The preliminary arraignment is generally your first court appearance following an arrest in Pennsylvania. This initial appearance will be primarily informational, and you will not need to enter a plea. Instead, you will learn about the charges, your rights, and your bail amount, if applicable.
If you face allegations, arrest, or charges of a crime in Pennsylvania, you will likely want a criminal defense attorney on your side. If you do not have one at the time of your preliminary arraignment, you should have the opportunity to speak to a lawyer and hire one before your next court appearance. Your lawyer may be your best resource for getting a favorable outcome in your case.
What Happens During a Preliminary Arraignment?
Generally, you should have a preliminary arraignment within six hours of your arrest, although in Philadelphia, it will be between 12 to 24 hours, according to the Pennsylvania Office of Victim Services. The judge overseeing the court must provide you with certain information during this meeting, per 234 Pa. Code Rule 540. This information includes:
- The charges filed against you
- Your right to have a criminal defense lawyer represent you
- The amount of your bail, if applicable
- Your preliminary hearing date
Your preliminary hearing must be within 14 days if you remain in custody or 21 days if you are released. This should give you time to hire a criminal defense lawyer and begin building a defense if you have not already done so.
The next step after a preliminary arraignment, the preliminary hearing is a key step in your case because the judge will hear evidence from the government and decide if there is enough of a case to proceed. Often, defense attorneys make motions and take other steps to fight for a more favorable outcome in the case before, during, and immediately after this hearing.
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Do I Need to Enter a Plea During the Preliminary Arraignment?
Many people worry they must enter a plea during the preliminary arraignment. This is not necessary until your formal arraignment. Your formal arraignment would occur after the preliminary hearing and only if the court decides to proceed with the charges against you.
Sometimes, attorneys can convince the court not to proceed with charges or get charges dropped before a preliminary arraignment. Both would effectively end the case against you.
If your case proceeds to the formal arraignment, you will go before a judge in the Court of Common Pleas. The judge will again read the charges against you. At this point, you will plead guilty or not guilty.
You will likely want to have legal representation on your side before your formal arraignment. They will advise you about whether to enter a not-guilty or guilty plea. This could play a key role in your defense and the outcome of your case.
How Much Will the Bail Be at My Preliminary Arraignment?
One purpose of the preliminary arraignment is to set bail in the case. Many factors could affect how much you must pay if you don’t want to stay in jail during the course of your legal case. These factors include flight and risk of danger to the community. The court will consider:
- Your criminal history
- Your family and community ties
- Your occupation
- Whether the court believes you are a danger to the community
- Whether the court thinks you are a flight risk
If the judge believes you might leave town, violate additional laws, or miss future court hearings, they will set a higher bail. Those accused of violent crimes can also expect higher bail. If you might be a danger to others or are a severe flight risk, the judge might not offer bail.
For those who pose little or no risk to others, have a clean criminal history, and have strong, established ties to the community, the bail is often lower. Sometimes, the court might offer a release on your own recognizance (ROR). This means you do not have to pay bail for your release.
It may be possible for your criminal defense attorney to get your bail lowered, help your family post bail, or convince the court to offer ROR in your case.
What Is the Role of a Criminal Defense Attorney at the Preliminary Arraignment?
Many offenders do not have a criminal defense lawyer at the preliminary arraignment. However, having a criminal defense attorney on your side early in the criminal justice process may be key to getting a more favorable outcome.
Your attorney needs time to develop an approach, learn the case facts, and look into any issues that occurred during the investigation or your arrest. In addition, they can protect your rights during interrogations and while you are behind bars. They could negotiate for lower bail or lesser charges.
During the early stages of the case, a skilled criminal defense attorney might determine if a pre-trial diversion program is available based on your criminal history, charges faced, and other factors. These programs halt the criminal case against you while you:
- Complete a period of probation
- Attend required evaluations
- Take classes or undergo treatment as required
- Meet other stipulations of the program
Prosecutors agree not to proceed with the charges if you successfully complete the program.
If none of these options are possible, your case will move forward. At your formal arraignment, your criminal lawyer will advise you on what plea to enter and explain the next steps based on that plea.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorneys About Your Case
Call the Law Offices of M.J. Snyder, LLC as soon as possible after your arrest. We can accompany you to your preliminary arraignment or begin working on your defense in time for your preliminary hearing.
We offer a free consultation for those facing allegations, arrest, or criminal charges. You should get an opportunity to contact us immediately following your preliminary arraignment, or your family can enlist our help sooner. Contact us today to learn more or hire our team to represent you.