What is a Criminal Case?



A criminal charge is a violation of the criminal law that is considered an offense against the community. In a criminal case, an individual can be charged with a felony, misdemeanor, or a summary offense. Felony charges, such as murder and arson, carry the most severe penalties, while misdemeanor and summary offense penalties are more moderate. If the prosecutor proves to a jury, or to a judge hearing a case without a jury, that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, that person stands convicted and can face penalties, including prison, fines, or probation.


The typical course of a criminal case includes the following:


      1. The alleged crime occurs.

      2. An arrest takes place.

      3. A preliminary hearing is ordinarily held in one of the lower courts (i.e. Magisterial District Courts) to determine if the case should be brought to trial.

      4. The defendant pleads guilty or a trial is held.

      5. If the defendant is convicted, a sentencing hearing is held.

      6. The defendant can appeal the conviction through the Appellate Courts.