What is a Preliminary Hearing?

Preliminary Hearing

In Pennsylvania, if you are charged with a criminal offense, you are entitled to have a preliminary hearing within 10 days of the charges being filed.

At the preliminary hearing, the Magisterial District Judge has to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the charges to be held over to the Court of Common Pleas (trial level). The burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is on the Commonwealth (District Attorney’s Office). The prosecutor must prove the elements of the offenses to a prima facia level. Prima facia is just a legal term meaning “on the face”.  The Magisterial District Judge looks at the Affidavit of Probable Cause and any additional evidence that the prosecutor presents to make a determination whether it’s more likely or not that the charges alleged occurred and, is it more likely or not that the defendant was the one who committed them. The Magisterial District Judge does not determine if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. Nor does the Magisterial District Judge determine a sentence. There are exceptions to this, such as when the defendant is only facing summary offenses, but that is a discussion for another day.

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