When you are arrested for a crime in Philadelphia, there are two court appearances you will attend. The preliminary arraignment is held shortly after your arrest, and the formal arraignment is held after the preliminary hearing if you are charged with a felony offense and the preliminary hearing judge finds that the Commonwealth has made out a prime facie case. You may also be formally arraigned just before your trial in Municipal Court if you are charged with a misdemeanor.
It is important to hire a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia before your preliminary arraignment so that you have the best chance at the lowest bail possible following your arrest and processing so that you can fight your criminal charges from the street. A criminal defense lawyer is important for formal arraignment as they can waive your presence at the hearing making your attendance at the arraignment unnecessary.
Preliminary arraignment typically take place between 10 to 20 hours after your arrest, and the rules of criminal procedure prohibit the police from detaining you for more than 48 hours without an arraignment. While you are detained, police and officers of the court will prepare reports, recommend what bail should be set at, conduct a background search, and verify your address. Additionally, the prosecutor will settle on the crimes for which you will be charged. You will likely be in custody during the preliminary arraignment, and because of your incarceration, you will participate in the proceeding via videoconferencing from where you are detained.
The preliminary arraignment is the proceeding during which you will receive a copy of the complaint containing the charges filed against you. If you were arrested pursuant to a warrant, you would also receive a copy of the warrant. The preliminary hearing is not a time when the prosecutor will question you about the crimes you allegedly committed, but merely a time to learn of the charges filed and for the setting of bail.
During the preliminary arraignment, your bail will be set. Bail will either be monetary, meaning you will need to pay to be released, non-monetary, meaning you do not have to post funds and promise to pay should you fail to abide by all pre-trial conditions of release, or Sign Own Bond (SOB). If you make bail, you will be released and subpoenaed to return to court at a later date. If you cannot afford the bail, you will remain in custody until one of three outcomes:
Having an attorney present at the preliminary arraignment is highly important since they can work with the prosecutor’s office to come to an agreement on bail prior to arraignment, make argument to the Commissioner setting bail, or immediately work to get your bail reduced. If you can afford a reduced bail, you will be released and have the opportunity to fight the charges against you from outside of jail. Remember that it is important that you refrain from speaking to the prosecutor and the police before hiring an attorney since doing so can significantly harm your case.
Formal arraignment is held after the preliminary hearing when you are charged with a felony. The preliminary hearing, held after the preliminary arraignment, is when the judge will decide if there is enough evidence to prove that you are more likely than not to commit the crime for which you are charged. The judge will decide whether the charges will be held for court and, if they survive, your case will be tried in the Court of Common Pleas beginning with the formal arraignment. If the felony charges don't survive or only misdemeanor charges do, your case could be dismissed or remanded to Municipal Court. Where you are charged with a misdemeanor, you still have the right to an arraignment before your trial. However, many defendants waive the reading of their misdemeanor charges in order to speed the process up. If you are convicted of one or more misdemeanors, you may appeal your case to the Court of Common Pleas within thirty days after your sentencing, after which you will attend formal arraignment.
During formal arraignment, you will be advised of the charges against you that survived the preliminary hearing. You or your attorney, on your behalf, will then enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. However, your attorney will likely plead not guilty on your behalf because the formal arraignment is not typically the time at which the prosecution will offer a plea deal. You may still enter a plea deal later if the prosecution offers one.
Hiring a criminal defense lawyer before your formal arraignment is in your best interest. Your lawyer can waive the arraignment, meaning that you will not be required to appear. If you don't hire a private lawyer and utilize a public defender, their office may not be able to waive arraignment. You and your attorney will discuss the decision to waive the formal arraignment, and, upon deciding to do so, your lawyer will file a waiver of appearance. The waiver of appearance will acknowledge that you understand the nature of your charges against you, meaning you understand the crimes for which you are being charged, and the elements of that crime the prosecutor must prove. Additionally, the waiver of appearance will acknowledge that you understand your pre-trial rights, including the filing of certain motions, and that you waive the right to appear.
Upon waiver of formal arraignment, you will receive a court date for a pre-trial conference. At the pre-trial conference, the prosecutor will make a plea offer if they choose to offer a deal, and you will receive discovery like witness statements, police reports, etc. If you are still in custody during your formal arraignment, you will not appear at the formal arraignment, and you will simply receive your pre-trial conference date.
If you have a warrant out for your arrest or you or a loved one are being charged with a crime in Philadelphia, don’t wait to hire a criminal defense lawyer. Hiring a lawyer early on in the process will ensure that you have someone on your side fighting for your life. Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Lauren Wimmer will fight to reduce your bail, reduce your charges, and reduce your sentence.
If you need representation, call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law or fill out the online form to schedule a free and confidential consultation with Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer today.