What is a Preliminary Hearing?
If your case is a felony charge, meaning that the potential jail sentence is greater than one year, then the next court hearing after the arraignment is a preliminary hearing. The purpose of this hearing is for the Commonwealth to convince the judge that there exists probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and probable cause to believe that you committed it. If the judge does not find probable cause, your case may be dismissed at this stage, without the need for a trial. If the judge determines that probable cause does exist, he will certify the case up to the Circuit Court, which is the highest level trial court in Virginia, and you will be entitled to a trial by a jury of twelve people.
In FELONY cases only, A defendant has a right to a speedy preliminary hearing within 10 court days of the date of arraignment. At this hearing the district attorney must present evidence sufficient to convince a judge that a felony has been committed and that the person charged IS the person who committed the crime. This type of hearing does not apply to misdemeanors.
If you are charged with a felony that is not within the jurisdiction of the District Court you may request a preliminary hearing at or within ten (10) days after your initial appearance in District Court. The preliminary hearing will be held in the District Court. Failure to make a timely request is considered a waiver of a preliminary hearing , unless the Court orders otherwise. Before proceeding with the preliminary hearing, the District Court shall make sure that you have received a copy of the charging document and shall read or state to the you the substance of each offense. The State’s Attorneys’ Office will then present relevant evidence to the Court . You are entitled to cross-examine witnesses, but not present evidence. If the Court finds after the preliminary hearing that there is probable cause to believe that you committed the offense(s), the conditions of pretrial release established shall be continued unless changed by the Court.
Preliminary Hearing is a hearing which must be held not less than three or more than ten days after the Preliminary Arraignment of a person charged with a non-summary crime. At a Preliminary Hearing the Commonwealth will call witnesses and present evidence in order to attempt to establish a Prima Facia Case. If a Prima Facia Case is established the case will be held for court. The Preliminary Hearing stage is an extremely important step in the criminal process as it is the first opportunity for a defense attorney to cross examine witnesses, inspect the physical evidence and assess the Commonwealths case against the accused.