Every individual arrested and accused of wrongdoing has the right to due process. This means criminal proceedings must adhere to a strict procedure, one laid out in state statutes. A felony criminal proceeding includes many steps, from the initial police investigation to sentencing or acquittal.
Tucked midway through this long process is a step known as the preliminary examination. This is, in some ways, the first chance a defendant has to state their case in front of a judge.
What happens at a preliminary examination?
A preliminary examination as part of a felony criminal proceeding is sometimes referred to as a “probable cause hearing.” The goal is to see whether there is enough evidence against the defendant to establish probable cause – and continue with the case in its current state.
During this preliminary exam, a prosecutor will present their evidence to the judge in an attempt to show first that a crime was committed, and second that the defendant was the perpetrator. This will generally involve the use of some witnesses.
The defendant and their attorney also get a chance to respond and rebut the claims. They can present their own evidence, including documents and witnesses. They may also cross-examine the prosecutor’s witnesses. It is, in a way, the first chance a defendant may have to begin making their case to the court.
What the judge might decide
The judge presiding over the preliminary examination may consider a few paths forward. If they believe probable cause exists, they can send the case to the circuit court (known as “binding over”) for a trial. If probable cause does not exist, the judge could:
Send the case toward trial on a different charge
Reduce the charge, potentially to a misdemeanor, and send the case to district court
Dismiss the criminal case altogether
If the case continues to circuit court, an arraignment takes place before pretrial proceedings begin.
In some situations, it may be beneficial for a defendant to request a pretrial examination be waived, but this is a decision a defendant should only make in consultation with their attorney.
Nothing about going through a criminal proceeding is easy. But by becoming more familiar with the process and knowing what to expect, it’s possible to feel more confident about the road ahead.
Whatever your legal issue, you can work through it with our team by your side. We care about supporting our community through personalized, available, and ever-ready legal representation.