While not as important as your Trial, your Preliminary Hearing is still very important. So, what happens at a Preliminary Hearing? Essentially, a Judge (or in some communities, a District Justice) has to determine if the charges that have been filed against you should go forward to the trial stage. This is done after the Commonwealth or State puts on evidence in an attempt to establish that a Prima Facie Case sufficient to establish a fact or raise a presumption unless disproved or rebutted has been established against the defendant for each specific charge. The standard is supposedly “more likely than not that a crime was committed”, however, since the Judge does not assess the credibility of the witness (they have to assume that the witness is telling the truth) it is impossible to really evaluate what they hear using that standard. In other words: How can you determine if a crime was more than likely than not was committed if the witness’s credibility is not assessed? Confused? That’s OK, so is everyone else that is involved.
Are There Witnesses in a Preliminary Hearing?
Witnesses are almost never put up in defense because it won’t do any good since even if the evidence you put forth is credible, the Judge has to assume that the commonwealth’s witness’s evidence is credible. So, even if you decide to put up ten witnesses that say it didn’t happen the way that the Commonwealth witness says it happened it won’t change the outcome of the Preliminary Hearing. While this doesn’t seem fair, keep in mind that the defendant is not convicted of anything since it wasn’t a trial. Another concept that is different than trial is that hearsay is often allowed in along as it reasonable to believe that the witness will be available for trial. Normally this is done in order to be more efficient such as in the case of police officers. After the Common witness testifies the defendant’s attorney is allowed to cross examine the witness. However, certain questions are not allowed such as questions that would go to a motion (such as a motion to suppress evidence) because they are considered to part of the trial stage.
Bail can also be lowered or increased at a Preliminary Hearing depending on the circumstances. After all the testimony is concluded, the Judge makes a ruling on which charges should go forward to the trial stage and the defendant is given a date for an arraignment.