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What can I expect at a preliminary hearing (a.k.a. commitment hearing)?

What can I expect at a preliminary hearing (a.k.a. commitment hearing)?

At this point in the process you have already been before a judge for your first appearance hearing. If you have posted bonded, then in most cases the result of posting bond is a waiver of your preliminary hearing and your case will be bound over to the appropriate court for resolution.

In the event, that you have not posted bound before the preliminary hearing date, then the court will conduct the preliminary hearing. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether or not there is sufficient “probable cause” to support the allegations in the arrest warrant under which you are being held. The court will re-explain the rights that you were informed of at the first appearance hearing. You have the right to be represented by an attorney at this hearing.  It could be to your detriment not to have an attorney for this hearing.

The only issue the court will address is the arrest warrant. This court, at this point in the process does not have the authority to address whether or not the accused is guilty of the allegations in the arrest warrant. This court does not have the authority to enter a final disposition on the charges. The legal standard of “probable cause” is very low (over the years I have observed this standard to be “is it humanly possible that the accused may have committed the crime he is accused of”). It is not to be confused with the higher legal standard of proof of “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

The standard rules of evidence apply at this hearing with one notable exception. Hearsay is allowed at this hearing.  The prosecuting entity may be a law enforcement officer or an attorney (e.g. district attorney, solicitor).  Both sides can introduce evidence. Should the accused decide to testify, they will be advised that anything they say can be used against them in the future.

The issue of bond can be revisited at this this hearing. If the accused waives the hearing, then the case is bound over to the appropriate court. The case is bound over to Superior Court for felony charges and to State court for Misdemeanor charges. In the event the county you are in does not have a State Court, then the case is bound over to Superior Court. The term “bound over” means that the case file is transferred over to another court.

If a hearing is held and the judge decides that there is sufficient “probable cause “then the case will be bound over to the appropriate court.  If a hearing is held and the judge decides that there is not sufficient “probable cause” then the charges under the arrest warrant are dismissed. The accused will then be processed for release from the jail. If the accused has no other pending charges or law enforcement holds, then the accused is released.

To recap, the first appearance hearing is where you are told of the charges against you, your rights, and information regarding bond in your case. The only input you have at this stage is to let the judge know that you would like an attorney present.  The preliminary hearing is an opportunity of the court to review the arrest warrant that is keeping you in custody (in the event you have not posted bond). Its function is to serve as a check and balance on the State’s ability to keep you in jail. It is an important part of the criminal justice process. You should use the hearing to maximize the strengths of your case.

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