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What happens at a Preliminary Hearing?

A Preliminary Hearing is the first substantive hearing in the criminal justice process. At this stage, the prosecutor must prove that is it more likely than not that a crime was committed and that the crime was likely committed by the defendant.

A Preliminary Hearing is not a trial. Rather, it is an initial hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to bring the charges to trial. The Preliminary Hearing is a valuable tool for defense attorneys because it provides an opportunity to cross examine witnesses in the case and argue that certain charged should be dismissed, reduced, or changed.

Once the Preliminary Hearing is concluded, any charges that are held for court are transferred to the Court of Common Pleas for a Formal Arraignment.

What is the burden of proof at a Preliminary Hearing?

At the Preliminary Hearing, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (prosecutor or police) must produce enough evidence to show that there is a prima facie case for each charge. The prima facie burden is generally described as proving that it is more likely than not that a crime was committed and that the defendant is the person who committed that crime.

Typically, a defense attorney will only introduce limited evidence at the Preliminary Hearing. In some cases, it may be possible to have charges changed, reduced, or dismissed at the Preliminary Hearing based on the prosecutor’s inability to meet their burden.

Can hearsay be admitted at a Preliminary Hearing?

The rules of evidence differ between a Preliminary Hearing and a Trial. The rules of evidence at a Preliminary Hearing are more loosely enforced and some hearsay is admissible.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the prosecutor cannot rely solely on the use of hearsay to meet their burden at the Preliminary Hearing; however, a recent lower court case has called that ruling in question. Litigation is currently ongoing surrounding this issue, so it is important to prepare for hearsay at the Preliminary Hearing.

Should I waive my Preliminary Hearing?

I do not recommend waiving a preliminary hearing without the advice of a trained criminal defense attorney. The reason for this is that the preliminary hearing is a valuable tool to establish testimony and elicit facts for trial. If you waive the hearing without proper advice, you are giving up the right to cross examine a potential key witness on the record and you are also giving up that right to use that testimony in a later phase of the case.

The Law Office of Michael F. Niznik can help.

If you have been charged with a crime and have an upcoming Preliminary Hearing, contact our office for a free case evaluation. We routinely have charges dismissed for our clients at the Preliminary Hearing stage and we put our full effort into all Preliminary Hearing matters. Contact our office at 267-589-0601 or to speak with Attorney Niznik today.

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