When you face a criminal charge in Pennsylvania, you will progress through the court process. It starts with a pretrial hearing and goes through additional steps until you get to the trial where a jury will hear your case. The pretrial hearing, according to the U.S. Courts, is your first appearance before the judge to hear about the charges against you.

During this hearing, the judge will explain your charges. The judge may also set bail at this hearing. Bail is a monetary amount you pay to the court that constitutes an agreement you will show up for your next court date if the court lets you out of jail. The court will usually set bail, but in the situation of a serious crime, the judge may deny bail.

You will also learn about your right to have an attorney and get options if you cannot afford to hire one. The court will also ask you to enter a plea. You can plead guilty or not guilty. It is very common to plead guilty instead of going to trial. In most cases, the prosecution offers you a deal to plead guilty. This is a plea bargain. The prosecutor may reduce the charges or make a recommendation of a lower punishment if you take the deal.

If you plead guilty, the judge may sentence you at that time. He or she may also schedule a new date for a sentencing hearing. This is common with felony charges because the court will have an investigation into your background that it wants completed before sentencing. If you plead not guilty, you will get a date for your trial. This information is for education and is not legal advice.