Preliminary Hearings in Maryland occur in felony cases and exist to determine whether the prosecution has enough evidence to proceed with the case as a felony. Basically, the purpose of the hearing is for the judge to look at the evidence and decide whether there is probable cause that the alleged criminal offense occurred. A defendant must request a Preliminary Hearing within ten days after the arrest.
Preliminary Hearings operate like mini-trials, except that only the prosecution is allowed to put on evidence. Typically, the arresting police officer will take the stand and present a brief summary of the allegations/facts of the case. The defense attorney is allowed a limited cross-examination of the police officer to these facts of the case. Based on this testimony and cross, the judge will look at the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and determine whether there is probable cause that the defendant committed the offense.
If there is probable cause, then the case can proceed as a felony in Circuit Court. If there is no probable cause, then the felony counts are dismissed. Any remaining misdemeanor charges the defendant is facing remain and the case will be set for trial in District Court.
A lot of times a Preliminary Hearing will not actually take place despite being scheduled. This can happen because of one of the following things:
1. The State dismisses the felony charges or amends the felony charges to misdemeanors. If there are remaining misdemeanor charges, the defendant’s case will be set for trial in District Court.
2. The State dismisses all charges or places them on the inactive docket.
3. The case is indicted by a grand jury prior to the Preliminary Hearing. The Preliminary Hearing will be moot and the defendant will be set for an arraignment in Circuit Court.
The Preliminary Hearing is a critical juncture in the legal process and having a criminal defense attorney before the hearing can make a big difference in the final outcome of the case. If you or someone you know is scheduled for a Preliminary Hearing or has any other questions about their criminal case, contact our office for a free consultation.