What to expect at a Preliminary Hearing in Pennsylvania

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10th Feb 2015

The first time a court hears evidence of an alleged crime with the accused present occurs at the Preliminary Hearing. A person who has been accused of a violation of the Pennsylvania vehicle or crimes code will either receive a subpoena to appear at this hearing, will be brought to the court after being arrested, or will be brought before the court after a warrant has been executed.

When you arrive at the District Court, you will be brought before a Magisterial District Judge. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will be represented either by an Assistant District Attorney or the Affiant, who is the charging officer. Additionally, the Commonwealth may bring witnesses to testify to the incident(s) in the criminal complaint. These witnesses can be police officers, theft prevention officers from a business, a victim, or an eyewitness to the incident.

It is customary for the defendant or the defendant’s attorney to discuss the matter with the Commonwealth’s representative prior to the hearing. At this time, it is possible for an agreement to be made between the parties for a mutually beneficial resolution. Additionally, a discussion about the possible application to specialty programs such as ARD and Drug Court will be held. When a resolution or an application for a specialty program is made, the defense will usually decide to waive the hearing; meaning a challenge to the sufficiency of the complaint will not be argued.

If a hearing is requested by the defense, the Commonwealth is required to present evidence in support of the criminal complaint. The evidence presented must satisfy the minimum burden, known as prime facie. This burden is defined as being more likely than not, or slightly more than 50% believable with all reasonable inferences given to the prosecution. Moreover, the rules of evidence are relaxed to allow hearsay or a statement offered for the truth by someone other than the person who made the statement.

When the Commonwealth is finished presenting its case, the Defendant is allowed to present evidence or call witnesses. Typically the defense will not present evidence but will make arguments in support of their position. The defense may also bring a court reporter to transcribe the hearing where as the Commonwealth does not provide a court reporter or recording device.

Once the Magisterial Judge hears the evidence and arguments from both parties, a decision of whether to hold the charges or dismiss the case will be made. The Judge also has the discretion of holding some but not all charges listed in the criminal complaint. The Judge will also advise the defendant of the next hearing (if applicable), which is called the Formal Arraignment held at the County Courthouse.

As with any of the guides authored by the Rudolph Law Firm, this does not constitute legal advice or does it create an attorney client relationship. If you require additional information or have specific questions, please contact the Rudolph Law Firm at www.RudolphLawFirm.com or call 267-282-1033.

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