If you are charged with a felony, your case will likely start in the district court. Following your arraignment in district court, your case will be set for a Preliminary Hearing. A preliminary hearing is also sometimes called a "Probable Cause Hearing." At your preliminary hearing, the Court will hear testimony from witnesses, usually the arresting officer, and determine if there is probable cause that you have violated the law they're accusing you of violating. Probable cause is a much lower standard than "beyond a reasonable doubt," which is the standard at a trial.
Speak to your lawyer before your preliminary hearing. Be sure to go over the facts of your case and any witnesses to the alleged offense. Make sure that your lawyer has your contact information such as phone number, backup phone number and address. If a public defender has been appointed to your case, and do not know the name of your public defender, call the local office and ask. You can find your local office here
When you are in court, be sure to tell your lawyer everything before the hearing starts. If you speak to your attorney during the hearing, it will be hard for them to hear and they may miss something. If something comes up during the hearing, write it down or be sure to tell your public defender when there is a break in the hearing. You want to make sure that your lawyer can hear everything that is happening during the hearing.
Other things that can happen at a preliminary hearing includes:
- You can argue bond. At arraignment, your lawyer can argue for a bond reduction if you are in custody. Be sure to tell your lawyer what amount you can post (if any), if you have any property that can be posted, or if you have any family members that will sign a bond for you.
- Motions can be made: certain motions can be made at your arraignment. Remember, this is not your trial. There will be a lot of time to file motions later in your case, and your lawyer may choose to wait to make sure they have as much information as possible. Speak to your public defender about any motions that you want filed.
- A misdemeanor offer may be made. This means that the prosecutor will amend your charge to a misdemeanor. In exchange for that reduction, you would enter a guilty plea. this means that you will have a misdemeanor conviction on your criminal record, but that it would not be a felony.
- A rocket docket offer may be made. In some counties, they have a process called "the rocket docket." A rocket docket offer means that you are offered a felony plea, in district court. You waive your constitutional right to a preliminary hearing. You waive your constitutional right to have your case presented to the grand jury. You waive your right to discovery. Be sure to speak with your public defender before considering a rocket docket offer.
- Continuance. A continuance means that your case will be delayed. Your lawyer may want to continue the case for many reasons, so speak to them if a continuance is suggested. You have a right to a preliminary hearing within 10-days if you are in custody and within 20-days if you are out of custody. A continuance will likely mean that you asked to "waive times" which means to waive the number of days they have to hold your preliminary hearing. If the prosecution misses those time limits, your case can be dismissed. However, keep in mind that you can be re-charged. The case does not disappear simply because the prosecution went outside the time limits.