At a felony arraignment in County Court, the defendant does not plead guilty or not guilty. He is advised of his right to a preliminary hearing within 15 days of the arraignment. If the defendant requests a court-appointed attorney, the court will review that request at the time of the arraignment.
All felony cases must be presented to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury is chosen by random selection of names from a list of registered voters. There are three different sessions of the Grand Jury that meet during the year. Each grand jury sits for a term of four months.
The Prosecutor presents evidence to the Grand Jury for each felony case to be considered.. The Grand Jury then votes on whether they believe there is sufficient evidence to establish that a felony has been committed and that the defendant is the person who committed it. If they are satisfied, they return an indictment against the defendant charging him with the crime he is alleged to have committed. If they are not satisfied they return what is known as a "no bill". This means that the defendant is not charged with a felony crime.
All sessions of the Grand Jury are private and closed to the public. Only the prosecutor, court reporter and witness who is testifying are present with the Grand Jury. Only the members of the Grand Jury are present when they vote on whether or not to return an indictment. At the beginning of each term of the Grand Jury the Common Pleas Court Judge appoints one of the Grand Jury members to act as foreperson. The foreperson records the vote of the Grand Jury.
Felony Preliminary Hearing
This is a contested hearing before the County Court Judge, sometimes called a "probable cause hearing". The Prosecutor presents witnesses to convince the Judge that there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed, and that the defendant committed the crime. Because the burden of proof is much less than at a trial, the Prosecutor generally does not call all potential witnesses to testify a the "prelim", generally, the victim and some eye witnesses, plus some of the police witnesses testify. The defendant has an attorney, can cross examine the witnesses, and can present his own evidence (including, witnesses). If probable cause is established, the defendant is "bound over" (i.e., sent to) to the Common Pleas Court for presentment of the case to the Grand Jury. If the Judge decides that there is not probable cause that the defendant committed the crime, the charge can be dismissed or reduced to a misdemeanor for trial in County Court. A defendant can decide not to have a Preliminary hearing.
Common Pleas Court Arraignment
After the case is sent to Common Pleas Court, the defendant is again arraigned (given formal notice of the charges against him or her). The charging document is called an Information. He or she is again advised of his/her constitutional rights, and enters a plea to the charge (guilty, not guilty or no contest).
As with County Court misdemeanors, the Common Pleas Court schedules a meeting between an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney and the defendant's attorney to determine whether the case will go to trial or be resolved with a plea.
As with County Court misdemeanors, the Common Pleas Court
Judge is called upon to resolve various pre-trial issues, some of which
determine whether the case will continue to trial, be resolved with a plea,
or be dismissed.