A preliminary hearing and a grand jury are both elements of the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania and take place prior to a trial. While they may seem similar because they both can result in formal charges being brought against someone for criminal activity, their procedures are different. If you are facing accusations of criminal wrongdoing, it is important to know the difference between a preliminary hearing and a grand jury in addition to understanding how they may affect your case.
In Pittsburgh, Disney Law has represented many clients in their preliminary hearings and promises to aggressively fight for your rights during criminal proceedings. To learn more about how Disney Law can assist in your case, call or text Robert Disney at 412-999-5765 or contact us today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney.
The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to determine whether probable cause exists that a crime occurred, and that the person accused committed the crime. A judge determines probable cause based on the evidence presented by the prosecutor at a preliminary hearing, and if it is established the person accused is formally charged with the crime. The case then moves on to the criminal trial phase.
The evidentiary standard of proof is far lower at a preliminary hearing than at trial, and the rules of evidence are also relaxed. In order to attain probable cause, evidence that would not be allowed at trial is routinely permitted in a preliminary hearing, such as hearsay evidence. In fact, one of the most common types of evidence submitted at preliminary hearings is hearsay testimony from police officers involved in the case, recounting not only their recollection of events but also what witnesses told them about the case.
The person accused of a crime during a preliminary hearing is allowed to attend the proceedings, and they are allowed to have legal counsel present to defend their interests. The criminal defense attorney is allowed to cross examine witnesses proffered by the prosecution and submit evidence on behalf of the defense to counter any claims of probable cause.
A grand jury is another way that a person can be formally charged with a crime, but the process is vastly different from a preliminary hearing. A grand jury does not happen in open court, and oftentimes the person accused does not even know that the case is being made until after the grand jury has occurred.
A grand jury consists of 16 people from the general public who listen to the prosecutor present evidence about a potential crime. The evidence is given as live testimony, and members of the grand jury are allowed to ask questions in order to determine whether there is probable cause that a crime was committed, and that the person accused committed the crime. In a grand jury, the prosecutor has no obligation to present alibi evidence or anything else that may exonerate the person accused.
Once the prosecutor presents the case, the grand jury deliberates in secret to determine whether there is probable cause for formal charges. Unlike a trial jury, where the decision must be unanimous, only nine of the 16 members must vote in favor of the prosecution’s case to bring formal charges of a criminal act. This is also known as a true bill, and an indictment is filed against the person accused of committing the crime.
There are many similarities between preliminary hearings and grand juries. First, both hearings occur in order to determine if there is probable cause to bring formal charges for alleged criminal activity. Both hearings have a lower standard of proof, and if probable cause is found, both hearings move the case forward to criminal trial proceedings. Both a preliminary hearing and a grand jury also provide the opportunity to get witnesses on the record with their testimony, which may be used later at trial if their stories are conflicting.
There are significant differences in preliminary hearings and grand juries. First, a person accused of a crime does not know about a grand jury hearing until after formal charges are brought, whereas the accused has the right to be present at a preliminary hearing. Second, the accused’s attorney has the opportunity to present evidence and cross examine witnesses at a preliminary hearing, where that is not an option for a grand jury. Third, a person accused of a criminal act has the option to waive a preliminary hearing, where that is not possible for a grand jury proceeding. Finally, the probable cause determination in a preliminary hearing is made by a Pennsylvania judge, whereas in a grand jury a group of peers makes the determination of whether probable cause exists for the case.
It is also important to note that a person accused does not get to decide whether a preliminary hearing or a grand jury takes place. The prosecutor assigned to the case gets to determine which method to pursue in order to argue for probable cause in a criminal case.
Preliminary hearings and grand juries set in motion the entire process of the criminal trial and understanding the similarities and differences between them can make a critical difference in the approach taken to strategies in a case. If you or someone you know is called for a preliminary hearing, it is important that you have an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney protecting and defending your legal rights throughout the process. At Disney Law, our knowledgeable criminal defense attorney has represented many clients at preliminary hearings for criminal cases and is prepared to offer top tier legal advice for your case. Call or text Robert Disney at 412-999-5765 or contact us today to schedule a free consultation about your preliminary hearing.
In Pennsylvania, property owners and occupiers have a duty to keep their premises safe for visitors, and this includes incorporating safety measures to prevent intentional harm from befalling their guests.
When a police officer pulls over a person for suspicion of driving under the influence, one way they may try to determine if a driver is intoxicated is by requesting that the driver perform a set of field sobriety tests. Field sobriety tests require a person to complete a set of physical tasks while the police look for subjective signs that may indicate intoxication.
Ridesharing has become one of the more popular options for transportation in the Pittsburgh area and throughout Pennsylvania. While a convenient option for passengers, studies have shown that rideshare vehicles have increased the number of accidents, injuries, and even deaths on the road for drivers, passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and those in other vehicles.
Pennsylvania prosecutors take drug crimes seriously, especially in the Pittsburgh area. Many different activities fall under the umbrella of drug crimes, from misdemeanor simple possession to felony intent to distribute offenses. Conviction for drug crimes comes with serious penalties that can affect the rest of a person’s life, and the experienced drug crimes defense attorneys at Disney Law understand the necessity of having a knowledgeable lawyer in your corner. If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with a drug offense in the Pittsburgh area, call or text Robert Disney at 412-999-5765 today to schedule a consultation of your case and to learn more about your legal options.