If you are accused of a crime, you may have to defend yourself at a trial in a courtroom. But before you do, you will likely first have to attend a preliminary hearing. Although the court will not focus on your innocence or guilt, the magistrate will assess the evidence to determine if there is enough to have a trial.
If you have never been arrested before, the criminal justice process can seem complicated. To learn more about what to expect in a preliminary hearing, contact a Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer from Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC. Call us today at (412) 281-2146.
What a Preliminary Hearing Entails
At the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor must convince a magistrate that there is enough evidence to try you for a crime. There must be a preponderance of evidence to show that it’s more likely than not (or at least a 51% chance) that you committed the crime. The magistrate will review evidence from the prosecution and listen to arguments from both sides and makes a decision based on what is presented in court. The defense may only submit a limited amount of evidence at a preliminary hearing.
Your attorney may refute any evidence and assert that there is insufficient evidence. Your attorney can cross-examine the prosecutor and any witnesses. If any evidence is presented, your lawyer can question it and ask it to be removed from the case.
If you plead not guilty, you and your lawyer will want to use the preliminary hearing to clear up any issues that you may have with the prosecution or the evidence obtained. This may include any evidence obtained illegally. The preliminary hearing can give you the opportunity to challenge the evidence against you.
If the magistrate determines that there is enough evidence to warrant a trial, one will be scheduled within a few weeks after the preliminary hearing. You can sometimes avoid a trial, however, by making a plea agreement, if offered. Prosecutors often want to avoid going to trial, so they often offer less serious punishments and the ability to avoid a trial if you agree to plead guilty to a lesser crime or reduced penalties.
Will There Always be a Preliminary Hearing?
A preliminary hearing does not always take place. Whether or not the magistrate will order one depends on the nature of the crime, whether or not a plea agreement was offered and accepted, and the timing of negotiations.
Sometimes plea agreements are offered before preliminary hearings. While you may be tempted to accept at first glance, discuss the situation with your lawyer. If you decide to proceed with the preliminary hearing first, the prosecution could remove their offer. You could also proceed with the preliminary hearing and have the hearing go in your favor and, as a result, receive a better plea deal.
Is a Trial Necessary?
Not all criminal cases require a trial. In fact, only a small percentage of cases require you to appear in court, as most are settled outside of court or dismissed at the preliminary hearing. The outcome of the preliminary hearing will determine your next steps.
The legal process can be lengthy and confusing. If you are accused of a crime, the Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyers at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC can help you every step of the way. We will guide you through the process and help you obtain favorable results. To learn more, call our office at (412) 281-2146.