In criminal cases, there must be probable cause for the case to proceed to trial. A preliminary hearing is held for the Court to determine if there is probable cause to send the case to trial. At the preliminary hearing, the court is not concerned as to whether or not the defendant is guilty. The issue is whether there is sufficient evidence to allow a jury to hear the case and determine whether someone is guilty. A preliminary hearing is also called a probable cause hearing or a committal hearing. It is usually set within two weeks after the arrest.
The majority of preliminary hearings are held before magistrate judges, but in some cases, they will be held before municipal court judges. Municipal court judges would officiate the hearing if the case occurred within a municipality. In rare circumstances, the hearing can be held before a Superior Court judge, usually only in capital cases.
Both misdemeanors and felony cases involve preliminary hearings. The people present at the hearing are the judge, prosecutor, your attorney, and possibly the arresting officer. A person has the right to a preliminary hearing when in custody or out on bond. A person's bond is generally set at their preliminary hearing. If the bond is not set then, your attorney can request a bond hearing at the preliminary hearing.
In some circumstances, a bond hearing must be held in Superior Court (usually when the charge is extremely serious)
What Is the Point?
More often than not, there will be sufficient probable cause to send the case to trial. The real point of the preliminary hearing is to gather evidence about the case against our clients. Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyers use this hearing to preview the State's case and evidence against you. The rules of evidence do apply to preliminary hearings. Therefore, preliminary hearings can be very useful if you have a knowledgeable Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney.
Do I Have to Testify at the Hearing?
Any statements given at the preliminary hearing will be sworn testimony that could be used against you later at trial. Your attorney would likely advise you not to testify at the preliminary hearing and just use the hearing to get discovery.
Having an attorney is crucial at a preliminary hearing to ascertain what evidence the State has against you. The Office of Lawson and Berry has extensive experience conducting preliminary hearings and can help with your case today. Contact us now for a free case evaluation.