The criminal defense attorneys at The Davis Law Group, P.C. regularly represent clients at preliminary hearings in Chicago and its surrounding areas. Preliminary Hearings are abbreviated hearings exclusive to felony allegations. Preliminary Hearings generally involve fairly straightforward felony cases. Often, more complex felony allegations are scheduled for Grand Jury Indictments, and a Preliminary Hearing is never conducted in those instances.
A Preliminary Hearing is basically a Probable Cause Hearing. Before a case is added to the docket of a felony criminal courtroom, a finding of probable cause must be made. One of the ways a Prosecutor can make a showing of probable cause to the Court is to schedule the matter for a Preliminary Hearing. This hearing consists, generally, of the Prosecutor calling one or two witnesses to elicit evidence that the accused committed the offense as charged. This is very different from the type of evidence presented at an actual trial. The evidence presented at the preliminary hearing stage is normally very brief and consists of the most important facts that support the offense as charged. A good prosecutor will limit the evidence presented to the bare minimum required – just enough to establish probable cause. The reason for this is primarily because the Defense Attorney then has an opportunity to cross-examine the witness(es) called by the State in attempt to demonstrate weakness in the State’s case. If a prosecutor exposes too much at the preliminary hearing, this would permit the Defense Attorney more latitude to expose these potential weaknesses. Nonetheless, because of the lower burden required, most preliminary hearings result in a finding of probable cause. However, it is not uncommon for a finding of No Probable Cause to be made by the Court if the evidence is extremely weak against the accused. As a result, an experienced criminal defense attorney is essential at this stage of the proceeding.
A finding of No Probable Cause is an excellent outcome if the State does not choose to re-file charges. A good example of a finding of No Probable Cause where the State is unlikely to re-file charges is an allegation of possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance (a PCS charge). Because these cases are so common and have a tendency to clog up the court’s docket, most prosecutors will not take the time to re-file charges and allow the case to result in a dismissal after a finding of No Probable Cause. In other cases, however, the State may believe that the Court made the wrong finding at the Preliminary Hearing stage, or that some mistake was made during the Preliminary Hearing that affected the outcome. Under these circumstances, the State has the discretion to re-file charges, and choose to establish the finding of Probable Cause by opting for a Grand Jury Indictment. It is rare for a Special Grand Jury not to return a True Bill of Indictment after hearing the evidence presented by the State. The Defense Attorney is not able to attend this hearing and the manner in which the evidence is presented is at the exclusive control of the State Prosecutor. The Defendant only finds out during his/her next scheduled court appearance date that their matter has been indicted.
After a finding of Probable Cause at a Preliminary Hearing, or the return of a True Bill of Indictment from a Grand Jury, the matter is then scheduled for an Arraignment on the charges as filed. Normally, Arraignments are conducted by the Judge that will be presiding over the case during its pendency. In some counties, Arraignments are conducted in special Arraignment Courtrooms and the case is later assigned to another Judge that will preside over the matter.
The criminal defense attorneys at The Davis Law Group, P.C. have years of experience conducting Preliminary Hearings, and are familiar with local courthouse procedures, the various Assistant State’s Attorneys, Judges, and local Clerks of the Circuit Court. Please contact us if you require legal assistance for a Preliminary Hearing in Chicago or throughout its surrounding areas.