If you’ve been charged with a crime, it’s important to understand the criminal trial process along with your right to have a trial by jury of your peers. Know the options you have available in the criminal justice system and take advantage of those options through the help provided by a seasoned and highly skilled Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney.
Our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC can fight hard to reduce, and if possible, eliminate the charges against you. Let us build a strong defense on your behalf and explain every step of the criminal process in Pittsburgh. Call us today at (412) 423-5999 or contact us through our online form to request a free legal consultation.
What Takes Place Pre-Trial?
Of course, any criminal case filed against you normally begins with an arrest. The arrest can occur in accordance with an arrest warrant issued by a judge that authorizes law enforcement to bring you into custody based on a particular criminal charge. As well, an arrest can take place by a police officer who witnesses any criminal activity you may have committed. If you are incarcerated, you may be eligible to post bond which will enable you to remain free from custody until the date of your formal arraignment.
After your arrest, and prior to the criminal trial process, the following steps will occur:
- The Preliminary Arraignment, in which you will be presented before the magisterial district judge. The judge will provide you with a copy of the criminal complaint, advise you of your right to obtain counsel, inform you of your preliminary hearing date, and set your bail.
- The Preliminary Hearing, in which the Commonwealth, before a district judge, will attempt to prove that a criminal offense was committed and that you are the one who committed the offense. The prosecution’s burden of proof is very low at the preliminary hearing. This hearing is designed to protect citizens from unlawful detention and arrest. Enough evidence must be provided to the judge to establish the need to move the case forward in the justice system.
- The Formal Arraignment, in which you will be presented with the formal charges of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania against you. At this hearing you will be required to enter a plea of not guilty, guilty, or, no contest (nolo contendere). The formal arraignment typically occurs within about one month of the preliminary hearing, subject to county rules and the current backlog of cases. If you have an attorney, you will likely not be required to appear at this arraignment. The purpose of this arraignment is to explain to you, the defendant, the penalties associated with each charge, your rights at trial, local county practices, as well as inform you of the trial date.
- The Discovery Process, in which you, the defendant, are entitled to receive discovery from the prosecution, or all evidence they have against you. The various components of the case that constitute discovery include all photographs, expert reports, witnesses, police reports, criminal histories, and any and all other evidence gathered by the prosecution against you.
- The Pre-Trial Conference (or Call of the List), in which the trial judge is advised on the status of the case by both the defense and prosecution sides. This is the stage at which the course of disposition of the case is determined by the collective influences of the prosecution, you and your attorney, and the judge. The disposition of the case going forward can include setting a date for jury selection and completing any pretrial motions. As well, if a plea bargain has been agreed to between the parties, the case may be resolved at this time.
The Trial Process
If you choose to not entertain and accept a plea bargain, and instead submit a plea of not guilty, you can then move forward into the criminal trial process. You will be able to choose a trial by jury or trial by judge.
In your criminal trial, the prosecution which is representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must present its evidence and prove the charges it has filed against you beyond a reasonable doubt. As the defendant, you have a right to a jury trial in a misdemeanor and felony case with the exception of some cases involving DUI offenses.
The jury selection process often takes about half a day depending on the nature of the crime, and is as follows:
Each side (prosecution and defense) selects the jurors and has the opportunity to strike (remove) prospective jurors from consideration they do not like or feel will be impartial or fair. Each side receives an equal number of these strikes, also called preemptory challenges. After the jury has been selected (consisting of 12 jurors plus alternates) the case moves toward trial.
Other parts of the trial process include:
- Opening Statements- The prosecution and defense will present their sides of the case to the jury, including what they expect the facts will be and show.
- Prosecution’s Case- The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will present its evidence and call witnesses that support its evidence. Your defense team will have the opportunity to cross-examine each witness for the prosecution.
- Defense’s Case- Your defense attorney will have the opportunity to present evidence on your behalf and also call witnesses. The prosecution may cross-examine these witnesses.
- Closing Arguments- Both sides will argue their cases to the jury, attempting to persuade the members of the jury as to the validity of their case. Closing arguments involve each side arguing the facts of the case and the law. Your trial attorney need only demonstrate reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors as to the validity of the charges filed against you.
- Jury Instructions- The judge will explain the law to the jurors, and the jurors will take an oath to follow the law.
- Jury Deliberations- The jury will deliberate in a room among themselves and determine a verdict for each count in the trial – guilty or not guilty. All 12 jurors must agree on the same verdict for a particular count in order for it to be accepted by the court.
- Verdict- The verdict on each count will be read in court by the jury foreman.
After the Trial
Once the verdict is read, you will move into the post-trial period. If you were found not guilty, you will be released from jail after processing unless you have other holds that are keeping you in jail. If you have other charges pending or if you have charges against you in another county or state, you may be transferred to those locations.
If you are found guilty, you may go through the following steps:
- Sentencing (if applicable)- If you are found guilty on one or more of the counts, the judge will usually determine and issue your sentence.
- Appeal (if applicable)- If either side (you and your attorney or the prosecution) disagrees with the verdict on any count, you or the prosecution has the right to appeal the verdict to a higher court.
Contact a Skilled Pittsburgh Criminal Trial Attorney
Regardless of the criminal charge you are facing in Pennsylvania, you need a reliable and experienced defense lawyer who understands how to navigate your case toward the best possible outcome on your behalf. Our skilled attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC know how to effectively negotiate in your favor and also build you a strong defense if your case proceeds through the criminal trial process.
Call us today at (412) 281-2146 to set up a free case evaluation.