Yes, your charges could be dismissed at the preliminary hearing. The purpose of this hearing is to establish that the charged crime occurred and that the accused party might be responsible for committing it. The judge might dismiss the case if there is insufficient evidence to prove all of the elements of the crime or your possible involvement.
To improve the chances of a positive outcome in your case, you should consider working with an experienced criminal defense attorney. They can present evidence to counter the allegations made by prosecutors and take other steps to fight the case against you, seeking to clear your name or reduce the penalties you might face.
What Is a Preliminary Hearing?
Preliminary hearings occur after entering a not-guilty plea and before proceeding with the case, according to the United States Department of Justice. The goal is to ensure the prosecution has enough evidence to charge the defendant. The preliminary hearing, in theory, prevents people from continuing to face charges when there is not a strong case against them.
There is not a preliminary hearing in every case. In Philadelphia, if you are charged with misdemeanors, your case may proceed right to a trial in Municipal Court. Even in cases where you are charged with a felony, your attorney could advise you to waive this hearing for several reasons. If necessary, they will explain this and how it applies to your case.
If you do have a preliminary hearing, you can expect several things to occur:
- The prosecutor will present evidence of the crime via testimony and/ or documents that support the allegations against you
- Your attorney will cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses to get the charges thrown out or to strengthen your trial defenses. Rarely, but sometimes, your attorney will present evidence to show your innocence or demonstrate why there should not be a case against you
- The judge will decide whether it is more likely than not that the charges brought are supported by the evidence, but they will not rule on the credibility of the witnesses.
According to the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, the preliminary hearing occurs in the first few weeks following a defendant entering a “not guilty” plea. During this hearing, the judge may set bail and approve the case to move forward for trial.
For this to occur, the prosecution must show:
- The alleged crime happened, and there are clear facts to support it
- There is enough evidence proving the defendant most likely committed the crime in question
The judge could dismiss the charges during the preliminary hearing if the prosecutors cannot show these two things by a preponderance of the evidence.
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What Happens at the Preliminary Hearing?
Many people like to think of a preliminary hearing as a preview of what the prosecution will present at trial. The prosecution must present evidence via witness testimony to a judge.. First, the prosecution only needs to show that they arrested you legally and that there is enough evidence to consider you a good suspect for the crime.
The preliminary hearing is often the first time a defendant officially hears the evidence against them. Most of the time, the defendant will want the proceedings recorded. Each county has different rules about recordings. In some counties, the defense must hire a stenographer to record the hearing. Some places allow the lawyer to record it on their phone. Philadelphia provides a stenographer and the defense must pay for the transcript.. There could be witnesses you consider unreliable, easily explained concerns, or even falsehoods told by others your attorney will need to disprove as the case proceeds.
What Are the Possible Outcomes of a Preliminary Hearing?
Generally, there are two ways a preliminary hearing can go:
- The judge approves all of the charges to move forward to trial in the Court of Common Pleas
- The judge approves only some felony charges to move forward to trial in the Court of Common Pleas
- The judge approves only misdemeanor charges. In Philadelphia, misdemeanors will move forward to trial in the Municipal Court of Philadelphia. In other counties, misdemeanor charges will go forward to the Court of Common Pleas.
- The judge dismisses all of the charges
When the judge believes the prosecutors have enough evidence to support a case against the defendant, they will hold the case over for trial in the next court. . At this point, your attorney may begin to negotiate a plea or sentencing agreement, file pretrial motions, and begin the discovery process. Along with having a skilled attorney ask the right questions at your preliminary hearing, these are all key steps in getting a better outcome in your case or preparing for a criminal trial.
Sometimes, the judge might disagree with the prosecution that they have enough evidence to proceed with a criminal case against you. When this occurs, it effectively ends the case. The court will dismiss the charges, and you will not need to pay bail for your release.
What Is a Criminal Defense Attorney’s Role at the Preliminary Hearing?
Your criminal defense attorney plays a critical role in the preliminary hearing. They will present a strong defense against the evidence presented by prosecutors, including cross-examining any witnesses. They can counter details presented by the prosecution, and lock in the testimony of untruthful witnesses to counter with defense evidence in a later proceeding.
While the hope is that the judge will dismiss your case at the preliminary hearing, all is not lost if the case continues. Your attorney will have gained insight into the case against you and what witnesses they might plan to call. This gives them the opportunity to develop a strong argument for your innocence.
In addition to better preparing them for a trial, your attorney could learn things to help you close your case in another way. They could negotiate for a plea deal, request a lowered bail, or take other steps that change the outcome of your case in a positive way.
Discuss Your Case With a Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
If you face charges in Pennsylvania, our team is here for you. We understand the criminal justice process, how to navigate it, and how to defend our clients aggressively. Our attorneys will fight for a fair outcome in your case.
Call the Law Offices of M.J. Snyder, LLC, after your arrest, and let us review your case facts and explain how we approached similar cases. Each case is unique, so we design our defense based on your needs and the circumstances that led to your arrest. It may be possible to get your charges dismissed at the preliminary hearing.
We offer a free confidential consultation for those facing allegations or charges in our service area. Contact us today to get started on your case.