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Preliminary Hearing Process Related Questions

What is a preliminary hearing process?

The criminal justice system allows a proceeding referred to as preliminary hearing once the prosecutor has filed a formal criminal complaint. This hearing is conducted to ascertain if there is sufficient evidence needed for a trial. The judge must also be able to find “probable cause” that a crime was committed. An example of a scenario which would lead to a preliminary hearing: a police officer testifies he saw the defendant fleeing the mall where the theft occurred and the prosecutor has a signed statement from the clerk that the defendant was present when the money went missing. The defense attorney does not need to present any defense at a preliminary hearing. A person is allowed counsel in most jurisdictions in such type of a hearing. When a person is charged with a federal felony, a preliminary hearing may not be required and he/she can be indicted by a grand jury.

Can a preliminary hearing be conducted without a stenographer or device recording the proceedings?

It is not mandatory to have a court reporter or stenographer at a preliminary hearing. However it is not a wise decision for a court reporter to be absent at a hearing especially when the attorney is taking testimonies. You have the authority to question the attorney if he/she does not bring a stenographer to the preliminary hearing. Sometimes the attorneys may choose not to bring a court reporter when there is no testimony which is being presented. Their presence would prove useful in the event of the hearing taking place, to record and bind the witness by the exact statement made by them and as a possible means of impeachment.

In the state of Pennsylvania, is the discovery process allowed before preliminary hearing?

Discovery process can be done prior to preliminary hearing provided you formally file for it with the court. If the attorney is in charge of the case, he/she would file for discovery. The discovery process is an important procedure as it will help the person argue the case with valid points.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a public defender as opposed to a private attorney in a preliminary hearing?

Public defenders do scores of preliminary hearings and criminal defense on a daily basis. Most of them have a wide portfolio and are highly experienced in this area. However their workload is abundant making it difficult for them to concentrate on a particular case and give it the attention it requires. Majority of the public defenders would not have studied the case file or spoken to the concerned client until the day of the hearing.

In case of private attorneys there are some excellent and highly qualified ones who are involved in criminal defense. An attorney with a good reputation and rapport with the district attorney helps in striking the best deal possible for a client. Such attorneys are usually respected for their work and knowledge. Also a private attorney would be prepared to go to trial and win the case, if deals do not work out. In order to find a good private attorney you will need to do some background work and select the one suited best for your case.

I have a preliminary hearing in the state of Pennsylvania for a bad check. I would like to plead guilty. Will I be arrested? Do I need to take money to this hearing?

The likelihood of imprisonment is low and an arrest is highly unlikely at this juncture. The goal at this point is for you to appear at court to address the allegation and arrive at a solution. Bad check cases are usually considered minor if you do not have a lengthy criminal background or owe a very large amount of money. A preliminary hearing is assigned to set an initial court date to begin the extensive legal proceedings. In most cases, at the preliminary hearing, parties try to negotiate upon an offer or deal involving payment of the debt and probation, if you need time to repay. If you have the money to pay you could take it to court and offer the resolve the matter completely.

My lawyer did not inform me of the preliminary hearing due to which I missed attending it. What can I do?

Most likely the court would have issued a bench warrant of contempt of court in your name. You need to inform your attorney to request the court for a new preliminary hearing. If granted so, you can explain your mistake and convince the judge to remove the any charges of contempt and to re-consider the case you have been summoned for.

Preliminary hearing is the beginning of the legal proceedings either leading to a trial or resolution of the case. This type of hearing is conducted to ascertain the course for further proceedings. The actions you take here can determine the outcome of your legal battle. Whether it is a minor debt case or a major criminal case, it is wise to have your questions answered and doubts cleared by consulting Experts who can throw light on what your options are.
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