Most often, a defendant’s first chance to test the evidence the Commonwealth has against them when they have been arrested for a crime is at the Preliminary Hearing. This is true for drug charges and offenses, DUI, assaults, and the vast array of criminal charges in Pennsylvania that are charged as misdemeanors or felonies. As a PA criminal defense lawyer, I will tell you that the preliminary hearing generally serves three purposes.
- Get The Bail Dropped. When an arrest has occurred, the District Justice will set bail in an amount that is reasonable in light of how serious the charges are. For instance, bail for Possession With Intent to Deliver 10 pounds of cocaine will carry a higher bail than offenses like Simple Assault, DUI, or Retail Theft. When the Commonwealth has a great case against the client, the client may feel the need to try to negotiate his bail with the police or district attorney from a high amount to a low amount, or no amount at all. This can be done at the preliminary hearing.
- Get Charges Withdrawn. There are times when the Commonwealth will agree to withdraw certain charges against the defendant in exchange for the defendant’s “waiver” of their preliminary hearing. This means that, in exchange for the police’s withdraw of certain charges, the defendant will agree to “waive” his right to make the Commonwealth show that there is probable cause to send the case to Common Pleas Court. It is usually NOT smart to agree to waive the hearing when the police agree to withdraw only insignificant charges. The withdrawn charges should be one of the more serious ones charged in the criminal complaint.
- Make the Commonwealth Prove Their Case. There are times when the above two options are not available or desirable. At this point, the defendant then will have the Commonwealth present the evidence against them to prove to the District Justice that there is probable cause to send the case to a higher court. These hearings are very often in Courts where there is little “bargaining” by the police regarding charge withdrawal or bail modification. Some of the more prominent courts where many of these hearing are held are located in Hatboro, Collegeville, Willow Grove, Abington, and Elkins Park, among others. When the defendant has an attorney there is often a chance that the charges may be dismissed, or at bare minimum, testimony will be elicited and recorded that the lawyer can use for the defendant’s trial later on down the road.
In short, the Preliminary Hearing can serve many different functions that benefit the client. The choice of which, or which combination, of options to choose should be the product of careful deliberation between the client and their attorney. Keep in mind that, just as the right decision of what to do at the hearing can greatly benefit the client, the wrong one can greatly hinder the client’s case later on down the road.