What should I expect at a Preliminary Hearing? A Preliminary Hearing is the first chance for an accused in the criminal justice system to challenge the evidence against him. As a result of its importance, many defendants ask, what should I expect at a Preliminary Hearing? Even though the Preliminary Hearing gives the accused his first chance to challenge the evidence against him, his rights at this hearing are severely limited. Defending DUI cases Specifically, even though the defense attorney may challenge the government's evidence at this hearing, there are many things that can't be challenged. Specifically, the defense may not challenge the credibility of any government witness at this hearing. Meaning even if the defense shows that all of the government's witnesses are lying, the district justice is still not permitted to dismiss the evidence against the accused. Because the defense is not permitted to challenge their credibility. Additionally, hearsay is permitted at these hearings. Frequently, the government doesn't even need to call their actual witnesses to the stand at the Preliminary Hearing. Instead of calling the victim in a rape case, the government may sometimes put the police officer on the stand and let him testify about what the victim told him.
At a Preliminary Hearing, one of two things can happen. The District Justice can hold the charges against the criminal defendant and send the charges to the Court of Common Pleas where the defendant will have a jury trial or the district justice can dismiss the criminal charges. What are Preliminary Hearings If the charges are dismissed the government can re-file the criminal charges dismissed at the Preliminary Hearing. While the Commonwealth, may re-file charges after a dismissal at the preliminary hearing, there are limits to its authority to do so, and even greater limits on its ability to seek that the matter be reassigned to a different magistrate. For example, the Commonwealth must refile charges prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations, and the Commonwealth may not reinstitute the charges in an effort to harass the defendant or where the refiling would prejudice the defendant.
Many criminal defendants believe that once they win the Preliminary Hearing in a criminal defense case, they no longer have to worry about being charged with the same crimes a second or even third time. However, that simply is not the law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. read about Date RapeThe general rule when dealing with Criminal Defense and preliminary hearings, is that a defendant may be rearrested after charges have been dismissed at a preliminary hearing so long as the statute of limitations has not expired. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania has found, however, that in a case in which the Commonwealth has repeatedly rearrested the defendant based on the same conduct with similar charges in order to annoy or harass him or resulting in prejudice, the prosecution may not be permitted to rearrest and recharge a defendant for the same alleged criminal activity. Additionally, under the law in Pennsylvania, the accused who had his charges dismissed by on district justice may have the charges brought against him a second time before another district justice. A second district justice can be chosen by the President Judge at the Court of Common Pleas level.
Everyone charged with a misdemeanor or felony crime in the state of Pennsylvania is entitled to a Preliminary Hearing. (The only exception is Pennsylvania's Indicting Grand Jury). At the Preliminary Hearing, the government must prove that there is a prima facie case that (1) an offense has been committed and (2) the defendant has committed it. If the government cannot meet this burden then the case must be dismissed. If the government does meet its burden, then the charges are "held over" and sent up to the Court of Common Pleas.