A preliminary hearing acts as one of the first steps in the legal process to determine if you are guilty of a crime.
If you have been arrested and charged with a criminal offense, there is a legal process that the state is required to go through in order to try and prove that you are guilty of a crime. One of the first steps in this process after being charged is called a preliminary hearing. Many people are unaware of the purpose of a preliminary hearing and its impact on the legal case.
At Disney Law, our team is ready to aggressively defend your legal rights during a preliminary hearing and at every step of your criminal case.
The Pennsylvania criminal court system is made up of different levels and types of courts. There is a Court of Common Pleas that exists in every county in the state that usually hears DUI cases, drug cases, and any other case graded higher than a summary offense. There are also several courts called District Magistrates that may be spread throughout each county. When a criminal charge is brought, it is filed with the district court that covers the area where the crime allegedly took place.
Once the complaint is filed with the court, the person charged is informed by mail to appear for a preliminary hearing. But this only applies to minor offenses. If the person charged has been incarcerated in lieu of bail for more serious crimes, they are transported to the court for the hearing by the county sheriff. Once the preliminary hearing is over, the judge might move the case forward to the Court of Common Pleas in that county for trial.
During a preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth must provide enough evidence to prove that a crime was committed and that the defendant was behind it. Essentially, they act as gatekeeper hearings to prevent frivolous or unnecessary criminal proceedings from clogging up the criminal court system; they hold the state accountable to certain standards when charging citizens with a criminal offense.
There are two parts in determining whether a case should move forward at a preliminary hearing. First, is the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing sufficient to create a probable cause that a crime was committed? Second, is the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing sufficient to create a probable cause that the person charged committed the crime? The answer must be yes to both questions in order for the case to move forward in the criminal legal process.
It’s important to note what a preliminary hearing is not meant for. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is not to determine whether the person accused of a crime is guilty or innocent. The standard of proof is much lower in a preliminary hearing than the standard of proving beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that a person is guilty of a crime.