What is a Preliminary Hearing?
April 13, 2021
"I just got arrested. A letter came in the mail that I have to appear at court. They said I need to get fingerprinted. Do I need an attorney? Will they find me guilty at this hearing? What is a preliminary hearing?"
Whenever someone contacts our office after just being charged with a crime, they often have many questions pertaining to their first court appearance. In most cases the first time an individual has to appear before a Judge and the District Attorney, or the arresting officer, it occurs at what is called a preliminary hearing.
At a preliminary hearing, the District Attorney presents evidence that proves their is enough evidence that a crime has been committed and that you are most likely the one who committed the crime. If the District Attorney has established their "prima facie" case, the Judge will then send the case up to the Court of Common Pleas. If the Judge determines that the District Attorney has not established their case, he/she may dismiss the charges and the case will end there. At the preliminary hearing, it is essential to have an experienced criminal defense attorney representing you.
Where are Preliminary Hearings Held?
Preliminary hearings are generally held in district courts in the county in which you were arrested in.
Can I be Found Guilty of the Crime(s) I am being Charged With?
No. At the preliminary hearing an individual cannot be found guilty they are being charged with. Remember the Judge is just making a determination as to whether or not there is enough evidence to have the case heard at the Court of Common Pleas.
I Received a Fingerprint Order With My Preliminary Hearing Notice... What is That?
Do not worry. A fingerprint order just means you have to get your fingerprints taken at the Police Department you were taken to on the day of your arrest. Generally they provide you with the number to call in order to arrange a date and time to get your fingerprints taken. The process takes about 5 minutes and no you will not be taken into custody when you go to get your fingerprints done.
Are Preliminary Hearings in Person?
Prior to the Covid Pandemic, preliminary hearings were normally always held in person. Given the current health concerns in our country, many district courts are conducting preliminary hearings virtually. It is important that when you receive your preliminary hearing notice in the mail, check to see whether or not it is being held in person or virtually.
Do I need a Lawyer at a Preliminary Hearing?
Yes. In most cases it is advisable to have an experienced criminal defense attorney present at a hearing. At the very least our Firm would advise you to at lease seek counsel's advice prior to going to the hearing.
I Missed My Preliminary Hearing... Is That Bad?
Yes. That is bad. Most likely you will have a warrant out for your arrest and you will need to contact the court immediately to set up a new date and have the warrant lifted. If you missed your preliminary hearing, for whatever reason, contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately.
I heard Something About Waiving a Preliminary Hearing... What Does That Mean?
Waiving a preliminary hearing basically means that you believe there is enough evidence to hold the charges over for trial and you wish to not have one. Waivers are generally done in exchange for dropping some of the charges against you, decreased bail, or as a a condition of ARD (see our post on ARD here). If you are considering a waiver, it is strongly advised that you have a criminal defense attorney present at the hearing.
I Have More Questions Regarding My Preliminary Hearing, Who Do I Contact?
At The Town Law, we understand just how stressful facing criminal charges can be. With our vast experience handling criminal cases throughout Bucks County, Delaware County, Chester County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia County in Pennsylvania, we are well-equipped to ensure you get the best result possible with attentive criminal defense attorneys by your side throughout the process. Contact our firm today for a free consultation. Our staff of experienced attorneys is dedicated to the best outcomes for all of our clients.