What Are Preliminary Hearings And Why Are They Important In A Criminal Case?
Understanding your right to a preliminary hearing is crucial because it can mean the difference between dropping charges due to lack of evidence or the case being tried as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to decide whether probable cause for arrest and sufficient evidence exists to proceed to trial.
Maryland Statutes and Codes Section 4-103 grants defendants accused of a felony the right to a preliminary hearing. However, in most Maryland counties, the defendant must request the hearing within 10 days of the defendant’s initial appearance before a court judge. When you fail to request a hearing, the court considers you waived the right. However, when charged with a felony in Baltimore County, the court schedules a preliminary hearing regardless of whether you request it, though this is not true in other counties.
At a preliminary hearing, the authorities present their evidence against you to the court. Your criminal defense attorney has the opportunity to question law enforcement officers about the facts in their testimony but cannot present evidence on your behalf. Even so, through skillful questioning, your lawyer can expose discrepancies in the evidence and often obtain dismissed charges. The second-best outcome is obtaining reduced charges due to lack of evidence to support the initial charges being sought.
Underestimating the importance of a preliminary hearing and thinking you do not need legal representation can be a serious error in defending your rights. At no time should you let your guard down when accused of a felony. Having an experienced criminal law attorney at your side is the best defense.