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Preliminary Hearing

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The preliminary hearing is the first significant court proceeding in a criminal case.  However, not every criminal case is scheduled for a preliminary hearing—it all depends on the facts and circumstances of your case as well as your court’s local rules.  Additionally, a criminal defendant may waive the preliminary hearing. 

Purpose Of A Preliminary Hearing

What is the purpose of pretrial hearing?  A pretrial hearing is commonly referred to as “the trial before the trial.”  The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to allow a judge to make a determination of whether there is sufficient evidence (“probable cause”) to support the charges against the defendant.  A preliminary hearing also offers a criminal defendant a preview of the government’s evidence as well as the government’s case theory.  At a preliminary hearing, the government will present its evidence in the form of witness testimony, documentary evidence and physical evidence, and then the defendant’s attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses.

When does a preliminary hearing occur?  The preliminary hearing usually takes place in municipal court (or recorder’s court), which is the same court that also typically sets the bond or bail in criminal cases.  Once a defendant has been arrested, booked into jail and a determination of bond or bail has been made, the defendant will either post bail and be released or the defendant will remain in jail.  If the defendant remains in jail, then a preliminary hearing will take place after the arraignment. 

Preliminary Hearing Exemptions

Does every case have a preliminary hearing?  Some cases never make it past the arraignment phase.  At an arraignment, the judge reads the charges to the defendant, appoints an attorney if necessary and asks whether the defendant pleads guilty or not guilty to the charges.  If the defendant accepts a negotiated plea offer from the prosecuting attorney and immediately pleads guilty, the guilty plea may be entered at the arraignment.  If this occurs, the case is over without ever having even reached the preliminary hearing phase.  On the other hand, if the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, the case will likely be scheduled for a preliminary hearing as well as for a pretrial motions hearing, a status conference and a calendar call.

If you are facing criminal charges, you need the assistance of a qualified attorney to protect your legal rights.  Complete a case evaluation form today for a free review of your case.

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