Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I HAVE A FELONY: THE PRELIMINARY EXAM

It was a nightmare. The police came to speak with you, they left, they came back and next thing, you were arrested for a felony. Fortunately, your family made bond. Now, your first court date is coming up. Your case is set for the preliminary hearing.

What is a preliminary hearing? Why is it important? What are your options?

The preliminary examination or hearing usually takes place about one month after your bond hearing. At that time, a judge will hear testimony, usually from police, to ascertain whether there was probable cause to arrest you. If the court finds probable cause, the case will then be assigned to the appropriate courtroom dealing with your type of offense. However, if the court finds the officers lacked probable cause, the case is dismissed, and you are probably home free.

A finding of probable cause does not mean you are guilty. The court will normally hear your plea of guilty or innocent on the next court date. The preliminary hearing is not a miniature trial. Your side need not present witnesses, nor is it generally desirable to do so. Usually, the less the state knows about your case the better: Any testimony from your side can be used to impeach your witnesses later. By the same token, your attorney may be able to use the officers’ testimony from the preliminary hearing to impeach them at trial.

The odds are rather high that the court will find probable cause. The burden of proof for probable cause is not a difficult one for the state to make. An experienced criminal law attorney, however, can still be critical even at this juncture. Your attorney can question the state’s witnesses in order to highlight weaknesses in their cse. On limited occasions, those weaknesses are enough to get the case dismissed.

An attorney can also help navigate the best strategy for your situation. For example, the state’s attorney may offer a plea agreement that is too good to refuse. Perhaps the evidence against you on the felony charge is very strong, but the state will reduce charges to an expungeable-type misdemeanor.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a felony, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves clients in the communities of Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Highland Park, Kenilworth, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Palatine, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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