Preliminary Hearings in Pennsylvania:
The preliminary hearing in Pennsylvania is a critical proceeding in a criminal case and should not be attended to by a defendant without an Experienced criminal attorney. The hearing is usually scheduled within 10 days of the filing of the charges, however for various reasons it may be held at a later date because of further investigation by the Commonwealth and/or a continuance by the defendant to obtain counsel. The preliminary hearing is held before the Magisterial District Judge (MDJ). The substance of the charge(s) against the accused is addressed at the preliminary hearing. The MDJ is not permitted to determine guilt concerning serious criminal matters. At the preliminary hearing the MDJ simply determines if there is enough evidence in the case for it to be bound over to the Court of Common Pleas. Therefore, a preliminary hearing is an evidence hearing to evaluate the merits of the prosecutions case against the defendant.
At the preliminary hearing, the District Attorney and/or affiant of the criminal complaint is required to present a prima facie case. To establish a prima facie case the Commonwealth must demonstrate evidence that a crime was committed and that the defendant most likely committed the crime. If a prima facie case is presented to the MDJ’s satisfaction, the case will be held for court and passed to the Court of Common Pleas. If the MDJ does not find a prima facie case was established, the defendant should be discharged from the charges.
It is very important to obtain counsel (experienced) at this proceeding. It is an arena where negotiations between the defense and prosecution occur, which can lead to a plea agreement or reduction of the charges. Furthermore, counsel may be inclined to motion for bail to be lowered should the defendant be incarcerated.
At the preliminary hearing the defendant may (1) be represented by an attorney; (2) cross-examine witnesses and inspect physical evidence offered against the defendant; (3) call witnesses on the defendant’s behalf; (4) offer evidence on the defendant’s behalf, and testify; and (5) make written notes of the proceedings, or have counsel do so, or make stenographic or electronic recordings of the proceedings.
It is important that a defendant charged with a crime hire an experienced attorney for the preliminary hearing. For experience, competent, aggressive representation retain Marinaro Law.