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What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing?

Criminal Justice
In a criminal case, the preliminary hearing is an important step in the justice process. It is known as a pre-trial hearing because it includes major interactions between the defense and prosecution that can affect whether the case will proceed to trial and whether a crime was committed.

What happens at a preliminary hearing can set the course for the remainder of the case, and in fact, some criminal defense attorneys consider this to be a mini-trial that can determine whether a jury will believe the defendant committed the alleged crime.

Things To Expect at a Preliminary Hearing

 After you’re arrested on a felony charge, the preliminary hearing is the second step in the justice process and takes place after your arraignment.

At an arraignment, you appear in front of a judge, enter a plea and then wait for your preliminary hearing.

The goal of this hearing is for a judge to decide whether the prosecution has sufficient evidence to bring you to trial.

This hearing is where your defense team gets its first opportunity to poke and prod at the prosecution’s case to test it for weaknesses.

Probable cause is the standard judges use to determine if there’s enough evidence to take you to trial. This legal term means that it’s reasonable to assume given the evidence that a crime was committed, and that you could have committed that crime.

The common steps in the preliminary trial include:

  • Prosecution Outlines Its Case – This includes details of the arrest, any items found during a search, calling witnesses, and presenting physical evidence.
  • Defense Rebuts – Defense attorneys are permitted to cross-examine witnesses, rebut the evidence, and provide an alternate set of facts that can get cases dismissed. The defense’s strategy is to create reasonable doubt in a judge’s mind that the evidence points to the defendant as the likely perpetrator.
  • Judge Makes a Ruling – After listening to all the evidence and testimony, the judge will rule whether the case should proceed to trial.

Plea Negotiations After a Preliminary Hearing

In many instances, prosecutors may be more willing to enter into plea bargain negotiations prior to the preliminary hearing, because they may not be confident that a judge will see things their way.

However, defense attorneys can also push for a plea bargain even after a judge has ordered the case to trial.

Although prosecutors may believe that they have the upper hand because of their ‘victory’ during the preliminary hearing, there’s still a risk of losing at trial, so in many instances, negotiation is still possible.

The Role of an Experienced Criminal Lawyer

The time immediately after your arrest and prior to your preliminary hearing is critical. You must hire an attorney that can guide you through the process, or you could affect the possibility of favorable terms if a plea bargain is possible. The Elden Law Group is an experienced defense firm. Whether you need a federal criminal lawyer or a state attorney, we can help you. Please call us today at 888-991-9353 to schedule a free consultation.

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