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The prosecutors in our Municipal Court Unit handle the majority of cases in Philadelphia. 

Our Municipal Court Unit prosecutors are responsible for handling misdemeanor cases and most felony preliminary hearings. Examples of Municipal Court cases include vehicle theft, DUI, and physical altercations resulting in non-life-threatening injury. The trial or preliminary hearings of almost all crimes committed in Philadelphia take place in the First Judicial District’s Municipal Court and are handled by attorneys in our Municipal Court Unit. 

Independently elected Municipal Court judges maintain jurisdiction over lesser offenses and serve as gatekeepers, determining which cases need to be sent up to the Court of Common Pleas. 

Exceptions to this are cases involving homicides, shootings, family violence, sexual assault, juvenile offenses, and other complex or violent felonies, which are handled by prosecutors in specialized units from arraignment through trial or plea and sentencing. 

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“We’re the face, engine and heart of the office. In handling the most cases, we touch the most lives.”

DEBORAH WATSON-STOKES
Supervisor
Municipal Court Unit

Preliminary Hearings for Felony Cases
Within two weeks of an arrest, preliminary hearings take place in Municipal Court. Prosecutors are assigned to handle cases to establish probable cause that a crime occurred and that the defendant was involved. 
In most cases, the victim is required to appear and testify about the defendant and the crime. In cases involving only property crimes, the victim can fill out a document rather than testify in person at the preliminary hearing. 
Following the presentation of evidence at a preliminary hearing, the judge will make a ruling on all charges in the criminal complaint, both misdemeanors and felonies.
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MUNICIPAL COURT UNIT: PRELIMINARY HEARING

Three Ways a Judge Can Rule in Felony Cases 
  • Charge is held for court. If a felony charge is held for court, that means the judge has determined that it is likely that the defendant committed the felony crime as charged. The case will move up to the Court of Common Pleas and then be handled by a prosecutor in the Trial Division. 
  • Charges are remanded. That means the case will not proceed to the Court of Common Pleas for a felony trial but will remain in the Municipal Court on the misdemeanor charges only.

    This happens either because prosecutors withdraw all felony charges but not the misdemeanors, or a Municipal Court judge finds the prosecutor only provided evidence to establish the misdemeanor charges. 
  • Case or specific charge is dismissed. After a preliminary hearing, a Municipal Court judge can dismiss an entire case or a specific charge for lack of evidence or lack of prosecution when key witnesses fail to testify or evidence is missing. 
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MUNICIPAL COURT UNIT: MISDEMEANOR TRIALS

De Novo Appeals 
In bench misdemeanor trials, the defendant can appeal to Common Pleas Court any guilty verdict from the Municipal Court for a trial by jury. 
These are called de novo appeals because defendants get a new trial in Common Pleas Court.

Misdemeanor Trials

Municipal Court trials, which take place within six months of the preliminary arraignment, can take place before a judge or a jury, and prosecutors must prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sentencing usually takes place immediately following the trial, so appropriate dispositions are prepared beforehand. That could involve restitution amounts for losses tied to physical injury or property damage. The judge can postpone sentencing to gather more information about the defendant, including mental health and substance abuse history. 

MUNICIPAL COURT UNIT: OUR ATTORNEYS

The attorneys who staff the Municipal Court Unit represent the best and brightest in the nation.

Many Assistant District Attorneys begin their prosecutorial careers in the Municipal Court Unit, where they learn the nuts and bolts of being a trial attorney while handling a wide range of cases. 

Municipal Court attorneys are given the highest level of training, mentoring, and supervision so that each can master courtroom proceedings and exercising discretion.  

Assistant District Attorneys receive courtside guidance from senior attorneys who attend Municipal Court every day to observe and help build their trial skills.  

The Assistant District Attorneys also work closely with Victim/Witness Services Unit Coordinators assigned to each case to support complainants, victims, and witnesses, including by keeping them informed as cases proceed and  securing interpreters and transportation to court when necessary. 

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UNIT TEAM LEADERSHIP

Supervisor:
Deborah Watson-Stokes
[email protected]
Assistant Supervisor:
Sheida Ghadiri
[email protected]
Assistant Supervisor:
Eleni Belisonzi
[email protected]