Monday, July 28, 2014

What is an Arraignment?

The Arraignment in most Pennsylvania counties is the first formal appearance for a criminal defendant at the Court of Common Pleas. Excepting some specialized matters, the vast majority of criminal cases start at the Magisterial District Justice level for a Preliminary Hearing. Assuming charges are "held for court"* the matter is then transferred to the Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings.

At the formal Arraignment, the defendant is entitled to have the charges read to him or her. The defendant is asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Unless the matter has already been negotiated at the Preliminary Hearing the defendant will enter a plea of not guilty. Then the Court will set a schedule for further hearings including a tentative trial date.

In many counties the Arraignment can be waived, as it is mostly a procedural mechanism, and the defendant would not have to appear. There may be good reasons not to waive an Arraignment, for example if the defendant wishes to file a motion for bail reduction or if the defendant is uncertain of the specific charges against him or her. (The Arraignment is often concurrent with the filing of the criminal information, more on that in a later post).

While the Arraignment is often seen as a procedural artifact, it is still vitally important in preparing an effective criminal defense. The Arraignment sets the dates going forward for critical pre-trial procedures.

  • Any defense request for a Bill of Particulars must be filed within 7 days.
  • Any discovery request must be made within 14 days. 
  • Any pre-trial motions must be filed within 30 days.
While these dates can be extended by order of court, if the defendant or his/her counsel fails to adhere to these timelines there is a risk of waiver, which could be disastrous for the defense. Even in those cases where the defendant waives his or her Arraignment, special attention should still be paid to the time frames going forward. 

*"Held for court" means that the MDJ found that enough evidence exists to allow the case to proceed to the next level.

No comments:

Post a Comment