Typically, for a misdemeanor, your next court date after your arraignment will be your trial date; however, for felony charges and some misdemeanors you will have a pre-trial hearing.
Pre-trial hearings vary and you may have more than one before your trial date. However, even if you have a pre-trial hearing or set a trial date, it does not mean that you will necessarily go to trial.
In a felony case, a preliminary hearing determines whether the evidence against you gives the court probable cause to believe that you committed the crime of which you have been accused by the Commonwealth. If a magistrate determines that there is sufficient evidence, you may be indicted by a Grand Jury based on evidence presented by the prosecution.
You may also have a preliminary hearing if your lawyer files a motion relating to your case such as a motion to dismiss or change venues. Lawyers on opposing sides also usually meet during a pr-trial hearing to determine finer details of the case.
Often, a pre-trial hearing involves a motion for discovery. A motion for discovery requires that the prosecution turn over evidence that they have relating to your case. This process is reciprocal, meaning that when you collect evidence from the prosecution, the defense is also required to share evidence collected. During discovery the prosecution will provide your lawyer with both physical evidence they have collected and information for witnesses who might have knowledge relating to your case. There is no requirement that the prosecution reveal their trial strategy.
A resolution can sometimes be reached before trial occurs. Your case may be dismissed if your lawyer files a successful motion to dismiss and the judge agrees that the evidence against you is insufficient to proceed with a trial. Your case can be dismissed for other reasons as well.
You and your lawyer might also decide to accept a plea agreement to avoid the uncertainty of facing trial and a potential worse sentence. If this is your first offense, depending on the crime you are accused of, you may be able to avoid trial and only face probation without a determination by the court of your guilt.
The advice of a lawyer can help you determine what strategy to use during this pre-trial stage and prepare your case if you do go to trial.
- Pre-Trial Hearing