Philadelphia Defense Attorney for Criminal Arraignments

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers

There are two types of arraignments in state court in Pennsylvania: a preliminary arraignment and a formal arraignment. A preliminary arraignment is a defendant’s first hearing before a judge or magistrate. The formal arraignment occurs later in a criminal case. At the formal arraignment, defendants plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the charges brought against them.

Often our clients hire us at the preliminary arraignment stage or when there is a warrant out for an individual’s arrest. When there is a warrant out for your arrest, it is critical that you call an attorney immediately to protect your rights.

Our Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys protect your rights when hired early by standing between you and law enforcement. We also strive to make the turn-in process as straightforward and painless as possible. At the formal arraignment stage, the case is initiated with what is referred to as a Bill of Information. The Bill of Information formally lists the charges and the defendant will typically enter a not guilty plea at this stage.

Preliminary Arraignments

A magistrate or bail commissioner presides over a preliminary arraignment. At a preliminary arraignment, the defendant will receive a copy of the complaint that is being filed against him/her. The complaint lists the charges against the defendant. If you were arrested by warrant, the rules of criminal procedure require that you receive a copy of the warrant at the preliminary arraignment or, at the very latest, one business day after the preliminary arraignment if a photocopier is not available.

The preliminary arraignment is not an opportunity for the government to ask the defendant questions about the crimes with which the defendant is charged. Rather, the defendant will learn of the charges against him/her and bail will be set.

In fact, it is not a good idea for you to speak with the prosecution or police without first seeking advice from a seasoned defense attorney, since your words have no chance of helping you and certainly can hurt you. At the preliminary arraignment stage, an experienced attorney is a crucial advocate for the defendant’s release on bail and in advocating for low or no bail.

Call (215) 302-0171 to ask any question about arraignments to our criminal defense lawyers in Philadelphia.

The Process

After the defendant is placed under arrest, the defendant will typically await preliminary arraignment in a holding cell inside the police district. The time the defendant waits in custody for a preliminary arraignment depends on several factors: in which county the arrest occurred, the time of day, and the number of people waiting to be processed. Each county has different procedures in conducting a preliminary arraignment.

Philadelphia County

Preliminary arraignments run 24/7 in Philadelphia County. Typically, a person that is arrested will have to wait about 12-14 hours for a preliminary arraignment, although the police can hold a defendant for up to 48 hours without an arraignment. Preliminary arraignments will usually be performed over a two-way simultaneous audio-visual communication device.

In other words, the defendant will be able to see and hear the bail commissioner on a television from the police district where he is being held. Likewise, the bail commissioner will be able to see and hear the defendant from a courtroom at another site. The defense attorney will advocate for the defendant from the courtroom where the bail commissioner is presiding.

Counties in Philadelphia Suburbs

Preliminary arraignments in counties outside of Philadelphia do not run 24/7, and the defendant will usually be arraigned in-person at a magistrate’s courthouse. Thus, where a defendant is arrested in the evening hours, he or she will have to wait overnight for the preliminary arraignment.

However, where the defendant is arrested during the day, the wait time for preliminary arraignment usually is closer to a few hours. Also, in outlying counties it is usually easier for an attorney to get an exact time for a hearing, thus eliminating the need for you to wait in a holding cell. Again, this is another advantage to being represented by counsel early.

Formal Arraignments

At a formal arraignment, a defendant will typically enter a plea of “not guilty.” Defendants do not usually plead guilty at a formal arraignment, because a plea deal is not usually part of the formal arraignment process. However, a defendant can still enter into a plea deal after he or she has undergone the formal arraignment process, provided the prosecution offers one.

A formal arraignment is held after the preliminary hearing stage of a criminal case. Essentially, when a judge finds that probable cause exists that a defendant committed the crimes alleged at a preliminary hearing, the case will be “held for court.” Formal arraignment marks the beginning of a case in the Court of Common Pleas. If there are no felony charges and the case is in Philadelphia County, the defendant may undergo a trial in municipal court before he or she is scheduled for a formal arraignment.

If the defendant is convicted of one or more offenses in municipal court he or she has an automatic right to appeal to the Court of Common Pleas within 30 days after sentencing. It is only at this point that the defendant will undergo a formal arraignment. If the defendant wins in municipal court, he may never go through the formal arraignment process.

Our Lawyers Can Help

Defendants may sometimes wish to waive the formal arraignment. Reasons for waiver may vary, but often the hassle of coming to court plays a role. The defendant should discuss the decision to waive arraignment with his attorney.

Nonetheless, a defendant may be permitted to waive formal arraignment where his attorney files a waiver of appearance that acknowledges (1) the defendant understands the nature of the charges, (2) that the defendant understands the rights of which he would be informed at the arraignment, and that the defendant waives his right to appear at the arraignment.

If you or a loved one was arrested and has an arraignment coming up, it is in your best interest to have an experienced attorney by your side. Call the Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Lloyd Long for a free consultation.


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