Court process in Berks County Court of Common Pleas

You've been charged with a crime. What happens next?

Your first court appearance will be your Preliminary Arraignment. This will be in front of a Magisterial District Judge (MDJ). You will be informed of the charges against you and the MDJ will set bail on your case. There are three different types of bail that are set in Berks County. The first is ROR (Released on Recognizance). This means that the MDJ did not set any monetary amount to secure your appearance at your next court date. The second is unsecured bail. The MDJ will set a monetary amount for your bail, but you will not need to pay that amount to stay out of jail or remain out of custody. Rather, you may owe that amount of unsecured bail if you fail to appear at your next court hearing. For example, a MDJ may set your bail for a first-offense DUI at $5,000 unsecured. You will be released (or remain out of custody) without paying $5,000, but you may owe that amount if you do not appear at your next court date. The last type of bail is called secured bail. This is the traditional type of bail that requires you to pay the secured amount in order to be released (or remain out of custody). The purpose of bail is to ensure a defendant's appearance at future court dates. The MDJ should take into consideration specific facts about the case and the defendant when setting bail. (If you were sent a summons instead of being arrested, your preliminary arraignment may occur right before your preliminary hearing is held.)

What happens at a Preliminary Hearing?

Your next court appearance will be your Preliminary Hearing. This will be held in front of the MDJ assigned to the district where the alleged crime occurred. ** If you have been charged with a crime which alleged occurred within the city of Reading, then your Preliminary Hearing will be held in Reading Central Court (RCC) on a Friday and will be heard by one of the city MDJs** This is usually your first chance to fight your case. It is extremely important that you have representation at your Preliminary Hearing. At this hearing, the District Attorney will need to prove a prima facie case against you. This is called a burden of proof. The Assistant District Attorney prosecuting your case will need to call witnesses and present evidence to convince the MDJ that a crime has been committed and that you are probably the person that committed it. Your attorney will be able to cross-examine all of the witnesses in an attempt to undermine their credibility or call attention to deficiencies in the District Attorney's case. If the MDJ decides that the Assistant District Attorney has made out a prima facie case, then the charges will be "bound over" or sent to the Court of Common Pleas. However, if the MDJ determines that a prima facie case has not be made out, then the charges will be dismissed.

What is a Formal Arraignment?

If the charges against you are not dismissed at your Preliminary Hearing, then your next court date will be your Formal Arraignment. ** If you have applied for DUI ARD then you will not have a Formal Arraignment** This is held in front of a Hearing Master at the courthouse in Reading and it will be your first appearance in the Court of Common Pleas. You will be asked to enter a plea and you will be given your next court date. If you are represented by an attorney you can waive your appearance at your Formal Arraignment.

What happens the first time I see a Judge in the Court of Common Pleas?

The court date that you receive at your Formal Arraignment will be your first appearance in front of the Common Pleas judge who will be handling your case. Common Pleas judges are assigned based on the district in which the alleged crime occurred. In general, that Common Pleas judge will hear your case until it is completed. This first appearance will usually be the time when your attorney tells the Judge what you will be doing with your case. You will usually either enter a guilty plea, be placed on ARD, ask for a continuance (a later court date), schedule a pretrial hearing or schedule your case for trial.

The court process outlined above is only a generalization. Each case is different. It is important that you have an attorney to help you through the maze that is the legal system. We can help you. Contact us today at 610-372-5128 or