According to Pennsylvania Criminal Code (Rule 509, Use of Summons or Warrant of Arrest in Court Cases), the issuing authority is responsible for issuing a summons to appear for “cases in which the most serious charge is a misdemeanor of the second degree or a misdemeanor of the first degree in cases arising under 75 PA C.S. § 3802 (driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance).
A summons to appear indicates that there have been charges filed against you, and you must respond by appearing in court for a preliminary hearing. In Pennsylvania, the issuing authority is required to attempt to serve the summons by first class mail and certified mail with a return receipt requested. If both attempts are returned undeliverable, a warrant for arrest will be issued.
If you receive a summons in the mail, it is important that you respond as required and attend the court date as specified. Failure to appear will also result in a warrant for your arrest.
The preliminary hearing notice is included with your summons to appear. This document indicates the date and time of your preliminary hearing. If you are charged by mail, your preliminary hearing will be scheduled no sooner than 20 days before the summons was postmarked, unless you (or your defense attorney) were aware of the pending charges and had requested an earlier date.
During the preliminary hearing, a judge, not a jury, will hear the case brought forth by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and determine if there is enough evidence to proceed with the criminal charges. Generally, you can expect the following:
- Evidence will be submitted
- The prosecution (Commonwealth) and defense (your attorney) may cross examine witnesses
- Your attorney may present a defending argument
You’re required to attend your preliminary hearing; failure to do so will result in a warrant for your arrest. Generally, you will not present testimony because of the way evidence is received. At that time you will also be able to waive your rights to the hearing. In some cases, waiving a hearing is part of a long-term strategy by your attorney and part of potential sentencing or plea deal negotiations. However, waiving your hearing can also have significant negative consequences that can impede your defense during trial. As such, it is imperative to secure legal counsel and speak to an attorney prior to your preliminary hearing
If the judge determines the Commonwealth provided enough support for their case, the next step will be a formal arraignment. During the arraignment, which will take place a few weeks after your preliminary hearing, you’ll be advised of formal charges and have the opportunity to enter a plea.
If you are charged with a crime, the police must document the accusations by submitting a criminal complaint form. This form contains the details about your charges, including whether they were filed by a private party or by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The complaint form typically includes your name (i.e., the defendant); information about the alleged offense, including a description, relevant statutes (laws) and the grading (misdemeanors, felonies); and the date on which the alleged offense occurred.
In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, an individual may only be arrested or charged in the presence of probable cause. Charges may only be filed when there is “probable cause,” or reason to believe a crime has been committed. The affidavit is sworn testimony, often by police, that the charges resulted do stem from what they consider probable cause. This, when paired with the police criminal complaint, provides invaluable information for your legal counsel and can help you prepare for the upcoming court case.
All individuals charged with a crime in Pennsylvania must submit fingerprints. If an individual is arrested and held for processing, fingerprinting takes place at that time. However, if you receive notification of charges via mail, the packet must include a fingerprinting order(Rule 510). You should complete this requirement before the preliminary hearing. If you fail to do so, fingerprinting may become a condition of bail set at the preliminary hearing. (Rule 543)
Receiving notification of charges in the mail can be a shocking experience that leaves you feeling anxious, angry, and confused. A summons does indicate that you are being formally charged with a crime, but there are things you can do to prepare for events that follow.
It is imperative that you thoroughly read all the requirements outlines in your summons package, but you shouldn’t move forward without seeking the support of legal counsel. The attorneys at Palissery Law Offices recognize that this is a life altering event, and we are help you navigate the process and ensure that your rights are upheld. Our skilled criminal defense lawyers are prepared to fight for you from the preliminary hearing on. We can help you understand the alleged charges and make sure that you are prepared for what comes next. Contact us today so that we can provide you with the criminal defense services you deserve.