal arraignment, a date will be set for the next stage of the procedure: the pretrial conference.
The next step is the pretrial conference. Generally, you and your lawyer will met with an Assistant District Attorney prior to appearing before the Judge (or his staff) assigned to the case. The main purpose of this stage is to set a date for a trial if you elect to plead not guilty.
Trial or Plea Disposition
In all counties in Western Pennsylvania it is common for someone charged with a crime to waive his or her right to a trial and enter a guilty plea. After thoroughly discussing all the options with your attorney, you may decide that entering a guilty plea is in your best option. In this case, your attorney should fight for the best deal possible. A guilty plea may be entered with or without an agreement with the Assistant District Attorney as to the charges and/or the sentence. If you elect to plead guilty, a plea date will be scheduled, at which time it will be determined that your plea is knowingly and voluntarily entering. Once the Judge accepts the plea, the you may be sentenced immediately or sentencing may be deferred pending a pre-sentence investigation into your background.
Alternatively, some cases are ripe for trial. If your case falls in this category, Attorney DeLuco is ready, willing, and able to fight for you at trial. If we do decide to go to trial, we would discuss whether to be tried by a jury of twelve citizens or by the Judge alone. At trial, the case for the Commonwealth is presented by an Assistant District Attorney who must establish your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. At the close of the Commonwealth’s case, a defendant may choose to present, through his or her attorney, evidence or testimony. If tried by a jury, the jury must return a unanimous verdict; if tried by a Judge (non-jury bench trial), the Judge must return the verdict.
Sentencing in Pennsylvania varies with the crime and can be the most confusing part of the criminal process. Most often, sentences are at the Judge’s discretion; however, in Pennsylvania there are a number of mandatory minimum sentences that must be imposed for specified crime. At the time of sentencing, the Judge will consider the information in the presentence report before determining the sentence. The parties may correct factual errors in the presentence report and offer additional evidence relevant to the Judge’s sentencing decision. The victim, or family member of the victim, may attend the sentencing proceeding and submit to the sentencing Judge a victim impact statement, either orally or in writing. The Judge will also consult the “sentencing guidelines” (established by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing) as a reference for framing an appropriate sentence. The Judge will consider facts surrounding the commission of the crime and the defendant’s criminal background to determine the minimum jail/prison sentence. The Judge will consider different alternatives, such as a fine, probation, community service, a sentence to jail or prison, or a combination of these options. The Judge may also order restitution to any victims who have suffered financial harm. Additionally, sentences may include alternative housing, house arrest, electronic monitoring or work release.