The Pennsylvania Court System

The Clerk of Courts: the hub of the criminal justice system

  • Every crime, whether alleged speeding ticket or murder charge, starts at the Minor Courts/Magisterial District Courts (17 in Chester County with 17 elected judges).

  • The judge holds a preliminary hearing, sets the initial criminal charges and sets any bail.

  • If a low-level crime, called a summary offense, is committed, such as underage drinking, disorderly conduct, driving too fast etc., the offense stays at the lower court. No jury is involved, and no criminal record is created.

  • If a person is found guilty of the summary offense and appeals, called a summary appeal, then the case moves to the next court level, the Chester County Court of Common Pleas.

  • The Clerk of Courts is at Court of Common Pleas level (1 court with 14 elected judges).

  • The Court of Common Pleas is where trials take place.

  • If the case is deemed serious enough, a misdemeanor or felony, the district judge passes the casefile to the Clerk of Courts to manage the file (paperwork). A separate area, the Court Administrator’s office, assigns a judge to the case and sets the court date. The Clerk’s office continues to collect and process any new paperwork. The Clerk’s office also has a clerk in the courtroom attending hearings and trials to update the casefile, help in jury selection, fill out the sentencing sheets etc.

  • Any appeals go to the next level, the Superior Court or the Commonwealth Court. There are no jury trials here. Judges rule on the appeals.

  • Any appeal after this level goes to the Supreme Court.

  • There are exceptions and nuances to the process described above, so a particular case may not fit the parameters outlined.