Unless you are indicted by a grand jury, a Preliminary Hearing is required to take place before you are formally charged with a felony. (725 ILCS 5/109). The Preliminary Hearing must take place within 30 days of the arrest if you are in custody, and within 60 days if you are free on bond.
At the Preliminary Hearing, the State will present evidence and witnesses before the Court to make it appear that there is probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed by you. Usually, a defendant does not testify at the Preliminary Hearing. Probable cause, for Preliminary Hearing purposes, is like having “reason to believe” that the defendant committed the crime. It is important to note that there is no finding of guilt or innocence at the Preliminary Hearing. Guilt or innocence is determined after a trial where the State has to prove the defendant guilty of each and every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is much harder than proving probable cause at a Preliminary Hearing. Therefore, a finding of probable cause doesn’t mean that the State will be able to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
The Preliminary Hearing is conducted under relaxed rules of evidence and the Defendant’s attorney is allowed limited cross examination of the witnesses. Hearsay and illegally seized evidence can be used by the State as evidence for the purpose of the Preliminary Hearing. The length and the depth of Preliminary Hearings vary from judge to judge. Some judges allow the defense attorneys greater leeway to get into deeper questioning if it appears the police officer or witness is not credible or there are problems with the prosecutor’s case.
If the State loses a Preliminary Hearing or decides not to proceed with a Preliminary Hearing, the Prosecutor is allowed to go before a Grand Jury and ask that the defendant be formally charged. Under 725 ILCS 5/112, a Grand Jury is a panel of 16 jurors who hear evidence against the defendant that is presented by the Prosecutor. They are regular people from the community that are asked to serve as Grand Jurors. If 9 jurors agree that the evidence before them constitutes probable cause that a person has committed an offense, the Prosecutor prepares a Bill of Indictment formally charging that person with such offense. It is important to understand that an indictment is just the formal charges and does not mean that the person charge is guilty or innocent. It’s the document which puts the person on notice that they are being charged with a crime.
The Grand Jury proceedings are held in private and no cross examination of any of the witnesses is allowed by the defendant and his attorney.
You need a lawyer who has a proven track record of the dismissal of countless felonies at a Preliminary Hearing. You need a lawyer that will make every effort to aggressively cross examine the State’s witnesses and make sure that the rules are followed by the State. You need a lawyer who understands that a Preliminary Hearing is an important part of a criminal case because it is the first time that your lawyer will get to confront and question the state’s witnesses. Any testimony made by any of the state’s witnesses is under oath and is being recorded by a court reporter. If a witness’s testimony at trial is different than at the Preliminary Hearing, the transcript of the Preliminary Hearing testimony can be used to show that the witness is not telling the truth. You need a lawyer who understands how this very powerful tool that can help a defendant win their case. That’s why it is critical that you have an experienced and skilled attorney to handle your Preliminary Hearing. If you hire The Legal Defendants who can be certain that you have the right attorney representing you at your Preliminary Hearing.
Many of our lawyers are able to have cases dismissed at the Preliminary Hearing because of a finding of no probable cause. If the case is not dismissed, your lawyer still had the opportunity to cross examine police officers and other witnesses which can be of great benefit at trial. In most cases, the Preliminary Hearing is the only time your lawyer will get to question any of the state’s witnesses before trial. For a skilled trial attorney, this opportunity is invaluable.
Over the last 20 years with hundreds, if not thousands, of satisfied clients, you can feel confident that you will have a lawyer that will use every effort to successfully defend your case and give you the best chance of having a successful Preliminary Hearing.
Remember, the Preliminary Hearing is the first opportunity to attack and weaken the state’s case. Make sure you hire an experienced and aggressive criminal defense lawyer at Legal Defenders, P.C., to represent you at your Preliminary Hearing.