What is a Preliminary Hearing?

January 26, 2024
Stewart Bratcher
Partner

We are aware that the judicial system can be daunting and overwhelming. The mountain of information one has to climb through is at times hard to chip away at. At Bratcher Martin, we always desire for our clients to be well informed about the entire process that they may walk through. Today, we would like to chip away at that mountain with you by answering a question that we often hear, or see, clients asking… WHAT IS A PRELIMINARY HEARING?

In quick summary, which we will go into more detail about throughout this blog, a Preliminary Hearing occurs to determine whether or not there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crime(s) that has been alleged against them in the warrant(s).

WHAT HAPPENS AT A PRELIMINARY HEARING?

Per the United States Department of Justice website, "The preliminary hearing is like a mini-trial. The prosecution will call witnesses and introduce evidence, and the defense can cross-examine witnesses. However, the defense cannot object to using certain evidence, and in fact, evidence is allowed to be presented at a preliminary hearing that could not be shown to a jury at trial. If the Judge concludes there is probable cause to believe the crime was committed by the defendant, a formal trial in court will soon be scheduled. However, if the judge does not believe the evidence establishes probable cause that the defendant committed the offense, they will dismiss the charges."

In summary, the purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is sufficient reason/probable cause to believe that the defendant has committed the crime(s) alleged in the warrant(s) that have been issued against the defendant in the case. As we have seen, Preliminary Hearings can be a valuable opportunity for your Georgia Defense Attorney to cross-examine the State’s witnesses in order to pin down their stories. It’s also important to note that at preliminary hearings, hearsay is admissible. This means that witnesses are able to testify about things to which they may have no first-hand knowledge. As stated above, if the judge concludes that probable cause exists, the case is then sent to either the Superior Court for felonies, or the State Court for misdemeanors. The prosecuting attorney/the District Attorney, will then investigate the case further and decide on further prosecution.

DOES THE JUDGE’S DECISION DURING A PRELIMINARY HEARING DECIDE THE GUILT OR INNOCENCE OF THE DEFENDANT?

The decision of the Georgia Magistrate Court Judge during the Preliminary Hearing does not determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. This decision rather decides whether sufficient evidence, again known as probable cause, exists to move forward with proceedings.

SETTING A BOND AT A PRELIMINARY HEARING

At the preliminary hearing the judge can set the amount of bail bond, or they can deny bond for the accused. Bond is usually denied only for a defendant who has committed a serious crime or is a flight risk, but there are no guarantees as each case is unique and different.

When you find yourself charged with a crime, you need an attorney with expertise in criminal law and procedure. Having served as prosecutors, partners Stewart Bratcher and Luke Martin have the experience necessary to evaluate the evidence against you and determine the potential weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case in order to mount a defense on your behalf. Bratcher Martin is ready to fight for you! Contact us today to set up a consultation!