The defense can present evidence at the preliminary hearing to support your case. If the police arrest or detain you on criminal charges, you will likely appear in court during a hearing where the prosecution will present evidence arguing that your case should go to trial.
However, your criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia will likely advise you to investigate the evidence, but use it to inform the cross-examination at your preliminary hearing rather than present it on the record. You will have the opportunity to present evidence to counter the prosecution at trial after you have received discovery and know what the prosecution is going to present. Seeing all of the prosecution’s evidence ahead of your presentation will give you an advantage later on. Working with a law firm gives you an advocate who can help collect evidence that strengthens your case.
What Is a Preliminary Hearing?
A preliminary hearing is a pre-trial procedure during which your criminal defense attorney will get their first opportunity to challenge evidence brought by the prosecution. The prosecution will likely argue that the evidence against you is strong enough to take your case to a full trial. Meanwhile, your criminal defense team can argue for dismissal because the evidence is not sufficient to prove the charges even with the reduced burden of proof at a preliminary hearing. The burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is “more likely than not”. The question for the judge is– it is more likely than not that a crime was committed and that the defendant is more likely than not the person who committed the crime. The credibility of the witnesses is not an issue for the preliminary hearing. Neither is suppression of the evidence. The judge does a matching game with the elements of the crime and the facts of the allegations. A skilled criminal defense attorney will concentrate on arguments that the allegations are not enough to meet the burden of proof but also create a record for a winning trial or suppression motion if it is unlikely that the preliminary hearing judge will dismiss the charges..
A judge or magistrate presides over the hearing and will weigh both arguments to make a ruling. In Philadelphia, a municipal court judge will hear your case.
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Will Your Defense Lawyer Present Evidence at the Preliminary Hearing?
Your defense lawyer can present evidence at the preliminary hearing because this is an opportunity to challenge the prosecution’s case to obtain a reduction or dismissal of the charges against you. The goal is to demonstrate that the prosecution does not have enough evidence to justify taking your case to a full trial.
Some examples of the evidence we may present include video footage and witness testimony. We will also challenge the prosecution’s evidence by questioning:
- Whether the police had probable cause to make an arrest
- The chain of evidence
- The accuracy of tests such as breathalyzer tests and other chemical testing.
The burden of proof is on the prosecution because they must meet probable cause standards. Your criminal defense attorney will listen to the details of your case and investigate to collect proof that may point to your innocence.
Can You Be Found Guilty at a Preliminary Hearing?
No, you cannot be found guilty or innocent at a preliminary hearing. This is a hearing to determine if the evidence against you is strong enough to warrant the charges and justify taking your case to a full criminal trial.
You also do not face sentencing or penalties during this stage of the criminal justice process. A criminal defense lawyer from our firm will work for a reduction or dismissal of the charges against you so you can avoid a trial.
When Does a Preliminary Hearing Happen?
A preliminary hearing isn’t always required, but if one is necessary in your case, the U.S. Department of Justice states that it must be held within 14 days if you were arrested. If you are out on bail, your preliminary hearing needs to be scheduled within 21 days of your initial appearance.
The hearing itself could last anywhere from one to two hours. It could even last a few minutes depending on the circumstances such as how much evidence both sides are presenting, how many motions are made, and how long it takes for witnesses to testify.
Your defense lawyer will provide you with updates about when your preliminary hearing will occur so you can prepare yourself.
What Are Your Rights During a Preliminary Hearing?
You have rights during a preliminary hearing that a defense attorney from our firm will protect and assist you in exercising. These rights include:
- The right to testify in your defense
- The right to have legal representation
- The right to cross-examine witnesses
- The right to have a transcript of the hearing
- The right to examine the evidence against you
- The right to remain silent
- The right to plead the Fifth to avoid incriminating yourself
Your criminal lawyer will advise you of these rights, and if you have any questions you should feel free to ask.
Can You Waive a Preliminary Hearing?
You have the right to waive your preliminary hearing and take your case directly to a full criminal trial. However, usually, your attorney will recommend against this because your defense attorney would lose the opportunity to counter the prosecution’s case and possibly get a reduction or dismissal of the charges. In some circumstances, a waiver of your preliminary hearing is warranted, but only a skilled attorney should evaluate that possibility and your attorney should be able to explain why that is in your best interest. You could miss a chance to avoid going to trial, where juries can be unpredictable.
We can file a motion to challenge the evidence against you during the preliminary hearing. If the judge agrees to toss evidence against you, it weakens the prosecution’s case.
Can You Negotiate a Plea Deal During a Preliminary Hearing?
It’s not unusual for the prosecution to offer a plea deal during the preliminary hearing stage, but plea negotiations are typically done after the hearing takes place and the evidence is heard. It’s entirely possible that some or all of the evidence could be thrown out. Or the may be insufficient to justify “bounding” you over for trial.
The less evidence there is, the more likely you could receive a reduction in the charges. The prosecution may be more willing to make a deal in your favor. Our firm is not afraid to enter into plea deal negotiations on your behalf, and you will have the option of rejecting any deal that is on the table.
Learn More About Presenting Evidence at Preliminary Hearings Today
A preliminary hearing is an early opportunity to challenge the evidence against you to obtain a reduction or dismissal of the charges so you don’t have to go to a criminal trial. A defense attorney from the Law Offices of M.J.Snyder, LLC has experience representing clients during preliminary hearings, and we will fight for you.
We will present evidence to counter the prosecution’s case and we will challenge the evidence the prosecution presents. If your case goes to trial, we will build a strategy to defend you in court to convince a jury to produce a fair verdict.
If you face criminal charges in Philadelphia, please do not hesitate to contact a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer from our firm to learn more about preliminary hearings. During a free legal consultation, we can discuss your case, explain how our criminal defense lawyer can help you, and inform you of your next steps.