What happens at a preliminary hearing?

| Jan 26, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

Those going through the court system for the first time may be surprised at how many stages there are within the process. One of the first steps you may encounter includes the preliminary hearing. In North Carolina, judges have this step in place to determine if there is enough evidence for the defendant to be forced into a trial. Think about it as a mini-trial with the same evidence and defenses presented but at a much faster pace. Read on to learn more about this process.

The burden of proof

During a preliminary hearing, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor. The judge will need to see evidence that there is enough probable cause to send you to a trial. A criminal law attorney may attempt to convince the judge that there is not enough evidence and that the case should be dismissed. In some cases, the judge might proceed with a trial but lower the charges if he or she believes that the charges are not reflected of the alleged crime.

Your attorney’s goals

Although the ultimate goal is to get the trial dismissed, an attorney may also focus on ensuring that if the case does go to trial, it will be with as many safeguards as possible. For example, during the preliminary hearing, an attorney might attempt to have some witnesses disqualified from participating any further in your case. They may also seek to create a plea bargain for you if your charges are severe enough.

Arraignments and preliminary hearings: What’s the difference?

Understandably, there is a little confusion between an arraignment and a hearing. The confusion stems from both steps being among the first parts of the criminal law process. An arraignment is simply the stage where you are informed of your constitutional rights and your specific charges.

Although your preliminary hearing is one of the most important steps of your attempt to prove your innocence, you should not wait for it to seek the aid of an attorney. It is highly recommended to obtain legal advice right after your arrest or accusation regarding a particular crime.