Preliminary Hearings: How A Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

Last week, a client of mine wasn’t sure if he wanted me to attend his preliminary hearing. He said to me, “They’ll just find probable cause anyway. Why bother?”

If you aren’t familiar with what a preliminary hearing is, it is basically a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to charge a defendant with a crime. The preliminary hearing is not a trial and it does not prove whether a defendant is guilty or not. At a preliminary hearing, the judge only determines if there is probable cause that the defendant committed a felony. In order for the State’s Attorney to formally charge the defendant with the felony they were arrested for, the judge must find probable cause. If the judge finds probable cause, the case will be formally charged and assigned to a trial judge on another court date. If the judge finds that there is not probable cause, the charge will be dismissed.

After giving it some thought, my client decided that he wanted me to appear in court for his preliminary hearing. The judge made a finding of no probable cause and all of his charges were dismissed.

Unfortunately, it is true that judges find probable cause more often than not. However, if a defendant has an experienced criminal defense attorney represent them at a preliminary hearing, the testimony can ultimately assist a defendant with their defense at a later hearing. During the preliminary hearing, the State’s witness is under oath and a court reporter is present. This gives the criminal defense attorney the opportunity to ask specific questions on the record. At a later hearing, such as a trial or motion to suppress, if the State’s witness attempts to testify differently, their answers from the preliminary hearing can be used against them. This is an important tool for the defense attorney, and is a major reason why an experienced criminal attorney is essential for a preliminary hearing in Illinois.