Magesterial District Judge
Preliminary HearingThe preliminary hearing is also convened before a district justice. At the preliminary hearing the Commonwealth is required to present a prima facie case or, in other words, vidence that a crime has been committed and that the defendant is probably the perpetrator of that crime. Generally, in Franklin County all preliminary hearings are held at the Courthouse during Central Court. The Commonwealth is represented by the District Attorney’s Office. If a prima facie case is presented, the case will be held for court. If a prima facie case is not presented, the defendant should be discharged.
Court of Common Pleas
Formal ArraignmentThe next proceeding is the formal arraignment. The defendant is provided with a copy of the information and advised of his rights, including his rights to file various pretrial pleadings. All pretrial motions, including requests for a bill of particulars and discovery, and motions for continuance, severance or joìnder, suppression, etc., should be filed Within thirty days after the formal arraignment. It is the obligation of the District Attorney’s Office to respond to the defendant’s pretrial pleadings.
Pretrial ConferencesThe next step is the pretrial conference. Once it is determined that there is a likelihood of a case proceeding to trial it is scheduled for a pretrial conference. Pretrial conferences are held the Thursday prior to the trial terms Jury Selection day. Once the matter has been scheduled for trial, no plea agreement Will be accepted by the court, except in extraordinary circumstances.
Guilty PleaA defendant may choose to waive his right to a trial and enter a plea of guilty, which admits his guilt of the crimes charged. If a defendant elects to plead guilty, a plea date will be scheduled, at which time it will be determined that the defendant is knowingly and voluntarily entering a plea of guilty to the charges against him. An Assistant District Attorney will appear at the guilty plea hearing and represent the Commonwealth. Once the judge accepts the plea the Court will generally schedule sentencing at a future date to allow a pre-sentence investigation report be completed.
SentencingSentencing in Pennsylvania varies with the crime and is dependent upon the defendant’s prior record. Most often, sentences are at the judge’s discretion; however, in Pennsylvania there are a number of mandatory minimum sentences that must be imposed if a defendant is convicted of a specified crime. The judge will also consult the “sentencing guidelines” (established by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing as a reference for framing an appropriate sentence throughout the state, considering factors of the crime and the defendant’s criminal background) to determine the minimum jail/prison sentence.