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What is a preliminary hearing and why is it important?

Don’t handicap your case. What is a preliminary hearing and why is it important?

Often times I hear people say that they don’t need to hire a lawyer for the preliminary hearing and that the preliminary hearing is not important.   This is a HUGE mistake.

A preliminary hearing is a hearing where the Commonwealth must prove that a prima facie case exists on particular charges. That is, they must prove that more likely than not a crime is occurred and the defendant is more likely than not the one who committed.   This burden is very low.   That is what gives people the idea that they don’t need an excellent attorney at this stage. 

Why is the preliminary hearing important? Of course the main goal in a preliminary hearing is to get the charges dismissed. Even if that is not a possibility the hearing is important for many reasons.

First, the preliminary hearing is important to establish a record of what the police or complaining witness will testify to in the future. As a defense attorney most of the times we are blind to what was previously said.    It is my job to try and get the witness to make statements that are contrary to a statement they have already made.  A good lawyer can use their experiences, common sense, and information received from their client to piece together a good strategy.

The preliminary hearing is also important to set up possible defenses at trial such as self-defense, mere presence and sufficiency of the evidence. In cases where we know a motion to suppress or other pretrial motion will be litigated, it is my goal to establish a record and set up that motion to suppress. For example, if I will argue at a later date that the police like real sufficient to do a pat down, I will try to inquire as to the reasons of this search at the pulmonary hearing if the court allows.

In conclusion, even if one feels that the charges will not be dismissed at the preliminary hearing,  a prepared lawyer is vital to the outcome of the case.  As an attorney in practice sometimes if I don’t have a case at the preliminary hearing level I often feel like I mopping up somebody else’s mess.  In preparation for a preliminary hearing I interview my clients, conduct investigations and often times visit the scene of the crime.      A good preliminary hearing puts a future win on a platter.   Don’t make the mistake of taking the preliminary hearing for granted.