Georgia Criminal Lawyer- What is a Preliminary Hearing?

Okay, you have been charged with a crime and are sitting in jail, what happens next? If you don’t have a hold on you then you may be able to bond out (unless you are charged with a violent felony)(individuals charged with misdemeanors are automatically entitled to a bond); if you cannot get a bond then you will have a preliminary hearing.

A preliminary hearing (also known as a “probable cause” hearing, or “commitment” hearing) is a proceeding where the prosecutor must establish in court that they have enough evidence to detain the individual on the filed charges (i.e. warrant).

The preliminary hearing typically occurs between ten and fourteen days after arrest.

The hearing is designed primarily for the benefit of those incarcerated individuals who have been unable to post bond, to ensure that they are not held in jail on unfounded charges. However, individuals out on bond are also permitted to request a preliminary hearing, and as a general rule an attorney should request one in almost every felony case regardless of whether the defendant is in jail.

If a defendant is in jail at the time the preliminary hearing is conducted and the state fails to establish probable cause that he or she has committed the offense, the defendant is entitled to have the charge dismissed and to be released from jail. If the defendant is not in jail and the state fails to establish probable cause the defendant is entitled to have the charge dismissed and to be released from the conditions of his or her bond. However, a dismissal of the charge at the preliminary hearing does not prevent a grand jury from issuing an indictment against the defendant at a later date. Thus, a defendant whose case is thrown out at a preliminary hearing could still face the same charges again. If this occurs, then the defendant will be rearrested on the same charge, and would have to post bond in order to get out of jail while awaiting trial.

Although the defendant has the right to request a preliminary hearing, the defendant loses the right to the hearing if the state obtains a grand jury indictment before the hearing is held, or in some counties the defendant loses the right to the hearing if they bond out. Thus, in some cases the prosecutor may rush a case to the grand jury as a tactical move to deprive the defendant of the opportunity to have a probable cause hearing.

There are also situations where a case may be presented to a grand jury before the defendant has been arrested for any crime, and he or she learns of the allegations for the first time after a grand jury has issued an indictment. In such a situation, the defendant has no right to a preliminary hearing.

Although testimony will be presented at the preliminary hearing, the hearing is not a trial. Evidentiary rules in a preliminary hearing are more relaxed than they are in a trial. For example, while hearsay is not admissible in most trials and hearings, Georgia courts allow witnesses to present hearsay testimony in preliminary hearings. In fact, it is common for the arresting officer to be the sole testifying witness concerning events he or she did not personally observe. In Georgia, the judge is permitted to find probable cause based entirely on hearsay evidence.

If you have been charged with a crime in Georgia you have no time to waste. Don’t just take a plea, fight for your life and fight for your freedom. Hire the best. Give us a call at 762-200-2924.
Defense attorneys typically use the preliminary hearing as a tool for gathering evidence about the case against the defendant. While the attorney sometimes tries to beat the charge at the preliminary hearing (particularly when the defendant is in jail), many attorneys treat the hearing more like a deposition in order to find out in advance what the person is likely to say if there is a jury trial of the case. The best way to handle the preliminary hearing varies depending on the specific situation at hand and on the needs of the particular defendant.

The preliminary hearing is NOT a bond hearing, but for most charges, the defense attorney may request a bond be set, or lowered. The Magistrate Court judge can only issue bonds or lower bonds on certain cases. If you are charged with certain violent felonies then only the Superior Court judge can issue a bond (learn more on that later).

Criminal charges can be life altering. BUT, a charge does not equal a conviction. You have the opportunity to fight. Hire a lawyer who will fight for you, not just take a plea. Give us a call, 762-200-2924

Tyler Moffitt is a Family Law and Criminal Defense Attorney who practices Carrollton, LaGrange, and Columbus, GA. He graduated from John Marshall Law School, and has been practicing for several years now. Tyler Moffitt takes great honor in defending the accused. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.

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