Immediately prior to trial in a summary case, the Defendant shall be advised of the charges in the citation or complaint. If, in the event of a conviction, there is a reasonable likelihood of a sentence of imprisonment or probation, the Defendant shall be advised of his right to counsel and thereafter shall be given a reasonable opportunity to secure counsel. The Defendant is then given a chance to enter a plea. However, everyone knows that if he was going to trial on a summary offense, he is going to plead not guilty. During a trial on a summary offense, the Magistrate or District Justice, as they are now called, shall try the case in the same manner as trials in a criminal case are conducted in Common Pleas Court when a jury trial has been waived.
In all summary cases arising under the vehicle code or some local traffic ordinances, the law enforcement officer observing the Defendant’s crime shall appear and testify against the Defendant. However, a little-known fact is that even if the law enforcement officer fails to appear, that by itself shall not be a basis for dismissal of charges against the Defendant. Usually, their absence is a signal that the officer does not wish to pursue prosecution and the charge is dismissed or a not guilty verdict is entered.
The District Attorney’s office may appear and assume charge of the prosecution. When a violation of a city ordinance is charged, the attorney representing that municipality with the consent of the District Attorney may appear and assume charge of the prosecution. When no attorney appears on behalf of the Commonwealth, the police officer may be permitted to ask questions of any witness who testify. This is usually the case in summary trials. The police officer will question any witnesses that appear to testify on behalf of the Commonwealth and cross exam the witnesses appearing on behalf of the Defendant.
The verdict and sentence shall be announced in open Court immediately upon conclusion of the trial.
At the time the Magistrate is announcing his sentence, the Magistrate shall include restitution, fines and costs and state the date upon which payment is due. If the Defendant is without financial means to pay the amount in a single remittance, the issuing authority may provide for installment payments and shall state the date on which each payment is due. He must also advise the Defendant of his right to appeal within 30 days for a full trial de nova in the Court of Common Pleas.