Criminal Law

What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing?

Under Pennsylvania law, every person charged with a crime is guaranteed a preliminary hearing. The purpose of this hearing is to inform your of the charged against you and provide the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with the opportunity to prove that it is more than likely that you committed the crimes. However, in practice, there is a lot more to the preliminary hearing.

How Do You Know About the Preliminary Hearing?

Whether you are arrested or not, everyone charged with a crime receives a preliminary hearing. If you are arrested and held in jail, you will appear before a judge probably over video teleconference. If you are arrested and released, or just charged, you will have to take yourself to the local magistrate’s office for your hearing.

When Will My Hearing Be?

Assuming you are released from jail, or not taken to jail at all, you will receive a Summons in the mail anywhere from a week to a month or more after your original run-in with the police. This Summons will provide the list of charges against you, the date of the preliminary hearing, and the local magistrate office address where your hearing will be held.

What Happens on That Date?

When your hearing date arrives, make sure you attend. If you do not, the Magistrate will put out a warrant for your arrest. Once you arrive at the Magistrate’s office, you will want to sign in. After you sign in, you will sit and wait until the Magistrate calls you into the courtroom to resolve your case.

If you have an attorney, it is during this time that your attorney will speak with the officer that charged you and the Prosecutor to determine your options. You will ultimately have three options:

1. Have your case dismissed/plead to a lesser or reduced office – sometimes the victims do not show up, or the police office admits that there was a mistake. When this happens, and experienced attorney will be able to work with the police and the prosecutor to have your case dismissed. This means you pay no fines and won’t go to jail. If you are not that lucky, then your may want to plead guilty to a lesser or reduced sentence. This usually involves pleading guilty to an offense like a Disorderly Conduct, a Summary Offense, pay a small fine, and go about your way with no permanent, serious record.

2. Have a hearing on the facts against you – the main purpose of the preliminary hearing is the provide the prosecution with an opportuinty to prove to the Magistrate that there is enough evidence against you to hold you for court. This is based on a probable cause standard and is easy for the prosecutor to achieve. However, it is not impossible to fight. Sometimes, based on the evidence against you, your attorney will be able to show the Magistrate that there is not sufficient evidence against you. If your attorney is successful, your case will be dismissed. If your attorney is not successful, your case will be held for court.

3. Waive your preliminary hearing and hold you case for court – this option will send your case into the formal trial track. You will not plead your case at the Magistrate’s office and you will not have a preliminary hearing. You will move directly for formal arraignment of your charges. This option is best when the facts are stacked against you and the prosecutor’s offer is no good. This is also used in cases of ARD and multiple offenders.

What Happens After Your Preliminary Hearing?

If your case is dismissed, you go home and go on with your life. If you plead to a lesser offense, you pay the required fines. If you lose your preliminary hearing, the Magistrate will give you a Formal Arraignment date at the local county courthouse. You will then have to show up at arraignment for the next step in the process. If you waive your preliminary hearing, you will receive a formal arraignment date and have to show up there for the next step in the process.