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Experience Matters
Stages of a Criminal Case
Farrell & Associates | Attorneys at Law

At Farrell & Associates, Attorneys at Law, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we represent criminal defendants at each and every stage of criminal proceedings, from the pre-arrest investigation through every possible appeal.

We recognize that many criminal defendants and incarcerated persons — and their families — experience anxiety during criminal proceedings because they don't understand the process. This page provides a general description of the stages in a criminal case. The description here refers specifically to criminal charges under state law, although the federal criminal process is similar.

Each stage in a criminal case comes with strict time limits during which the defendant or convicted person must take action or lose his or her right to do so. Contact our office immediately if you have questions or need representation.

Pre-arrest investigation or grand jury subpoena: In some cases, law enforcement will gather evidence before making an arrest or presenting a grand jury subpoena. This is an excellent time to seek legal advice. Although a person has no obligation to answer a police officer's questions, a person who receives a grand jury subpoena must appear before the grand jury and answer its questions or invoke a right or a privilege from answering such questions.

After an arrest and charge comes the preliminary arraignment, where the defendant appears in front of a judge. The charges are read and bail is set.

Preliminary hearing: This is the next formal proceeding, at which the district attorney must present some evidence to show that it's more likely than not the defendant committed the crime. The standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" does not apply here, nor do the usual rules of evidence.

Formal arraignment: It is not always necessary for the defendant to be present at the formal arraignment, which is a formality during which the district attorney issues a "criminal information" (Pennsylvania's term for an indictment).

Pre-trial conference: If a plea bargain is not reached, this is the final formal proceeding before a trial. In most cases, it is a formality during which the judge and the parties meet to decide on trial dates and length. The defendant must be present.

The trial: Depending on the charges, the defendant may have a trial by jury or a trial by a judge. If the verdict is not guilty, the process ends here.

Sentencing and post-sentencing motions: If the verdict is guilty, a separate proceeding will sometimes be held in order to pass sentence. Another separate proceeding will be held for the judge to hear post-sentencing motions.

Appeals and post-conviction relief: A person convicted of a crime has an absolute right to appeal a conviction. Other potential appeals exist, which are called discretionary because the court has discretion over whether or not to hear the appeal.

  • Absolute right to appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania
  • Discretionary right of appeal to Pennsylvania Supreme Court
  • Discretionary right of appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Absolute right to petition for post-conviction relief under the Post-Conviction Relief Act (or PCRA)
  • Absolute right to appeal the PCRA decision to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania
  • Discretionary right to appeal the PCRA decision to Pennsylvania Supreme Court
  • Discretionary right to appeal the PCRA decision to the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Absolute right to petition for writ of habeas corpus in the federal district court for Western Pennsylvania
  • Discretionary right of appeal to the federal Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
  • Discretionary right of appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court

Free and Confidential Initial Consultation at Farrell & Associates

Farrell & Associates offers a free and confidential initial consultation to all new potential clients.

Our offices are in downtown Pittsburgh, one block from the Allegheny County Courthouse, near the First Avenue T stop. Ample parking lots are located in the area.

To schedule an appointment with one of our lawyers, call toll-free, (412) 201-5159, or send an e-mail.

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