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What usually happens at a preliminary hearing?

One of the benefits of the American criminal justice system is that it is very thorough. Someone in Maryland accused of a crime is entitled to due process which includes legal representation, a jury trial and a sturdy appeals process. But what is a preliminary hearing, and what happens during it?

Basically, a preliminary hearing can be described as a pre-trial, and it takes place after an individual has been arrested and arraigned on a criminal charge. It is a hearing that takes place in front of a judge and its purpose is to determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence that the defendant has committed a crime based on probable cause. If the judge determines that there is enough evidence against that individual, then a date for a court trial is set. However, if the judge feels that there isn't enough evidence, then the charges are dismissed.

At the hearing, the defendant is represented by a criminal defense attorney, and the prosecutor's office is also represented by an attorney. Once the hearing is opened, the judge will listen to arguments from the prosecution about the case against the defendant. The judge will also let the defense argue why they believe that the defendant did not commit any crime. The prosecution is allowed to call witnesses and is also allowed to present evidence against the defendant. The defense is also allowed to call witnesses and present evidence and can also cross examine any witness that the prosecution called.

State laws differ when it comes to preliminary hearings. For example, in some states preliminary hearing may not be held for every criminal case, and some states use a grand jury to determine if a criminal trial should be set. However, any Maryland resident who is facing felony charges may want to speak with a criminal defense attorney in order to find out if a preliminary hearing will be part of their case.

Source: FindLaw, "Preliminary hearing", Accessed May 6, 2016

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