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Criminal Defense

A Preliminary Hearing vs a Trial

By February 5, 2016November 14th, 2023No Comments

Going through the criminal justice system can get a little confusing. It’s hard to know what stage of the process you’re in and what’s coming next. Something that is commonly confused is the difference between a preliminary hearing and a trial. The main difference is that during the preliminary hearing (sometimes called a prelim) the purpose is to see if the case is strong enough to go to trial. Here’s four key differences between a prelim and a trial.

Time– A prelim is much shorter than a trial. Prelims can be as short as a few minutes, and a trial can stretch out to weeks or even months.
Jury– During a prelim the jury isn’t there, it’s just the lawyers and the judge. Trials will have lawyers, judges, and juries (unless the defendant waived their right to a jury.)
Proof– In order for a case to move from a prelim to a trial the prosecution only needs to show probable cause the defendant is guilty. In a trial, the burden of proof is much higher.
Purpose– At the end of the prelim the defendant is not found guilty or innocent. The reason the prelim exists is to limit the number of unnecessary cases that go to trial. If a case obviously has no legal ground, a judge can stop it in the preliminary stage to save the defendant time and money.

Just because a judge allows your case to move from a preliminary hearing to a trial doesn’t mean you have no chance of being found innocent. A good criminal defense lawyer won’t get spooked by an unfavorable prelim ruling, they’ll keep fighting. Oklahoma City criminal defense lawyer Jacqui Ford knows how to keep fighting.