What Is a Formal Arraignment in Pennsylvania?

by | Aug 29, 2022

Formal arraignments occur after a preliminary hearing when a magisterial district or municipal court judge moves your case to a Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania. It is a hearing where you are officially informed of your charges and enter your plea. A formal arraignment usually occurs within 30 to 60 days of your preliminary hearing.

Hire a criminal defense attorney to represent you at this and future hearings. We will protect your legal rights, point out prosecutor inconsistencies and police violations, and present evidence to mitigate or prevent negative consequences, such as incarceration, fines, and more.

In This Article

The Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers at Shuttleworth Law discuss what happens at a formal arraignment in PA, what comes after a formal arraignment, if your lawyer can attend your formal arraignment without you, and other essential details about this process. We wrote this post for people facing charges in Pennsylvania or their loved ones who are seeking legal information about criminal proceedings.

What Happens at a Formal Arraignment in PA?

A formal arraignment will occur if a magistrate or municipal court judge believes sufficient evidence exists for the case to proceed to trial. The criminal matter will be transferred from the local court to the trial court in the Court of Common Pleas for the formal arraignment after the preliminary hearing.

Below, we have outlined the two main events that occur at a formal arraignment in PA:

Event 1. Hearing the Information

Upon transfer to the trial court, you will again be advised of the charges against you and the maximum penalties that can be imposed for each charge. You will also be informed of the right to file motions concerning the proceedings and other rules that apply to criminal matters, such as ensuring you attend all proceedings; otherwise, they will continue without you.

Event 2. Entering a Plea

At a formal arraignment, a defendant will be asked to enter a guilty or not guilty plea to the charges. A lawyer must be involved in this process so that persons facing charges can make the best possible decisions for their case.

Charges are extremely unlikely to be dropped during a formal arraignment. Judges typically lack the jurisdiction to dismiss charges at formal arraignment hearings. However, prosecutors can opt to drop charges before arraignment, but they will only do so if they have a sufficient reason. This may involve the prosecutor uncovering proof indicating the defendant was falsely accused of the crime.

What Comes After a Formal Arraignment in PA?

A pre-trial conference comes after a formal arraignment in PA. The information entered into the record tells the court how you wish to proceed with your case. Your criminal defense attorney will prepare one of three responses for the court after discussing your legal options with you at length.

Your three options for responding to your charges during the pre-trial conference generally include the following:

  • Option 1. You are entering a plea of not guilty and ready for trial; or
  • Option 2. You are entering a plea of guilty and prepared for sentencing; or
  • Option 3. You are requesting a continuance of the conference for just cause

Depending upon the response entered, your case will take vastly different directions. Going to trial means that your case will continue in the discovery phase of the pre-trial stage. The discovery phase is when your attorney and prosecutors exchange evidence.

Entering a guilty plea will take you to the sentencing phase, where the judge will impose penalties against you. You should never plead guilty to a crime unless you have received legal advice on the decision because doing so limits your rights.

A continuance will mean that you are rescheduling your pre-trial conference. However, you will need to provide a compelling reason why you are asking for a continuance. A compelling reason can include incomplete discovery, the need to conduct an investigation, or the need to negotiate further with the prosecutor.

Related Article: What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing in PA?

Can My Lawyer Go to My Formal Arraignment Without Me?

It depends on the facts of your case. Your lawyer can go to your formal arraignment without you if you’ve signed a waiver of arraignment and your lawyer files it. However, the waiver of arraignment must be filed sufficiently in advance of the arraignment.

You may have a very good reason for not being able to attend your formal arraignment, such as a severe illness or death in the immediate family. However, your attorney will still need to arrange for a continuance under these circumstances with proof of the preventative issue.

Related Article: Eyeball Falling Out in Court Precipitates a Mistrial

How to Conduct Yourself at a Formal Arraignment

You have the right to communicate with your attorney throughout the formal arraignment. However, your attorney will generally advise you on how to handle the formal arraignment, including what time to show up, where you can meet each other, appropriate courtroom attire, and what will happen.

Another option is remaining silent during the formal arraignment. You must respond when asked how you plead your case. Always get legal advice before entering a guilty plea since there is little your lawyer can do to prevent legal consequences at that point.

There are several opportunities to protect your case during the formal arraignment. However, missing these opportunities could also negatively impact your defense. Ensure you get legal advice from a criminal defense firm with the experience, knowledge, and resources that demonstrate a deep commitment to pushing back against the charges you face.

Call Shuttleworth Law for a Free Case Evaluation Now

The Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys at Shuttleworth Law are ready to help you or concerned loved ones get answers after an arrest. Call us today for a Free Case Evaluation at (215) 774-1371 or message us online here.

We can also arrange to meet with you via secure video conferencing or traveling to your preferred location.

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