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“I’ve been Charged with a Crime in Union County. What Now?”

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Union County, Pennsylvania and you’re wondering what happens next in the process, you’ve come to the right place. The responsibility of filing charges in Union County, Pennsylvania falls to local police departments as well as the Pennsylvania State Police who have jurisdiction to file charges. But ultimately the responsibility of proceeding with those charges belongs to the District Attorney for Union County, Pete Johnson.

Here’s the process that you will encounter if you’ve been charged with a crime.

Preliminary Arraignment and Preliminary Hearing

union county court

We’ve written before about preliminary arraignments and preliminary hearings in criminal cases. Union County’s process is not different in that the preliminary arraignment and preliminary hearing are the defendant’s first opportunity to hear the charges against him or her and to hear the evidence that the Commonwealth has to prove the crime.

The bar for the Commonwealth to prove their case in a preliminary hearing is very low. The Commonwealth need only prove that they have probable cause for bringing the charges. If they’re able to prove that, then the charges move forward to more serious stages of criminal litigation.

Omnibus Pretrial Motion

Assuming the Commonwealth is able to meet its burden and move past the preliminary hearing, the next stage in the process is for the defendant if they wish to request discovery and file an omnibus pretrial motion. This motion allows the defendant to challenge the charges against them and to have them assessed at a much higher standard that is construed against the Commonwealth.

If the Commonwealth will be unable to meet its burden, the charges will be dismissed. Omnibus pretrial motions are a unique opportunity for criminal defendants to bring a motion to suppress evidence or to bring a habeas corpus motion to have the charges dismissed entirely.

Disposition and Trial

Most cases in Union County, Pennsylvania are resolved at a disposition hearing long before trial. This is an opportunity to reach a plea agreement with the Commonwealth, enter into a diversionary program such as ARD (accelerated rehabilitative disposition) or to reach some other arrangement. Disposition hearings are typically where an experienced attorney will have worked out the best deal possible for a client.

However, many criminal defendants don’t wish to plead guilty. They want to go forward to trial. This might be because the deal offered is not very good or because they believe that in principle they are right and shouldn’t have to agree to some sort of deal. In this case, it is absolutely vital to have an experienced criminal defense attorney who is able to go forward to trial and handle the charges by aggressively challenging the Commonwealth’s case.

Conclusion

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we help criminal defendants in Union County to defend against criminal charges by defending them at all stages in the litigation process, including at trial. Call us today to discuss your charges and to have a free consultation on what we can do for you.

What is the difference between a preliminary hearing and a preliminary arraignment?

When the government charges you with a crime in Pennsylvania, your first two hearings are the Preliminary Arraignment and the Preliminary Hearing. Both of these occur at the Magisterial District Court.

What is the difference between these two hearings? And what should you do to prepare for each of them? You can watch this quick video or keep reading to find out.

The Preliminary Arraignment

The preliminary arraignment is the first step in the prosecution of a crime in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This is the first opportunity you will have to be in front of a Judge on your criminal charges. At an arraignment, a judge formally intakes you into the criminal justice system. The judge will set your bail, read you your charges, and ask for your contact information. The judge will put your contact information into the county’s system. This is how the Courts get ahold of you to inform you of future hearings.

This arraignment is “preliminary” because there will be two arraignments during the process of disposing of your criminal charges. This is the first one, and if you retain an attorney, this is the only one you will have to attend. The preliminary arraignment is important because it is the opportunity for you to hear the charges for the first time. You will also obtain a copy of the Affidavit of Probable Cause that a police officer has filed supporting the charges against you. It is also your chance to advocate for unsecured bail, which would mean you would not have to pay money down to be at liberty during the rest of your case.

The Preliminary Hearing

The preliminary hearing is the second hearing that you will attend during the process of having your criminal charges dealt with. This hearing will typically occur at the same Court that your preliminary arraignment was held at. In most cases, the preliminary hearing follows the preliminary arraignment by a week or two.

At your preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth is required to put on its case against you. The Judge will only require the Commonwealth to prove that it has a prima facie case against you. Prima facie is Latin for “first blush” or “at first look.” This means that the Commonwealth must prove it has a good reason for charging you. They must demonstrate that they have probable cause. At a preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth does not have to prove the burden beyond a reasonable doubt: their only goal is to prove to the Magisterial District Judge that the charges are not completely lacking in merit. If they are able to prove that, then the charges will be “bound over” to the Court of Common Pleas.

Preliminary Hearings are where you make a deal or prepare to fight

So, what is the point of a preliminary hearing? In a preliminary hearing, your attorney will have the opportunity to meet with the prosecution to discuss your case. Your attorney will know how to explore whether the Commonwealth will be willing to accept a plea deal that is good for you. The negotiations that happen here are very important and often dictate the outcome of the case. If you mess up the negotiations here, the case can get much harder, and your best deals often come off the table after this hearing. This is the first chance for your attorney to cross examine the police officer and potentially other witnesses against you.

The preliminary hearing is extremely important. In some cases, it is an opportunity to have all the charges completely dismissed. At other times, it is a crucial opportunity to get evidence on the record that will lead to suppression of evidence when the case goes to the Court of Common Pleas. In other instances, it is best to waive the preliminary hearing—that is, to agree not to have the hearing—in order to secure a more favorable deal from the prosecution. But in all these instances it is vital to be represented by a criminal defense attorney at the preliminary hearing.

Conclusion

Having a criminal defense attorney by your side to advise and speak for you is crucial. If you have further questions about these hearings, or about your specific charges, we welcome you to call the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm to discuss your case.