Preliminary Hearings

Your Right to a Preliminary Hearing

If you have been arrested and charged with a felony in Maryland, you generally have a right to request a preliminary hearing in the District Court before your case is sent to the Circuit Court for trial. You have the opportunity to request the hearing in the following ways:

  • Orally when you are taken before the District Court Commissioner at the time of your arrest
  • Orally before a District Court judge for your bond review
  • In writing directed to the clerk of the court

Any request must be made within 10 days of your arrest or you will lose your right to a preliminary hearing.

What is a Preliminary Hearing?

A preliminary hearing tests whether the State has enough evidence to maintain the felony charges that are not within the jurisdiction of the District Court. This includes most felonies with the exception of certain theft, forgery, bad check, and credit card offenses. You are not allowed to testify at a preliminary hearing or to present witnesses. Through an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can cross examine the State's witnesses. The formal rules of evidence do not apply, meaning that hearsay and illegally obtained evidence are admissible.

At the conclusion of the hearing, a District Court judge determines whether probable cause exists for each of the felonies. If there is, then the case is bound over for trial in the Circuit Court. The State is given 30 days within which to file a formal criminal information charging you in the matter. If the judge determines that probable cause does not exist for all of the felonies, the case is scheduled for trial in the District court. If there is even probable cause for a single felony, the matter is sent to the Circuit Court because, with a few exceptions, the District Court does not have jurisdiction over felony criminal cases.

What Else Can Happen at a Preliminary Hearing?

Even though the probable cause standard is a low burden for the State to prove, preliminary hearings are especially useful in Drug Possession and Distribution cases that do not involve actual distribution of drugs. This is due to the fact that the line between simple possession and possession with intent to distribute is often a fine line.

Preliminary hearings represent an early stage in the proceeding in which the State's evidence and witnesses can be tested against the skilled cross examination of a criminal defense attorney. If you are still incarcerated in lieu of posting bail, often a case that seems serious to the court on paper may seem less serious after hearing the evidence, and could result in the reduction of your bond.

Get Help from an AV® Rated Firm

For those who are facing felony charges in Maryland, contact our Salisbury criminal defense attorneys for the aggressive defense strategy you need. Serving the entire Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland including Somerset County, Wicomico County, and Worcester County and the cities of Salisbury, Ocean City, Snow Hill and Princess Anne with decades of collective experience, there is nothing our firm cannot handle.

If you have been charged with a felony and are deciding whether to request a preliminary hearing or if you have a hearing scheduled, call (410) 657-5775 or contact Anthenelli, Phoebus & Hickman, LLC today to schedule a confidential consultation. Unless you require a jail visit, there is no cost for your initial consultation.

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