Before your case actually goes to trial, the presiding judge may hold a preliminary hearing (sometimes called a “prelim”) to determine whether the evidence against you is sufficient to warrant a full trial. Because what takes place in preliminary hearings can have a profound effect on the rest of your case, it’s important to have an experienced defense attorney who can implement effective strategies that may be able to help you avoid a trial completely.
Understanding the Preliminary Hearing
After you’ve been charged and arraigned for a crime, it is quite common for a judge to call a preliminary hearing. Because this is effectively a “trial before the trial” to determine whether a full trial is necessary, it provides your attorney a critical opportunity to act on your behalf in an attempt to keep the case from moving forward. There are some key differences between this hearing and a full trial:
- Unlike a trial, the preliminary hearing is not attempting to determine your guilt or innocence, but simply whether the evidence against you is strong enough to make conviction probable.
- Unlike a trial, the preliminary hearing has no jury. Witnesses may be called and cross-examined, but the judge makes the decision whether your case should move forward.
- A preliminary hearing is shorter than a full trial, meaning you have less time to state your case and/or convince the judge.
Potential Benefits of a Preliminary Hearing
The preliminary hearing is intended for the government’s benefit, not the defendant’s directly: essentially, the courts are deciding whether to spend the time and money required to try your case, based on the seriousness of the charges and the evidence against you. However, with the guidance of a skilled defense attorney, there are two key ways in which the prelim can work in your favor:
- Your attorney may be able to convince the judge to dismiss the case. One key thing to remember is that if a preliminary hearing is called, the judge is often uncertain whether there is enough evidence against you to procure a conviction at a jury trial. The prelim gives your attorney a key opportunity to discredit the evidence even further, and if effective, he/she may convince the judge that dismissal is the best course of action.
- Your attorney gets a better idea about the prosecution’s case. If it appears likely that the trial will move forward, at the very least, the prosecution must “tip their hand” a bit at the preliminary hearing. This gives your attorney a better idea about the evidence they will present and how they will proceed, so he/she is better able to mount an effective defense.
Our Experience with Preliminary Hearings
While not every case has a preliminary hearing, if the judge calls for one in your case, it’s important to have an experienced defense attorney on your side to make the most of that opportunity. The lawyers at the Federal Criminal Law Center are experts with preliminary hearings, as well as other pre-trial negotiations and strategies, having an excellent track record for helping their defendants resolve their cases out of court.