How to Get Charges Dismissed at the Preliminary Hearing in Pennsylvania
IMPORTANT: If you are facing criminal charges in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, or elsewhere in Western PA, our criminal defense attorneys can help. We offer free consultations, are available 24/7, and have experience getting criminal charges dismissed. Call (412) 281-2146 today.
The criminal court process can be overwhelming, but knowing what to expect can reduce some of the stress. In this article, our Pittsburgh criminal defense attorneys will explain what to expect at a preliminary hearing and the things that can happen with your case at one. After your arrest and arraignment, you will attend a preliminary hearing. This is the first opportunity for your Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to get your charges dismissed.
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When you work with our team of criminal defense attorneys, we will fight for your rights and work to get your freedom. Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys today at (412) 281-2146, or contact us online to get started with a free and confidential consultation.
What Is a Preliminary Hearing in Pennsylvania?
A preliminary hearing in PA is a crucial stage of the criminal court process. It typically occurs within three to 10 days of your arraignment. During the preliminary hearing, the state prosecutor must prove that a crime occurred and that you were likely the person who committed that crime.
In many criminal proceedings, the case is resolved at the preliminary hearing. You could discredit all their evidence and get your charges dismissed. You may also be able to accept a plea deal to end the case. Only 5% of criminal cases go to trial—the rest end in the pretrial stage, such as at or before the preliminary hearing.
What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing in Allegheny County?
At the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor will present evidence against you. This will be the first time any of the evidence will be presented. Your defense attorney is not likely to have seen any evidence before that point. Thus, the preliminary hearing is a crucial fact-gathering stage of the criminal court process.
The preliminary hearing proceeds like a mini trial. Witnesses may present testimony as well. Even hearsay may be validly presented at the preliminary hearing. The purpose is not to determine your guilt. The preliminary hearing is to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial.
Why a Preliminary Hearing is Important
A preliminary hearing protects the rights of the accused individual. One of the most critical aspects of the preliminary hearing is that your attorney will get to review the evidence against you. They can look for legal errors and prepare to have evidence suppressed and your charges dismissed.
Prosecutors often count on defendants to waive their right to a preliminary hearing to have bail reduced or gain other benefits. The prosecutor does not have your best interests in mind, so waiving your preliminary hearing is not typically the best strategy. It’s essential to retain a criminal defense attorney who can advise you on the best path forward.
When Can a Criminal Case Be Dismissed in Pennsylvania?
A dismissal of your case is appropriate if either side believes charges have been filed unjustly. Many factors may contribute to unjust charges, including:
- Lack of probable cause for arrest
- Illegal search and seizure
- Invalid stop
- Failure to read Miranda rights
- Insufficient evidence
- Unavailable witnesses
How Your Preliminary Hearing Attorney Can Be Proactive
Your attorney can use several strategies at the preliminary hearing to get your charges dismissed. If your attorney can discredit the prosecution’s case, they might voluntarily dismiss your charges. However, if your attorney is forced to use strategies like making pretrial motions to dismiss, then you may get an involuntary dismissal of your case.
The Prosecution’s Burden of Proof
If the prosecution does not meet its burden of proof that a crime was committed or that you are likely the culprit, your charges will be dismissed. This is uncommon because the prosecution must only make a prima facie case. That means they only must show that it’s more likely than not that you committed the crime. This is different than the burden of proof they have at trial to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime.
Faulty or Lacking Evidence
Your attorney may also draw attention to the fact that the prosecution does not have enough evidence to support the charges. Generally, the prosecution does not have to have much to get the case to move forward, so this is not always an effective strategy. However, poking holes in the prosecution’s evidence can make the state question the case, and they may drop your charges.
Negotiating a Plea Bargain
Your attorney can also help you negotiate a plea bargain before the preliminary hearing. If your goal is to have your charges dismissed, you may resist making a plea bargain. However, if there is compelling evidence against you, your preliminary hearing lawyer may strongly advise you to consider this option. A plea bargain can help you avoid more serious charges, allow you to return to normal life sooner, and limit your legal expenses.
Motions in a Preliminary Hearing
Your attorney can also submit pretrial motions that benefit your case at the preliminary hearing stage and soon after. Pretrial motions are submitted any time before the beginning of trial. Some common motions used by criminal defense attorneys include the following:
- Motion for Bail – This can allow you to post bail and be released from jail while you await your trial.
- Motion to Suppress Evidence – This will throw out evidence illegally obtained or otherwise flawed and may damage your case. Without the evidence, the judge may dismiss your charges, or the prosecutor may drop them altogether.
- Motion to Dismiss the Charges – This should always be filed to get your charges dismissed due to a lack of evidence against you.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer must draft, file, and argue pretrial motions. In fact, you should retain an attorney as soon as possible after your arrest. If you wait until your preliminary hearing to begin looking for an attorney, you could lose valuable opportunities to have charges dismissed or reduced.
Find Out How an Attorney Can Help You
If you have been arrested and are facing criminal charges, you will go through the criminal court process, which involves a preliminary hearing. You shouldn’t face this alone. While you may be offered a free public defender, they rarely have enough time to focus on dismissing your charges.
When you work with our team of Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyers, we will fight for your rights and work to get your freedom. Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys today at (412) 281-2146, or contact us online to get started with a free and confidential consultation.