Skip to navigation
The word arraignment composed of wooden dices along with gavel

What to Expect at Your Arraignment

Strand Law Offices, LLC Aug. 28, 2023

If it is your first time facing criminal charges, the criminal justice process in Pennsylvania may seem confusing and intimidating. The process is full of legal nuances, formalities, and intricacies you must be aware of to navigate your case effectively. Arraignment is one of the most critical—and also misunderstood—stages in the process.  

If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime, you need to know what to expect at your arraignment and how to prepare. Our criminal defense attorney at Strand Law Offices, LLC is here to help you make informed decisions about your case at every step of the process. We have offices in Lancaster and West Chester, Pennsylvania, but serve clients throughout Lancaster County and surrounding counties.  

What Happens at the Formal & Preliminary Arraignments?

Pennsylvania’s criminal law recognizes two types of arraignment: preliminary and formal. The preliminary arraignment, which is usually referred to as a “first court appearance” in other states, should be held within 72 hours of the arrest.  

The defendant is not questioned about the charges filed against them during the preliminary arraignment. Instead, the judge or magistrate provides the defendant with a copy of their criminal complaint, advises them of their rights (e.g., the right to legal counsel), and explains whether their offense is eligible for bail.  

The next step in the criminal justice process in Pennsylvania is the formal arraignment, which is usually held within a month or two months after the preliminary hearing, according to the official Pennsylvania government website.  

At the formal arraignment, the defendant is informed about the charges against them and asked to sign the paperwork to verify they understand the nature of the charges. The court will also inform the defendant about their ability to file pre-trial motions and request discovery. Keep in mind that certain pleadings to the court have deadlines. If the defendant does not file some motions within 30 days after the arraignment, they may lose their right to do so. After the formal arraignment, the defendant’s defense attorney will receive the discovery in the criminal case, which can be used by the accused and their attorney to discuss their appropriate next steps.  

It is very unlikely that charges against the defendant will be dropped or dismissed during the formal arraignment. Typically, judges do not have the authority to dismiss charges at arraignment hearings. However, sometimes it happens that the prosecution opts to drop charges before the arraignment. The most common reason for this is when the prosecutor finds evidence indicating that the defendant is not guilty of the crime.  

What Happens After the Arraignment?

After a formal arraignment is complete, a pre-trial conference will be held where you will be given the opportunity to respond to the charges you are facing. There are three options for how to respond to the charges in Pennsylvania: 

  1. You plead not guilty and start preparing for trial;  

  1. You plead guilty and wait for sentencing; or 

  1. You request a continuance of the conference.  

What happens next depends on your response. If you plead not guilty, your case will move into the pre-trial stage where the opposing parties must prepare for discovery, which is the formal process of exchanging evidence and information between the parties.  

If you plead guilty, the court will schedule your sentencing hearing where the judge will impose penalties against you. However, it is never advisable to plead guilty unless you have consulted with your attorney and they confirmed that entering this plea is your best option.   

Requesting continuance means that you want your pre-trial conference to be rescheduled. However, your request is likely to be rejected unless you can provide a compelling reason for rescheduling (e.g., incomplete discovery).  

Do I Need an Attorney for the Arraignment Process?

Yes, it is wise to have an attorney represent you during the arraignment process and beyond. If you hire an attorney, you can rest assured that your rights will be protected before, during, and after the arraignment.  

Your criminal defense attorney can advise on how to behave during the arraignment and how to plead during the pre-trial conference. While pleading not guilty is often the best option for the defendant to fight the charges and avoid harsh penalties, in some situations, entering a guilty plea may actually result in a better outcome. Having an attorney advise you on your options and explain all possible outcomes is crucial when it comes to making a strategic decision.   

You may also need an attorney to convince the judge to reduce your bail or release you on your own recognizance. Overall, an attorney can assist you at every step of the criminal justice process, not just your arraignment, to ensure that your case is resolved in the best possible manner. If nothing else, having an attorney at your arraignment can put you at ease.  

Criminal Defense Attorney Prepared to Advocate for You

As your legal advocate, the dedicated criminal defense attorney at Strand Law Offices, LLC can protect you in and out of court. Our attorney can use his 20 years of legal experience, connections in the criminal justice system, and effective negotiation skills to help you go after the best outcome possible. Reach out to our office in West Chester, Pennsylvania, to start working on your strong defense.