When charged with a crime, there are many steps in the criminal legal system the defendant must go through.

In order for a trial to take place, the defendant must first go through a preliminary hearing.

Differences between the Preliminary Hearing and the Trial

The key differences between the two are:

  • Duration – A preliminary hearing is much shorter than a trial. A preliminary hearing can be anywhere between a few minutes to a couple of hours. A trial can take weeks.
  • Audience – A preliminary hearing is only heard in front of a judge, while a trial has the option of having a jury decide on the outcome.
  • Burden of Proof – The burden of proof always lies on the prosecution to prove guilt. But the burden of proof is much lower at the preliminary hearing level, where prosecution only needs to prove with a probable cause that the defendant committed the crime. On the trial level, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.
  • Goal – A preliminary hearing is used to determine whether the charges are worth pursuing, while a trial is used to determine the defendant’s guilt.

Preliminary Hearing as a Substitute

A preliminary hearing is an assessment of the case by the judge. The judge will make a precursory decision as to whether the defendant is guilty or innocent. Generally, the prosecution has the easier case to make since they only need to prove that there is a probable cause that the defendant committed the crime.

Nonetheless, if the defendant is able to show he is innocent, he will not need to go through the lengthy and expensive trial process.

Benefits of a Preliminary Hearing

Despite preliminary hearings being very short, it can give insight to the prosecution’s strategy. Thus, the defense can assess how strong the case is and whether there are any credible evidence and witnesses. This information is very important because it can help the defendant to decide whether they should settle the case with a plea bargain or proceed with a full trial.

Consulting an Attorney

If you find yourself in some legal trouble, please contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Being involved early on in the case will help your lawyer see a fuller picture, and thereby increase your chances of showing your innocence.