What are the Significant Mileposts in a State Criminal Case?

In most criminal cases in the state courts of Pennsylvania, there are significant court dates that serve as mileposts for purposes of determining your progress through the system. After the police charge a person with a crime, there is an informal arraignment before the district justice for the purpose of posting bail. The first opportunity to confront the Commonwealth’s witnesses occurs at the preliminary hearing, which is again before the district justice. If your case is held over for court, there is a formal arraignment in the court of common pleas where a plea of not guilty is usually entered on your behalf and a trial or plea date is set with the court. The formal arraignment also begins the time period for discovery. Discovery allows us to learn about the Commonwealth’s evidence and witnesses against you. The next appearance before the court is often for submitting pre-trial motions challenging various types of the Commonwealth’s evidence against you. If a satisfactory plea bargain may be reached with the district attorney, the pre-trial motions may be waived. In either case, the court sets a date when your plea is formally accepted. If negotiations are unsuccessful, a trial, either before a jury of your peers, or before a judge acting as the finder of fact, is the next step. Our goal is an “acquittal” which means that you would be found “not guilty”. However, if the trial results in a verdict of guilty, a separate sentencing date is scheduled before the trial judge. An appeal, if merited, follows by filing and arguing post-trial motions. If the post-trial motions are unsuccessful, every defendant has a right to appeal his or her sentence to the superior court.