DUI - Preliminary Hearings
A preliminary hearing is a hearing where a judge decides if there is probable cause and enough evidence against a defendant in order to make the defendant stand trial.
Preliminary hearings are also referred to as probable cause hearings, preliminary examinations and prelims and are usually held soon after arraignments.
Preliminary hearings are a kind of trial before the actual trial and a preview of what the actual trial may be like.
Prosecutors typically do not present the whole case, rather they only present enough evidence in order to convince the judge that there is probable cause for a defendant to stand trial.
Prosecutors may call witnesses to testify and introduce evidence in a bid to convince the judge that there is enough evidence against the defendant to make them stand trial.
The defense will usually cross examine these witnesses and may call into question any prosecution evidence in a bid to convince the judge that the prosecutors evidence is not strong enough and the case against the defendant should be dismissed.
Most DUI cases do not reach the preliminary hearing stage as in a lot of DUI cases, defendants plead guilty as the evidence of intoxication against them is strong.
Even when defendants do plead 'not guilty', preliminary hearings may not occur. This is due to the inconsistency of criminal court procedures between states and counties.
In some states preliminary hearings are held in ALL DUI criminal court cases where defendants plead not guilty. In other states they are held only in felony DUI cases and yet in other states they are held only if the defense lawyer requests them.
Grand Jury Indictments
Some states hold 'grand jury indictments' either instead of or as well as a preliminary hearing.
The purpose of grand jury indictments are the same as preliminary hearings in that they are used to establish probable cause to make the defendant stand trial.
In a grand jury indictment a designated group of citizens (the jury) are used to decide whether or not there is enough probable cause to make the defendant stand trial.
A preliminary hearing usually has one of three outcomes:
- The DUI defendant is made to stand trial
- If it is a felony DUI charge the judge may reduce the charge to a misdemeanor (a plea bargain may be possible)
- The judge may dismiss the case due to lack of evidence (this is very very rare)