What to Expect during each Stage of a Criminal Case

Few things in life are more upsetting than being accused of committing a crime and prosecuted. What happens next? What should I expect? Knowing immediately what to expect at each stage of this process may provide you some relief and allow you to better assist in your defense. Whether you have a Washington County DUI, need expungement in PA or are looking for the best criminal defense attorney; we are ready to help.


Unless a crime occurred in the presence of a police officer, an investigation is necessary. If you have been contacted by law enforcement with regards to a criminal investigation, they may already be convinced you are guilty and are only seeking an admission of wrong-doing to use against you in court. For that reason, its advisable to avoid speaking with law enforcement until you’ve first consulted an attorney. Whether or not you have been charged with a crime, your Constitutional Rights, and your Liberty, may be in jeopardy.

It may also be necessary to begin a defense investigation on your behalf before any charges are filed. Oftentimes key defense witnesses are lost due to relocation, fading memory, etc. Criminal cases can be won or lost before a criminal complaint is filed. The Commonwealth may already be preparing evidence to be used against you. Shouldn’t someone be working for you to find evidence proving your innocence?


An arrest is the act of taking an individual into custody, subjecting him/her to the actual control and will of the person making the arrest. It does not necessarily require the use of force or a formal statement of arrest (“You are under arrest”) and is circumstance driven. What this means is that it is sometimes difficult to tell whether you are under arrest or simply subject to a “mere encounter” or an “investigative detention”, which do not require probable cause. If you don’t know if you are under arrest, politely ask – “Am I under arrest, or am I free to go?” Remain calm and respectful. An attorney cannot stop or prevent law enforcement from arresting or detaining you. If, however, a member of law enforcement wishes to interview or question you subsequent to an arrest you have the right to – and should – have an attorney present. Remember, while it might be tempting to give your side of the story, your arresting officer will make special note of any statements you make, especially those suggesting guilt. You have a Constitutional Right to Silence – invoke it – clearly, politely, firmly.

If you are accused of a non-violent and/or misdemeanor offense, you will likely instead receive notice of your charges by mail from a Magisterial District Court. You’ll receive a notice of preliminary hearing, a summons to appear at same, a fingerprint order and a copy of the Commonwealth’s criminal complaint.

It’s also possible that you may learn that you have an outstanding arrest warrant. If so, the immediate assistance of a criminal defense lawyer is strongly recommended.

Preliminary Arraignment

If physically arrested, an officer is required to first bring you before a Magisterial District Judge who will advise you of the officer’s accusations and set bond. You do not have a right to counsel at this stage, but having an attorney with you is advisable if possible. In the past I have had success in making arguments for non-monetary bond, saving my clients and preserving their liberty while we work together to formulate a defense.

Preliminary Hearing

The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to protect your right against unlawful arrest and continued detention by requiring the Commonwealth to make out a prima facie case (Latin for “at first appearance”) that a crime was committed and that you are likely the one who committed it. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not required at this stage.

A preliminary hearing is a vital stage of your defense. This is your first opportunity to discover and evaluate the case against you. The Commonwealth may call an alleged victim, an identification witness, material fact witnesses, etc. Once called and examined by the Commonwealth, we cross-examine these witnesses, fashioning vital impeachment tools and preserving favorable testimony for use during pre-trial proceedings and trial. Your “prelim” often sets the tone for your defense.

Formal Arraignment

Following your preliminary hearing, the Magisterial Court will schedule a Formal Arraignment to take place in the Court of Common Pleas, the purpose of which is to put you on formal notice of the Commonwealth’s accusations against you. This proceeding may, but typically doesn’t occur in a courtroom or in the presence of a prosecutor or judge. It typically involves picking up paperwork. The Formal Arraignment does however begin the time period during which the defense must file certain important motions necessary to your defense.

Pretrial Procedures

Following arraignment, Discovery Practice ensues. Discovery refers to the legal procedure for obtaining evidence in the possession of the Commonwealth. Some evidence, such as documents, photographs or fingerprints, are discoverable by law. Other evidence, such as the identity of a confidential informant, is only discoverable by obtaining the Court’s permission. Of course, a defense investigation on your behalf may be ongoing as well.

During Omnibus Pretrial Motion practice, you may challenge the admissibility of evidence the Commonwealth intends to offer against you at trial. Evidence obtained through an unreasonable and unconstitutional search and seizure, confessions and admissions obtained in violation of your right to silence and your right to counsel, identification evidence obtained illegally or suggestively are all ripe for legal challenge at this point.

Throughout these pretrial procedures, plea negotiations often take place. A plea bargain, is an agreement between a defendant and the Commonwealth whereby you may agree to plead guilty to a particular charge or charges in exchange for some concession from the Commonwealth. It may mean pleading to a less serious charge, or to one of several charges in return for dismissal of other charges. It may mean pleading guilty to the original charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence (probation vs. incarceration, fine(s) vs. probation, etc). It is important to note however that defendants have no absolute right to a plea offer. Oftentimes, the best plea bargains are the result of tireless out-of-court negotiations between your lawyer and the prosecutor. The decision whether to accept a plea offer or proceed to trial is ultimately your decision to make. Plea agreements are subject to court-approval.


As the accused, you have a Constitutional Right to a trial by a jury. A jury trial is a fundamental right and is essential in preventing the miscarriage of justice. Before your trial begins, a jury must be selected from the community through the process of jury selection/voir dire. Potential jurors, chosen from all walks of life and from throughout your county and community, are interviewed, questioned and considered for their capacity to be fair and unbiased against you. The process requires an intense understanding of human nature, a strict attention to detail, and the ability to identify and draw-out potential biases in individuals who may otherwise be inclined to hide them.

Once a jury is selected, sworn and instructed by the Court as to their duties, opening statements are made by the attorneys. After opening statements are made, the Commonwealth presents its case-in-chief to the jury, often through the testimony of police officers, alleged victims and/or witnesses. Just as during your preliminary hearing, we cross-examine witnesses revealing bias, memory lapse, selective memory, dishonesty, etc. After the Commonwealth concludes their case-in-chief, we have the right, but no duty, to present evidence in our case-in-chief. We might call additional eye-witnesses, present physical evidence and/or even call expert witnesses on your behalf. Many times a thorough defense investigation will reveal witnesses and evidence that will tend to show your innocence or at least raise a reasonable doubt within a juror’s mind. After the defendant closes his case-in-chief, the Commonwealth has a right to offer additional evidence in rebuttal; you then have the right to offer additional evidence in surrebuttal. During closing arguments attorneys will summarize evidence and argue for judgment in their favor. The Court will instruct the jury as to matters of law. Jury deliberations are followed by a verdict.

What to Expect FAQs

Do you take DUI cases?
Yes, I often handle DUI cases. A significant part of my docket is made up of DUI cases. I’ve helped my clients beat DUI charges at trial. I’ve helped them get DUI charges dismissed prior to trial. When all else has failed, I’ve been able to help my clients to face drastically reduced penalties. I’ve never met anyone I couldn’t help.
What are your practice areas?
I focus on criminal defense. My typical client has been accused of a crime and is seeking help. They are initially overwhelmed, upset, and unsure of what to expect. They seek experience: a lawyer who has already handled cases similar to theirs and gotten results. They seek skill: a lawyer who has the tools to properly fight the charges. They seek someone they can trust: someone who has their best interests at heart at all times.
Do you handle traffic violations?
Yes, I handle traffic violations.  Reckless Driving, Careless Driving, Driving on a suspended license, Commercial Drivers, Truckers, etc.  I handle both summary trials before the magistrate and, when necessary, summary appeals from the magistrate to the county Court of Common Pleas.  It is often important to my clients to avoid “points” on their license and/or license suspension.  For my clients who are commercial drivers, "points" or suspension, may mean unemployment.
Do you do Expungements?
Yes, I do expungements.  Protecting your record means protecting your reputation and your ability to make a living.  You are wise to seek this relief from the court when available.  I frequently do this type of work for both new clients and existing clients.
Do you handle summary offenses?
Yes, I handle summary offenses: Harassment, Disorderly Conduct, Underage Possession of Alcohol, Public Intoxication, traffic violations, etc..  I handle both summary trials before the magistrate and, when necessary, summary appeals from the magistrate to the county Court of Common Pleas.  
Do you practice in Beaver County?
Yes, I practice in Beaver County. I handle cases in the Beaver County Courthouse in Beaver, PA and all the surrounding magistrate courts, including those in Ambridge, Beaver Falls, Freedom, Beaver, New Brighton, and Aliquippa.
Do you practice in Butler County?
Yes, I practice in Butler County. I handle cases in the Butler County Courthouse in Butler, PA and all the surrounding magistrate courts, including those in Butler, Slippery Rock, Chicora, Saxonburg, Cranberry Township, and Evans City.
Do you practice in Fayette County?
Yes, I practice in Fayette County. I handle cases in the Fayette County Courthouse in Uniontown, PA and all the surrounding magistrate courts, including those in Uniontown, Connellsville, Lemont Furnace, Brownsville, Masontown, and Star Junction.
Do you practice in Greene County?
Yes, I practice in Greene County. I handle cases in the Greene County Courthouse in Waynesburg, PA and all the surrounding magistrate courts, including those in Waynesburg and Carmichaels.
Do you practice in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County?
Yes, I practice in Allegheny County. I handle cases in the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, PA and all the surrounding magistrate courts (nearly 50 in total), including those in Pittsburgh, Avalon, West View, Glenshaw, Sharpsburg, Brackenridge, Penn Hills, Monroeville, Braddock, Wilkinsburg, North Versailles, Wexford, McKeesport, West Mifflin, Munhall, Homestead, Waterfront, Baldwin, Pleasant Hills, Whitehall, Bellevue, Bethel Park, Bridgeville, Carnegie, Crafton, Coraopolis, Elizabeth, South Side, the Hill District, East Liberty, Bloomfield, Plum, Squirrel Hill, Greenfield, Dormont, Brookline, North Side, East Allegheny, Strip District, Brighton Heights, McKees Rocks, Duquesne, Leetsdale, Cheswick, Gibsonia, White Oak, Clairton, Lawrenceville, Homewood, West End, Carrick, and Oakdale.
Do you practice in Washington County, PA?
Yes, I practice in Washington County.  I handle cases in the Washington County Courthouse in Washington and all the surrounding magistrate courts, including those in Washington, Canonsburg, McMurray, Bentleyville, California, Cecil, Burgettstown, Monongahela and Charleroi.
Do you practice in Westmoreland County?
Yes, I practice in Westmoreland County. I handle cases in the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg, PA and all the surrounding magistrate courts, including those in Jeannette, Monessen, Leechburg, New Kensington, Youngwood, Harrison City, Belle Vernon, Latrobe, North Huntingdon, Greensburg, Export, Apollo, Bradenville, Ligonier, and Mt. Pleasant.
Do you represent college students?
Yes, I represent college students.  For a college student, a criminal charge can be an upsetting interruption while you're building your future.  Whether you're facing a drug possession charge, underage possession of alcohol, DUI, disorderly conduct, etc, it's important that these accusations not become a permanent criminal record.  I have successfully protected the records and future employability of many students from our local universities.
How much does a lawyer cost in Washington?
In Washington, PA and elsewhere in the state, a lawyer will base fees on, among other factors: the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of questions involved, the skill requisite to properly perform the service required, the fee customarily charged in the locality, the time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances, the nature and length of the professional relationship, and the experience, reputation and ability of the lawyer.