FAQ: What Is The Preliminary Hearing In A Criminal Case?
When you are charged with committing a crime, the local magisterial district judge will schedule a preliminary hearing within 21 days of the filing of the police criminal complaint. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to forward the charges to the Court of Common Pleas for a trial by jury or a nonjury trial. The preliminary hearing is not a trial and the Commonwealth does not have to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt at this stage. However, at the preliminary hearing, you do have the right to an attorney, the right to cross-examine witnesses against you, the right to inspect evidence offered against you and the right to make a recording of the testimony.
If the Commonwealth fails to present any evidence that you were involved in the commission of a crime, then the magisterial district judge must dismiss the charges against you. You should always be represented by an attorney at the preliminary hearing because this proceeding is the first stage in building your defense against the charges.