The Criminal Justice System
The District Attorney's Office represents the Commonwealth in all Misdemeanor and Felony cases.
When a crime is alleged to have occurred, the police in the jurisdiction in which the crime allegedly occurred investigate the manner. If the officer believes the case can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and the crime would be either a Misdemeanor or Felony under the Crimes Code, a criminal complaint is filed with the Magisterial District Judge. There are 4 Magisterial District Judges in McKean County - Judge Luther in Foster Township, Judge Cercone in Bradford City, Judge Todd in Smethport, and Judge Engman in Kane.
The Magisterial District Judge holds a preliminary arraignment where he sets bail. The legislature has established certain factors that the Judge must consider when determining whether the defendant has to post money to be released. Factors include the person's prior criminal history, ties to the community, and prior history of flight or failing to appear in other court cases.
The Magisterial District Judge schedules a preliminary hearing where the Commonwealth (the District Attorney's Office and the Police) appear and present evidence that would support the case going to a jury. The proof required at this hearing is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt but a lesser standard called "prima facie." The purpose of the hearing is to determine if there is enough evidence to satisfy each "element" of the crimes charged. Every crime is defined by the actions that are required to occur to establish the crime. Those different actions are called "elements."
If the Magisterial District Judge finds enough proof to satisfy the "prima facie" standard, the case is "bound over" to Court, meaning it will then proceed to the County Judge.
The defendant is scheduled for a formal arraignment and advised of certain rights, including the right to file pretrial motions challenging the evidence.
If such a motion is filed, a hearing is held before the County Judge rules on the motion.
The defendant will then be scheduled for "last day to plead" where he will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
The legislators have established sentencing guidelines for each crime in Pennsylvania based on a defendant's prior record score (which is based on the number of misdemeanor and felony convictions a defendant has in his past) and a rating of seriousness of the current charge (called an Offense Gravity Score).
The Prosecutor assigned to the case from the District Attorney's Office is required to make a sentencing recommendation within the sentencing guidelines established by the legislators.
The Prosecutor assigned to the case evaluates the case (physical evidence, eye witness testimony, cooperation of witnesses, Officer's input, etc.) and consults with the victim and makes a sentencing recommendation that abides by the sentencing guidelines in the form of a plea agreement.
If the defendant plead "not guilty," the case will proceed to trial. If the maximum penalty the defendant could receive if convicted exceeds 6 months, the defendant is entitled to a jury trial. In McKean County, the District Attorney's Office is given a couple of days each month every year to schedule the trials that can be completed in 1-3 days. If a trial is expected to last longer than that, the Court schedules the trial.
If the maximum penalty the defendant could receive is 6 months or less, the defendant's trial is scheduled by the Court and will be a "bench" trial or a trial in which the judge, alone, determines his guilt or innocence.
After a defendant is convicted, he has an automatic right to appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. If the Superior Court affirms the conviction, the defendant can request permission for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to hear the case. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court does not have to hear the case and only agrees to hear a case in special circumstances.
If the charge is a summary offense, the officer files the charges with the Magisterial District Judge and the Officer represents the Commonwealth at the summary trial and prosecutes the case.