This is a court hearing held in front of the minor judiciary (either a magistrate or district justice depending on the term used) where the affiant police officer is present and the accused is presented with the criminal complaint. The district attorney is not present at the preliminary arraignment. The issuing authority does not question the accused and the accused does not have the opportunity to provide an affirmative defense at this time. The accused is allowed to have counsel present but there is no right to be appointed counsel at this stage in the proceedings. The magistrate reads the charges from the criminal complaint to the accused before handing the accused a copy of the criminal complaint. If the accused was arrested with a warrant, the accused also receives a copy of the warrant. If the accused was arrested without a warrant then the magistrate must make a determination of probable cause for the warrantless arrest.

The magistrate then informs the accused of their rights. Pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure this rights include: 1. the right to secure counsel of their choice and the right to assigned counsel if the accused qualifies for a public defender based on their income 2. the right to have a preliminary hearing and 3. the right to secure bail (as long as the accused qualifies).

A date for the preliminary hearing is set. The preliminary hearing shall not be less than three days nor more than ten days after the formal arraignment. The police may take fingerprints of the accused at this time if they have not already done so. Finally, the issue of bail is discussed and if bail is set then the accused is given a reasonable period to pay before being committed to jail.

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