A preliminary hearing is an official appointment with the court that determines whether or not the State has a case. Commonly referred to as the “trial before the trial,” the preliminary hearing is used to establish that there is enough evidence to believe that a crime was committed and that the person charged may have committed the crime. Usually preliminary hearings are reserved for felony cases, but not always. In any case, if you are facing a preliminary hearing, make sure you know what to expect.
What is the Purpose of a Preliminary Hearing?
The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to determine whether or not there is just cause for a criminal trial. At the preliminary hearing, the judge will not be determining whether or not the defendant is guilty, but will instead focus on whether or not there is enough evidence for a trial. In order to determine whether or not there should be a trial, the judge will use “probable cause” to decide whether or not the district attorney has presented enough evidence against the defendant. Whereas a guilty conviction must be made “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the “probable cause” standard used during the preliminary hearing is far less definitive.
What Happens in a Preliminary Hearing?
During a preliminary hearing, the district attorney will need to provide the court with proof of the crime in question. The judge will hear from the district attorney as well as the defendant. After the State presents the evidence against the accused, the defendant will have a chance to present evidence in defense of his or her case. The judge may call witnesses from either side, and the defense will typically cross-examine witnesses called by the State. After hearing both sides, the State judge will determine whether or not the case should be dismissed or turned over to the grand jury.
How Can I Prepare?
Before your preliminary hearing, the most important thing you can do is consult with your criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can tell you precisely what the hearing will address and may be able to prepare you for what the State may say against you. You should also be sure to dress appropriately for your hearing. Professional attire can help make a positive impression on the judge, and it makes you look more polished and presentable. You should also prepare to hear things you will not agree with. Instead of responding in anger or frustration, you must control your reactions and following your attorney’s lead in order to improve your chances of a successful hearing.
Although a preliminary hearing may seem daunting, it can be extremely beneficial for the defense. During the hearing, the defense and his or her legal representative can get a good understanding of the State’s case, which may help the defendant build a stronger case before trial.
Are you ready for your preliminary hearing? Contact Casey, Simmons & Bryant, PLLC to speak with our Jackson criminal defense lawyers about your case.