What is a Preliminary Hearing?

After someone is arrested, they are taken to the jail for processing. Fingerprints and photographs are taken. A day or two later, the court will hold a preliminary hearing to determine whether or not probable cause exists. Probable cause is required for the charges to remain, and it means that the prosecutor has shown enough facts or evidence that would make a reasonable person believe the defendant committed the crime.

What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing?

Preliminary hearings are required by law for all but the most minor of offenses. The defendant can waive the right to a preliminary hearing.

Preliminary hearings are held before a judge. The prosecutor and the defendant will be present. If the defendant has legal counsel, this attorney will also be present. Some courts hold preliminary hearings in conventional courtrooms. Other courts use close circuit televisions to allow defendants to remain at the jail and reduce any costs for transporting defendants from the jail to the court.

At this hearing, the prosecutor will present information supporting their assertion that the defendant committed the crime. This can include the testimony of witnesses and any items found at the time the defendant was arrested. The prosecutor may also present other information found during the investigation.

The defendant will have an opportunity to question the prosecutor’s witnesses and to present contradictory evidence. The defendant will also have an opportunity to argue that the prosecutor cannot establish a reasonable belief that the defendant committed the crime. The defendant can also argue that the prosecutor obtained the evidence illegally and that it cannot be used to establish probable cause.

Evaluating the Evidence

When the evidence is presented, the defendant may bring out some of the following:

  • Improper procedures used to gather evidence and investigate the crime
  • Witness statement inconsistencies
  • No Miranda warning given to the defendant
  • Violation of other constitutional rights

The judge will then consider what was presented and determine whether or not the state has established probable cause.

What Happens Next?

If the judge determines the prosecutor has not established probable cause, the following things will happen:

  • The defendant will be free to go. If he has been incarcerated, he will be released from jail.
  • If the defendant has a bail bond, he will be released from any conditions.

However, if the court does find probable cause, the case will move forward to the trial court or to the grand jury.

Get in touch with The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp today at 713-868-6100 to learn more about the preliminary hearing process.