What Is a Preliminary Hearing?

A preliminary hearing is an evidentiary hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to permit a trial to take place. Following the hearing, the judge must find that there is probable cause that a crime was committed and that the defendant committed the crime. The preliminary hearing is conducted in open court. The defendant must be present but need not testify. Generally, a police officer assigned to the defendant’s case testifies at the hearing, and the attorney for the defendant is permitted to ask the officer questions on cross-examination. If at the end of the hearing the judge determines that sufficient probable cause exists that a felony was committed and the defendant was the perpetrator, the SAO will have thirty days to seek an indictment. If the judge fails to find sufficient probable cause in the case, the court will dismiss the felony charges. In some cases, the ASA may elect to amend the felony charges to misdemeanors, in which case the District Court will retain jurisdiction over the case.