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Preliminary Hearing

A Procedural Overview, The Defendant's Right To A Preliminary Hearing, Other Functions Of A Preliminary Hearing

The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to determine whether the prosecutor has enough evidence to justify further criminal proceedings against the accused. The preliminary hearing is held in open court before a judge or magistrate. After the prosecution has presented its evidence and the defense has been given a chance to respond, the judicial officer decides whether there is probable cause to believe that the accused committed the crime charged. If the court finds probable cause, or in some jurisdictions "prima facie case," it will "bind the case over" to the grand jury or the trial court for further proceedings. If the evidence is insufficient, the charges are dismissed. The goal is to ensure that weak cases are eliminated early in the process, to save the defendant the anxiety and expense of having to defend himself at a trial against unwarranted accusations.



Coleman v. Alabama, 399 U.S. 1 (1970).

Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103 (1975).

Goldsby v. United States, 160 U.S. 70 (1895).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law