The Criminal Process
1. Preliminary Hearing
Following the filing of criminal charges, a preliminary hearing is held at a District Judge office where the District Judge will decide if the Commonwealth has presented prima facie evidence of the commission of a crime and prima facie evidence of your involvement in the commission of the crime. At the preliminary hearing, it is not necessary that the Commonwealth present evidence proving guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Generally, the defendant does not present any evidence or testimony at this level and most cases are “bound over” for further action to the Court of Common Pleas (the Court House).
2. Formal Arraignment
At the conclusion of your preliminary hearing, the District Judge will provide you with notice of your formal arraignment. This court appearance will be at the Court House. You will be formally advised of the charges filed against you. The identity of your attorney will be entered of record and you will be advised of various rights as well as the proposed trial date. A guilty plea may be entered at the arraignment. Otherwise, a not guilty plea is assumed.
3. Pre-trial Conference
This is a court appearance shortly before trial. At the pre-trial conference your attorney will report the status of the case as ready or not ready for trial. A guilty plea may be entered at this time.
Approximately 6 times per year, a panel of jurors is brought to the Court House to hear criminal trials. Every defendant has a right to a jury trial as long as the maximum potential punishment for the crime charged exceeds more than 6 months of imprisonment. In order for a jury to return a verdict of guilty, or not guilty, the decision of the 12 jurors must be unanimous.
Non Jury Trial:
A defendant may waive the right to a jury trial, and then, if the District Attorney agrees, the case would be decided by a judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County. A non-jury trial may be scheduled for any day of any month.
If you have been found guilty of the charges against you, following the verdict you will be sentenced. This is sometimes done immediately following the verdict, but most frequently it is done about a month after the trial. Very often the County Probation Office will write a report about the offense and the offender for the sentencing judge to consider at sentencing.