Most clients underestimate the importance of the preliminary hearing. In Pennsylvania, the right to a preliminary hearing is provided for by Rule 542 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure. The technical purpose of a preliminary hearing is to make a judicial determination of whether there exists sufficient evidence as to any of the charges lodged against the defendant to have a trial. In the law this is referred to as a prima facie case. The burden of proof rests upon the District Attorney to establish a prima facie case. The DA is not required to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt as is the case at trial. Rather the burden is to demonstrate that a crime was committed and that more likely than not the defendant is the person who committed the crime.
As compared to the burden of proof at trial, this is not a heavy burden and usually, unless there is a total absence of evidence such as a failure to identify the defendant or a major technical failure to establish an essential element of a crime, a prima facie case is established.
So why then is the preliminary hearing so important? It is important because it provides the Defense Lawyer with the first opportunity to assess the evidence against the client. It is an invaluable discovery tool. Experienced lawyers are at times able to expose weaknesses in the Commonwealth’s case which are then preserved in the notes of testimony of the hearing. In Philadelphia all preliminary hearings are transcribed by a court reporter. These notes are then used at trial by a skillful attorney to build a defense.
At the Law Offices of Perry de Marco, Sr., we never minimize the importance of the preliminary hearing. In fact most of our victories are based in large part on the work which we have done at the preliminary hearing. It is for this reason that we like to become involved in the case at this early stage so as to set the ground work to build our defense. Finally many clients believe that they can get away with a less experienced attorney at the preliminary hearing and then hire the better lawyer if the case proceeds to trial. As stated previously this is a major mistake. The advice is to hire the best lawyer you can afford from the very beginning of the criminal proceedings.
Contact the Law Offices of Perry de Marco, Sr. today in order to arrange for a free consultation. 215-563-8000