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Understanding the Preliminary Hearing Process

McCormick Law Firm

A preliminary hearing serves as a pivotal stage in the criminal justice system, designed to assess whether there is probable cause for a case to proceed. Here’s an in-depth look at what this entails:

1. Nature of the Hearing: The preliminary hearing is a formal court proceeding presided over by a judge. Its primary objective is for the judge to determine whether probable cause exists to warrant further legal action against the defendant.

2. Determining Probable Cause: The central focus of the preliminary hearing is to ascertain whether probable cause exists for the charges brought against the defendant. This involves evaluating the evidence presented by the prosecution to determine if there is probable cause that a crime was committed and that the defendant is responsible for committing that crime.

3. Setting Conditions of Release: If the defendant is in custody at the time of the preliminary hearing, the judge may also decide on the conditions of the defendant’s release pending further proceedings.

4. Defendant’s Rights: While defendants have certain rights during the preliminary hearing, such as the ability to cross-examine witnesses and present evidence, these rights are limited. Notably, hearsay evidence may be admissible, and issues related to suppressing evidence may not be considered. For example, if you believe that your arrest was based on an illegal traffic stop or illegal search, that would not be an admissible argument at the preliminary hearing.

5. Potential Outcomes: During the course of the preliminary hearing, several outcomes are possible. The charges may be reduced, amended, or dismissed based on the evidence presented. If the judge finds probable cause that a felony was committed and that the defendant is likely responsible, the defendant will be bound over to await the action of the grand jury.

6. Release from Custody: Conversely, if the judge determines that there is not sufficient probable cause, the defendant will be released from custody. It’s crucial to understand that dismissal at the preliminary hearing does not prevent the state from presenting the same offense to a grand jury at a later time.

In essence, the preliminary hearing serves as a critical checkpoint in the legal process, balancing the rights of the defendant with the need for judicial oversight in determining the course of further proceedings. Understanding its significance can help defendants and legal representatives navigate this stage with clarity and purpose.

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