Someone I know in the Lehigh Valley was Just Arrested by the Police for a Serious Crime, what is the next Step?

This information is provided by Andrew Theyken Legal, for educational reference only.  Always contact an attorney about your legal issues.

Arrest with a Warrant and Without a Warrant

If someone you know in Allentown, Bethlehem, or Easton, was just arrested by the police, it went down in one of two ways, either with an arrest warrant or without an arrest warrant.

Generally, the law prefers when people are arrested under the power of an arrest warrant.  This is because to get an arrest warrant, a police officer had to go in front of a judge previously and produce evidence through a criminal complaint that the person to be arrested probably committed the crime for which the defendant is about to be arrested.  This is a check in the system to make sure that police do not abuse their power by arresting people for no reason.

Although arrest warrants are the preferred method of getting someone into the criminal justice system, they are fairly rare beasts unless the crimes are extremely serious.  More often than not, people enter the criminal justice system after being arrested by a police officer on the beat.  The Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal procedure permit arrest without a warrant in two general classes of cases: (1) where a police officer has probable cause that a felony occurred, and (2) where a police officer witnessed a misdemeanor occur.  If either of these two events happened, a police officer can arrest a suspect without a warrant and that arrest starts the criminal court proceeding.  Penna. R. Crim. P. 502(2) cmt.

What Will Happen After the Arrest?

The question of what happens after the arrest depends on whether or not the arrest was made under the authority of an arrest warrant.  The discussion that follows is a bit technical, but, you should know that after your loved-one has been booked at the police station, their next stop is likely the jail and then a district magistrate (though they may appear in front of the district magistrate by closed circuit TV).  If you are looking for a loved one who has just been arrested, your best bet is to call the police department who made the arrest and the county jail where the arrest occurred.  If the arrest concerned a crime that is not very serious, the police may release a criminal suspect directly from the police station, in which case, the suspect will likely get a summons in the mail explaining what to do next.  Such a release is permitted if three conditions are met:

  • the most serious offense charged is a misdemeanor of the second degree or a misdemeanor of the first degree in cases arising under 75 Pa.C.S. 3802;
  • the defendant poses no threat of immediate physical harm to any other person or to himself or herself; and
  • the arresting officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the defendant will appear as required.  Penna. R. Crim. P. 519(B).

Assuming your loved one isn't released from the police station, the following procedure will occur, depending on whether the arrest was or was not made under the authority of a warrant.

Arrest was Made under the Authority of an Arrest Warrant

If the arrest of your loved-one occurred under the authority of an arrest warrant, then, the purpose of appearing in front of the district magistrate (known technically as the preliminary arraignment) is to apprise the defendant of why they were arrested, to set bail, and to set a date for a preliminary hearing.  During the preliminary arraignment, the defendant must be told:

  • what charges have been filed against the defendant;

  • of the right to secure counsel of choice and the right to assigned counsel if indigent;

  • of the right to have a preliminary hearing; and

  • wheather or not bail is possible. Penna. R. Crim. P. 540(F).

If bail is possible in your case, the district magistrate will set bail and you will be permitted to try to make bail.  Penna. R. Crim. P. 540(H).

In addition, the district magistrate will set a date for your preliminary hearing.  At the preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth will present evidence to the district magistrate in an attempt to prove that there is probable cause that your loved one committed the crime that has been charged.  That preliminary hearing must occur within 14 days of the preliminary arraignment if the defendant is in jail and within 21 days if the defendant is out on bail.  Penna. R. Crim. P. 540(G)(1).

Arrest was Made not under the Authority of an Arrest Warrant

If the arrest of your loved-one occurred not under the authority of an arrest warrant, then, the purpose of appearing in front of the district magistrate (known technically as the preliminary arraignment) is to preliminary determine if there is probable cause to support the warrantless arrest (the determination may be based on written affidavits, an oral statement under oath, or both Penna. R. Crim. P. 540 cmt. E), apprise the defendant of why they were arrested, to set bail, and to set a date for a preliminary hearing.  During the preliminary arraignment, the defendant must be told:

  • what charges have been filed against the defendant;

  • of the right to secure counsel of choice and the right to assigned counsel if indigent;

  • of the right to have a preliminary hearing; and

  • wheather or not bail is possible. Penna. R. Crim. P. 540(F).

If bail is possible in your case, the district magistrate will set bail and you will be permitted to try to make bail.  Penna. R. Crim. P. 540(H).

In addition, the district magistrate will set a date for your formal preliminary hearing.  At the preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth will present evidence to the district magistrate in an attempt to prove that there is probable cause that your loved one committed the crime that has been charged.  That preliminary hearing must occur within 14 days of the preliminary arraignment if the defendant is in jail and within 21 days if the defendant is out on bail.  Penna. R. Crim. P. 540(G)(1).

First Opportunity for Bail

The key take-away from this discussion is that a preliminary arraignment is the first opportunity for a defendant to make bail.  If at all possible, you want Attorney Bench with your loved one at this point, because Attorney Bench is equipped to explain to the Court why your loved one should be bailed out of jail.  Without an effective argument about why bail is appropriate, you loved one may have two wait over two weeks before they are in front of a judge again.  Has your loved one been arrested and needs to make bail?  Contact Attorney Bench right away.