From the time that you’re charged with a crime onward, your attorney will constantly evaluate the evidence against you and the options that you have. Not every case will have a preliminary hearing. If yours does, you should understand how it can help your defense attorney get a better idea of what sort of expectations to have about your case.
A prelim is heard before a judge, not a jury, and it doesn’t decide your guilt or innocence. It merely decides whether or not there’s a logical reason to put you on trial and enough viable evidence to possibly result in a conviction.
Because prelims are designed to protect people against unreasonable prosecution, your attorney will try hard to challenge the admissibility of any evidence that the prosecution offers against you. Similarly, he or she will try to find weaknesses in the testimony of any witnesses brought in against you. Questioning a witness on the record early in the case also offers your defense attorney the advantage of “locking in” that testimony. If a witness deviates from it later, that early testimony can be used to destroy the witness’s credibility in front of a jury.
If the preliminary hearing reveals some serious weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, there’s always the possibility that the judge will dismiss the case before it goes any further. If flaws come to light during the prelim that may make prosecution difficult but not impossible, the prosecutor may be more willing to discuss a favorable plea deal with you.
Even though the majority of cases that have a preliminary hearing still get bound over for trial, they still give your attorney another valuable opportunity: a chance to measure the atmosphere of the entire trial. Does the judge seem sensitive to some aspect of your case that could make him or her less-than-impartial? Is the prosecutor in your case known for being reasonable and inclined to work with defendants or is he or she particularly aggressive? Is there some aspect of your case that’s attracting media attention? If so, could that attention push the judge or prosecutor toward leniency or could it result in a more severe approach?
Every step of the judicial process has the possibility of changing the potential outcomes available to you as new information gets revealed. To learn more about our firm’s approach, please take a look at our page on criminal defense.