After charges are filed, a date will be set for the preliminary arraignment. One will also have to be fingerprinted and photographed.
At the preliminary arraignment the Magisterial District Justice will inform you of the charges against you, advise you of a right to an attorney, set bail, and give you a copy of the complaint and affidavit of probable cause. The majority of time, an attorney is not needed at the preliminary arraignment, unless it is a serious charge like: murder, aggravated assault, sex crimes, possession with intent to deliver, etc.
After the preliminary arraignment, a date will be set for the preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is not a full trial. It simply tests the Commonwealth’s evidence against you. The Commonwealth must prove their prima facie case that a crime occurred and you committed the crime. One can put on witnesses to negate the Commonwealth’s evidence but not for credibility. One has a right to inspect evidence and cross-examine witnesses. It is a very low burden to get charges past a preliminary hearing. All the Commonwealth basically need to do, is prove that more likely or not a crime occurred and you did it then the charges will be held for court, sent up to Common Pleas Court. Because the preliminary hearing has such a low burden, most preliminary hearings are waived or stipulated. Preliminary hearings are primarily used to find out what is really going on with your case. Pa.R.Crim.P 542.
After the preliminary hearing, usually a couple months later, a date for formal arraignment is set. Formal Arraignment is where the offender stands mute and a not guilty plea is entered. It also starts the time for attorneys to ask for discovery, file suppression motions, when one’s rights were violated, and other things.
After the formal arraignment, an attorney has: (1) seven (7) days to file, in writing a request for a Bill of Particulars; (2) fourteen (14) days to file a motion in writing to the Court, for discovery and to inspect the evidence against you; and (3) thirty (30) days to file an Omnibus Pretrial Motion, which is basically a motion including all motions pertaining to one’s case like a suppression motion, motion to compel discovery, and any other motions. Pa.R.Crim.P 572, 573, 578 and 579.
Most counties allow one to waive formal arraignment, but an Attorney can only do this, so if you are Pro Se you cannot waive the formal arraignment.
Next, there will be notices sent for “Call of the List” where you, whether you are represented or not, will inform the Judge the path you case will take, and yes you have to go unless excused from the Judge or your Attorney gets a continuance. From there you will be placed either on the miscellaneous list, which is for pleas or sentence alternative programs like Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition [“ARD”] or Drug Court, or if you are proceeding with trial then you would be placed on the trial list.
No matter what list your case is placed on, a date will be set either for trial or a status update if you case is still pending approval in ARD or Drug Court.
A plea can be taken at almost any time.
This is just a brief overview of the criminal process.
No matter what you decide it is always better to have an attorney on your side.