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What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing?

Let’s say you’ve already had your initial appearance, where you’ve gone before the judge, and he or she has told you what you’ve been charged with. By the time you’ve had your initial appearance, hopefully you have already contacted a lawyer to be there with you. Regardless, during your initial appearance, you should always ask the court for a preliminary hearing.

Preliminary hearings are tricky things, but they are still incredibly important. At the preliminary hearing, your lawyer will have the opportunity to do two things. First, your lawyer will have the chance to review all of the evidence that the prosecution has gathered so far. Second, he’ll have the opportunity to request a lower bond, if you haven’t already bonded out of jail. Let’s focus on that first part today.

So what is a preliminary hearing? Simply put, it’s a probable cause hearing. At the hearing, your lawyer will be examining the evidence, so that the judge can determine two things: 1) is there a reason to think that a crime has occurred; and 2) is there a reason to think that a person (you) is associated with the crime. If the answer to both questions is yes, then the judge will bound you over to the grand jury to see if they indict you. The thing to remember is that a preliminary hearing is NOT a trial. While your lawyer can test the evidence by asking questions from the investigating officer, topics like whether someone is lying, did the evidence come from hearsay, and the like do not come into play during a preliminary hearing. Because anything can come in during a preliminary hearing, the chances of a case being dismissed at the preliminary hearing are incredibly low, because all that the court needs is a reason to keep the charges on you.

While some lawyers may think that a preliminary hearing is not important, our take is that it is a crucial time during your case’s lifespan. Why? Because at a preliminary hearing, usually, the only person who knows anything about the case is the investigator, which means that the prosecutor’s office hasn’t even received the file yet. At the preliminary hearing, by being able to test the evidence gathered so far, your lawyer should be able to get key information so that he can do his or her own investigation of your case, such as the names of witnesses, what those witnesses said, and so on. In other words, your lawyer can get a leg-up and start to gather information before the prosecutor’s office has even touched the file.

The biggest thing to remember about preliminary hearings is that they serve a critical role during your case. While the chances of getting a case dismissed at the preliminary hearing are slim, you should never waive it. As with any case, the sooner you know what the prosecution has against you, the faster you and your lawyer can mount a defense.