Preliminary Hearing Lawyer
Seeking a Preliminary Hearing Lawyer in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, a preliminary hearing or a Prima Facie Hearing, is an important part of the criminal justice process following arrest or summons for misdemeanor(s) or felony(s) charges. A preliminary hearing normally occurs within three to ten days after the arrest unless the Magisterial District Judge continues or postpones the hearing and the hearing is normally held before the MDJ in the jurisdiction or location of where the crime allegedly occurred. If you need a preliminary lawyer, you want an experienced criminal lawyer that cares about his clients and has their back. Learn more on how Lee Ciccarelli and his team of criminal defense lawyers can make a difference when you need a lawyer to defend your rights at the preliminary hearing level. Email, Text, Chat or call (610) 692-8700 or (877) 529-2422.
Per Rule 540(E)(1) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, a defendant’s preliminary hearing should be held within 3 to 10 days of the preliminary arraignment or earlier by agreement of the defendant and prosecutor but may be continued for cause shown. There are no guidelines for what constitutes “cause shown” however.
This is the system in place throughout Pennsylvania accept Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where they have a Municipal Court System. In Philadelphia, only a felony charge will be scheduled for a preliminary hearing where misdemeanor and felony charges in other counties such as Chester County, Delaware County, Lancaster County, Montgomery County, Bucks County, Lebanon County and Berks County will schedule a preliminary hearing.
Do I need a lawyer for a preliminary hearing in Pennsylvania? A preliminary hearing is an important part of your case and it is mistake to waive a preliminary hearing or waive your right to a lawyer or legal advice. If you are facing criminal charges in Pennsylvania, including but not limited to Philadelphia, Chester County, Lancaster County, Delaware County, or Montgomery County, it is very important that you obtain experienced legal advice from a top criminal lawyer and seriously consider retaining the best criminal defense lawyer you can afford to represent you at the preliminary hearing.
Can my preliminary hearing be dismissed if is not heard immediately? Just because a preliminary hearing is not held within ten days does not mandate a dismissal. Even if a case is dismissed, the prosecution would likely have the right to refile the charges because double jeopardy does not apply with a preliminary hearing dismissal. Another likely result is a defendant’s release from custody until the preliminary hearing is held under Pa Rule of Criminal Procedure 540.
Do I need to have a hearing at my preliminary hearing? A defendant does not need to have a preliminary hearing. The case can go directly to Common Pleas Court, if the defendant waives the preliminary hearing. In Pennsylvania, a defendant almost always has to appear for the preliminary hearing and cannot waive his appearance in court except for unusual circumstances. It is not recommended that a defendant waive his preliminary hearing unless he or she has seriously considered all options and actions. In some cases, a client may wish to apply for some type of program like a first time offenders program, ARD, Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, IPP Intermediate Punish Program, Mental Health Court, Veterans Court, Recovery Court or Drug Court and consideration will require the client to make the decision to waive his right to a hearing at the preliminary hearing level. Someone facing these charges should consult with an experienced Pennsylvania preliminary hearing before they make that decision.
Is a preliminary hearing open to the public? Yes, a preliminary hearing is open to the public under both the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions and a preliminary hearing will normally be op en though the parties may assert that a hearing be closed or limited to the public, especially if witnesses victims or juveniles or to remove (sequester) potential witnesses from the court room to avoid them listening in or corrupting their testimony. A defense attorney has the right to contest the Commonwealth’s request to close a preliminary hearing.
What does a MDJ do during a Preliminary Hearing? A Magistrate or Magisterial District Judge (MDJ) listens to all the evidence that is presented by the Commonwealth as well as any evidence presented by the defense. A preliminary hearing is not the trial and not all evidence is to be heard during a preliminary hearing. The MDJ will likely be determining if it is more likely than not that the crime occurred and that the defendant committed the crime; and he does not require the prosecution to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. The MDJ’s listen to all of the evidence presented by the prosecution and by the defense. An MDJ does not use the preliminary hearing testimony to determine the credibility of a witness but an MDJ is not to exclude common sense either. The MDJ reviews whether there is a basis (probable cause) to believe a crime was committed and that the defendant is the one that commits the crime. If the MDJ believes there is enough evidence he will bound the case over and send the case to trial before the Court of Common Pleas. Otherwise he will order the charges dismissed. It is very unlikely that the MDJ will dismiss the charges at the preliminary hearing if the Commonwealth appears with witnesses based on the lower standard for a preliminary hearing.
Does the Police have to proof me guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at the preliminary hearing? The Commonwealth prosecutor and police do not have to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt but rather need only show a prima facie of evidence. That is commonly defined as presenting some credible evidence of each element of the criminal case and that the defendant likely committed the crime. During a preliminary hearing or prima facie hearing, the MDJ will not consider legal defenses such as the legality of a search, or probable cause to arrest. The MDJ is also not using the preliminary hearing to weight the evidence of the Commonwealth and the Defense so that it is rarely recommended for the defense to testify or present witnesses to testify at the preliminary hearing because a MDJ is not going to weigh or consider the credibility of the witnesses.
Will the District Attorney prosecute my case at my preliminary hearing? Although the police officer may be the one who prosecutes the preliminary hearing before the MDJ, in most Pennsylvania counties, the DA will usually appear and present the case on behalf of the Commonwealth, especially when the charges are of a more serious nature. In the Philadelphia area, most of the District Attorney Offices will have an attorney or intern present at the preliminary hearing to prosecute the case with the notable exceptions being Montgomery County and Northampton County PA. So even if you do not have an attorney, the police will have an attorney though job and goal is to prosecute you. Remember that when the police officer confides in you that he will help you out and you don’t need to waste your money on a top criminal lawyer.
Can the Police or District Attorney Amend or Add Charges Against Me? Under Pennsylvania law, charges can be amended at the preliminary hearing. In fact, it is a common strategic defense by the District Attorney to threaten to add charges if a defendant refuses to waive the preliminary hearing. An experienced criminal defense attorney will often prepare his client of the possibility of that threat so that a client is prepared and ready to make the best decision.
Learn more about the advantages of an experienced, aggressive criminal defense attorney when you are facing a preliminary hearing and need help, advice and representation. The experienced team of attorneys at Ciccarelli Law Offices represents clients in preliminary hearings throughout Pennsylvania including West Chester, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Lebanon, Media, Norristown, and Reading and throughout Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Lancaster County, Montgomery County, Berks County and Philadelphia. Contact us today at (610) 692-8700 or (877) 529-2422.