Criminal Law: The Preliminary Hearing
What is a Preliminary Hearing? In Maryland, a preliminary hearing is scheduled when a Defendant is charged with a felony crime. In Baltimore City, a preliminary hearing is set in every case where a felony is charged. In every other county, a preliminary hearing must be requested by the Defendant within ten days of his or her arrest. If it is not requested, the hearing is considered waived. The actual preliminary hearing takes place in the District Courts. The primary purpose of the hearing is to determine if the case should be “held over" and transferred to the Circuit Court for further proceedings. In order to be held over, the Judge must find a sufficient link between the Defendant and the crime charged. If the Judge determines that there is a sufficient link between the crime in question and the Defendant, the case will be sent to the Circuit Court, where the next step is an arraignment, usually to be followed by a trial. If the Judge does not find a link between the Defendant and the felony charge, the charge will be dismissed. However, if there are lesser misdemeanor charges remaining, those charges will usually remain, to be prosecuted in the District Court.
Should I Hire An Attorney For My Preliminary Hearing? Many times, someone charged with a serious crime and facing a preliminary hearing may feel they do not need representation. Some feel it is too early in the proceedings to hire counsel while others simply don’t fully understand what the preliminary hearing is all about. Our view is that, if at all possible, you should be represented by an experienced criminal defense lawyer at all hearings and court appearances. There is no time, when in the presence of prosecutors, police, or the Court, that you can let down your guard and feel you do not need legal protection. In fact, we prefer to begin representing our clients at the preliminary hearing stage, if not sooner. The earlier we can begin working on your behalf, the more impact we can have in the all-important charging and case formation process.
What Can A Lawyer Do At My Preliminary Hearing? During your hearing, your attorney can ask questions of the testifying police officers. These questions must be limited to the facts involved in the incident, and the Judge will make sure the questions do not go beyond that point. Electing to question the officers is a strategy decision made on a case by case basis. The advantage is that additional information can be discovered through the officers testimony. In addition, the testimony of the officer is now “on the record," and may be used against him later should his story change. The disadvantage to asking questions is that your lawyer can “tip his hat" and give away elements of the defense strategy to observant prosecutors. Asking questions is one important reason to have defense counsel with you at the preliminary hearing.
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MARC G. SNYDER is a Criminal Defense Attorney practicing throughout the State of Maryland. He is the author of several client-focused legal publications, including “The Client’s Guide To Choosing A Lawyer," and “A Guide to Maryland’s Criminal Arrest Process." Mr. Snyder has worked for the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office as a Criminal Prosecutor, and in 2008, he founded his current firm, defending Maryland residents throughout the State against criminal prosecution. The Law Office of Marc G. Snyder has offices conveniently located in Downtown Baltimore, Owings Mills, and Ocean City, Maryland.