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What Do You Do if You Are On Trial For a Crime in Pennsylvania?

When a person is arrested for or charged with a crime in Pennsylvania, they will require expert legal counsel to navigate the Pennsylvania Judicial System laws and criminal procedures. Defendants have the right to an attorney and are advised to refrain from speaking to police without one. Depending on the case, persons who cannot afford to hire legal counsel may have one appointed by the court (Pa.R.Crim.P 122).

After arrest, a preliminary arraignment may be held. The defendant is informed of charges against them and their rights. Bail may also be set at preliminary arraignments. The preliminary hearing is held after the arraignment. At the preliminary hearing, the defendant's plea is entered. Here, the judge determines whether there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial. Negotiations and plea agreements are also made at the preliminary hearing. In Pennsylvania, preliminary arraignments and hearings are held in minor courts such as Magisterial District Courts. Defendants may choose to waive the right to a preliminary hearing.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

What Percentage of Criminal Cases go to Trial in Pennsylvania?

From January 1, 2018, through December 31, 2018, 247,955 cases were available for processing. Out of these cases, 156,546 were new cases, and 171,690 cases in total were processed.

Of the processed cases, 66.4% were guilty plea cases, and 6.4% were dismissed or withdrawn statewide. Dismissed or withdrawn cases are those where the case against a defendant was withdrawn or charges dismissed. It also includes cases where the prosecution chooses not to proceed with a case. 18.4% of processed cases were diversionary disposition. These are cases where a defendant is admitted into an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (A.R.D.), a pre-trial probationary program. Upon successful completion, the defendant may petition the court to have the charges filed against them dismissed.

When does a Criminal Defendant Have the Right to a Trial?

Under the Constitution of Pennsylvania (Pa. Const. Art. I, § 6), persons accused in any criminal proceeding have the right to a jury trial. However, cases with a maximum sentence of imprisonment of six months are exempted from the constitutional right to a jury trial. Also, juvenile offenders do not have the right to a jury trial.

Preliminary hearings are held to protect the defendant from unlawful arrest or detention. After the preliminary hearing, a case may either proceed to trial or be dismissed. If it is determined by the court that there is enough evidence to go to trial, it is at this point that the right to a jury trial comes to play.

Juries are made up of up to 12 pre-selected persons. A defendant may agree, with the judge's approval, to be tried by a jury of fewer than 12 people. However, the number of jurors cannot be less than six. (Pa.R.Crim.P.641)

What are the Stages of a Criminal Trial in Pennsylvania?

The stages in a criminal trial are:

  • Jury selection and impaneling
  • Opening statements
  • Examination of evidence and witnesses
  • Closing arguments
  • Jury charge
  • Jury deliberation and verdict
  • Sentencing
  • Post-trial motions

How Long Does it Take For a Case to Go to Trial in Pennsylvania?

The amount of time it takes for a case to go to trial depends on several factors, such as the nature of the offense, the motions filed, motions for adjournment or continuance, and discovery. However, from when the defendant enters a plea or when a judge calls the case to trial, the Pennsylvania Criminal Code provides defendants the right to a prompt or speedy trial (Pa.R.Crim.P 600).

What Happens When a Court Case Goes to Trial in Pennsylvania?

When a case goes to trial in Pennsylvania, jury selection and impaneling is the first stage of the process. Every year, a master list of prospective jurors is prepared by the jury selection committee 42 Pa.C.S45, § 4521. A jury pool is selected from the master list, and a maximum number of 12 jurors are selected from this pool. The 12 jurors are selected after questioning by the prosecution and defense, and they are sworn to hear the cause (234Pa. Code Rule 640).

After every juror is sworn in, the prosecution and defense will present their cases with opening statements. After that, available evidence will be presented, and witnesses examined. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the offense as charged. After the evidence, the prosecution and defense will make closing arguments to summarize their cases.

The jury is then charged by the trial judge and will retire to deliberate. The jury's verdict must be unanimous; if no agreement is reached, it will be declared a mistrial. If the jury reaches a unanimous verdict, it will be announced in open court, and the judge will deliver a sentence for the conviction.

Can you be Put on Trial Twice for the Same Crime in Pennsylvania?

No, a person cannot be put on trial twice for the same offense in Pennsylvania. The Constitution of the United States (U.S. Const. amend.V) and the Pennsylvania constitution (Pa. Const. Art. I, § 10) offer protection against double jeopardy.

However, a person may be tried for the same offense in different states because each state is considered sovereign with separate interests. When a person violates the laws of two separate sovereigns in the same act, it will be considered two distinct offenses. This is the Dual Sovereignty Doctrine. Under the Dual Sovereignty Doctrine, a person can be tried by both the state and the federal government for the same offense.

How Do I Lookup a Criminal Court Case in Pennsylvania?

Records of criminal court cases can be copied or viewed in person at the Clerk's Office in the court where the case is being or was heard. Requests may be made orally to the record custodian. However, requestors must provide specific descriptions of the required records to enable the record custodian to identify the record correctly.

For voluminous or complex requests, a written request may be required. Requestors will be required to state the reason for their request and be required to submit completed Request for Access forms.

Except where otherwise provided by law or where limits to public access exist, case records are public records. The Case Records Public Access Policy guides the dissemination of criminal court case records.

Case records can also be accessed online through government websites and third-party websites as

How to Access Electronic Court Records in Pennsylvania

Interested persons may access Pennsylvania court records online through the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania (U.J.S.) web portal. The portal provides access to court records in the Appellate courts (Supreme court, Superior courts, and Commonwealth Court), Criminal Courts of Common Pleas, and Magisterial District Courts. Records can be searched by:

  • Docket number
  • Court name
  • Participant name
  • Organization
  • State identification number
  • Police incident/complaint number
  • Offense tracking number
  • Citation number
  • Date filed
  • Parcel

Some information is not accessible online. Information excluded from the U.J.S. portal includes:

  • Social security numbers
  • Victim information
  • Juror information
  • Witness or informant information
  • Financial account numbers
  • Information restricted from public access by law.

The use of the U.J.S. portal is guided by the Electronic Case Records Public Access Policy.

How Do I Remove Public Court Records in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, public court records can be removed through the process of expungement or sealing. Expungement is the complete and permanent removal of the record while sealing makes the record inaccessible to the public.

Under Pennsylvania's Clean Slate Act, some offenses are eligible for automatic sealing. Second and third-degree misdemeanors, ungraded misdemeanors, and offenses with a penalty of no more than five years imprisonment may be sealed after ten years. Provided that the offender has not been arrested for or charged with another offense (18 Pa.C.S.A §9122.1.) Persons who want to restrict public access to their court records may file a motion at the court where they were convicted. Violent and sexual offenses are not eligible to be sealed. A filing fee of $132 is required.

According to 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122, court records may be expunged if:

  • No disposition is received in the case
  • The subject of the record is 70 years old and has not been charged with an offense in the ten years prior to filing
  • The subject of the record is dead
  • The subject of the record was charged with a summary offense,
    • Five years have passed since the requirements of the sentence have been fulfilled.
    • The subject has not been arrested or charged with another crime in the last five years.
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  • Civil Judgements
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