What is the Preliminary Hearing?

Posted on by New Mexico Criminal Law Offices

Knowledgeable Defense Attorneys Representing the Accused in Preliminary Hearings in New Mexico

preliminary hearingDuring a criminal prosecution, multiple hearings may occur. These trials determine aspects like the admissibility of evidence and bail.

The preliminary hearing phase of the criminal process is similar to an arraignment, but also provides each side with an opportunity to present counter-arguments, if they have any.

Trial Before a Trial?

The best way to describe a preliminary hearing is to refer to it as a trial before a trial. During this trial, the judge is not there to determine guilt or innocence; instead, he or she determines if there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to the next stage of the trial. If the judge feels that the prosecution does not meet the burden of proof, he or she may dismiss the charges.

Judges use the legal standard of probable cause to determine if a case is ready for trial. Probable cause examines whether there is an existence of a logical basis for the prosecutor to move forward with the case. It is hard for the defense to win during a preliminary hearing, as the prosecution would not be presenting a case that didn’t have probable cause.

What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing?

For the preliminary hearing, the judge will listen to arguments from both sides. The prosecution may call witnesses, and they can present some evidence to convince the judge of the case’s merit. The defense may cross-examine the witnesses called by the prosecution and will work hard to convince the judge that the prosecutor’s case is too weak and lacks sufficient evidence for trial.

Not All Cases Have Preliminary Trials

It is important to realize that not all criminal cases have preliminary trials. These hearings may not be utilized unless a felony is charged. Other times, the grand jury indictment process forgoes the need for a preliminary hearing, because the prosecution has already received approval for an indictment by presenting the case to the grand jury.

A prosecutor may offer a plea deal before the preliminary hearing. If your case is straightforward, or if you do not want to take your chances at trial, your attorney can discuss a plea bargain with the prosecution.

Sometimes, plea deals are struck after a preliminary hearing. For example, your defense attorney has heard the prosecution’s case and knows it is not strong enough, so he or she requests a reduced sentence. On the other side, the prosecution may realize that the case is not strong enough, so they ask your defense attorney for a plea bargain.

Discuss Your Case with a Criminal Defense Attorney in New Mexico Today

After an arrest, you must speak with a criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help you weigh your options, represent your case at the preliminary trial, and ensure that you get the best outcome possible for your case.

To explore your options, schedule a consultation with the defense team at New Mexico Criminal Law Offices by calling 505-200-2982 or requesting your initial consultation online through our contact form.