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What to Expect at a Preliminary Hearing

A preliminary hearing is a legal proceeding that many people will experience after being charged with criminal behavior. As its name suggests, a preliminary hearing comes before a trial. This hearing serves several purposes but the main purpose is to review the charges and evidence involved in the case.

What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing?

According to the Texas Penal Code, Preliminary hearings, or “prelims”, work differently based on the circumstances of each case and the jurisdiction in which the case takes place. Not all courts use preliminary hearings in every case and some courts require that prelims must be requested by either the prosecution or defense.

At most preliminary hearings, the prosecution, judge, defendant and defense attorney will gather in the courtroom to consider the charges and evidence. The two sides will present arguments so that the judge can determine if the case should go to trial. This is done without the presence of a jury.

Several outcomes can happen at a preliminary hearing. It is possible but rare for a judge to decide that the evidence does not support the charges and the case can be dismissed. A more common outcome is for the prosecution, the defense and the defendant to come to an agreement about a plea deal so that a sentence can be passed and a trial can be avoided. In some cases, the judge will decide that the prosecution has provided sufficient evidence to order the defendant to stand trial based on the charges.

Evidence in Preliminary Hearings

The prosecution will present their evidence first. This can include crime scene photographs, fingerprints, photographic or video evidence and eyewitness testimony. The evidence phase plays out very much like an actual criminal trial. The defense is allowed to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses and present evidence of their own.

In fact, it is possible for the prosecution and defense to reach an agreement to treat the preliminary hearing as an actual trial. This is done by allowing the prelim to be recorded into the court records. Otherwise, a prelim is not held to determine guilt but to determine if a trial should take place.

If you would like to speak to a criminal defense lawyer regarding a preliminary trial, contact Shahin Zamir at 713-233-8900.