In Pennsylvania, criminal charges at the misdemeanor or felony level are usually introduced into the court system with a preliminary hearing. By law, a defendant must receive a summons that contains information regarding what may transpire at their preliminary hearing. The information provided to the defendant in the summons should contain:
- A copy of the criminal complaint including an affidavit of probable cause which outlines the district attorney’s or police investigation’s basis for filing the charges
- Notice of the defendant’s right to obtain legal representation
- Notice that bail will be set
- Notice that a failure to appear will result in a bench warrant for the defendant’s arrest
- A request for fingerprinting of the defendant is often included as well
Preliminary Hearings Are Not Trials
Many defendants become confused and mistake the preliminary hearing as the trial. This is incorrect. At the preliminary hearing it can be critical to have your legal representation present with you. This is because, without proper counsel, many defendants simply waive their right to the preliminary hearing and allow the matter to be scheduled for trial. This is almost always against the defendant’s best interest.
Burden Of Establishing The Right To Proceed: A Prima Facie Case
At preliminary trials, the Commonwealth or the police have a burden to establish a prima facie case. This means that, barring a rebuttal of the evidence, the action brought has enough legal merit to justify a verdict in favor of the party bringing the action. The Commonwealth must establish that each charge brought against the defendant is supported by competent evidence. From a defense perspective, the preliminary hearing is where a criminal defense attorney can begin to challenge the charges and evidence against a defendant, in effect putting them to a “stress test” that may result in the defendant facing lesser charges at trial.
Consult With A Criminal Defense Lawyer
All of the criminal defense attorneys at DRK Lawyers are former assistant district attorneys. We understand criminal cases and defense from both sides of the courtroom. We use our trial experience and knowledge of the government’s tactics to help defend our clients every day in the state of Pennsylvania. If you are facing criminal charges, please contact our team today. There is no charge for your initial consultation.