In the Maryland criminal justice system, a preliminary hearing may occur when a defendant is charged with one or more felonies. The practice in most other Maryland counties is to only schedule a preliminary hearing upon request of the defendant. Criminal defendants must make the request within ten days of the arrest or file a motion for good cause with a judge.
Preliminary hearings are conducted in the Maryland District Courts. If a judge finds probable cause, the case is sent (held over) to the Circuit Court for arraignment and possible trial. If the judge does not find probable cause that a felony has been committed by the defendant, then felony is dismissed. If a defendant is also charged with one or more misdemeanor, those charges remain and will be set for trial on another day at the District Court level.
Simply put, a District Court judge must find some link between the felony and the defendant. In most preliminary hearings in Maryland, the arresting officer will take the stand and read from his/her police report. The standard of review in a preliminary hearing is in the “light most favorable to the state”. In simple terms, the judge will give the prosecuting attorney the benefit of the doubt when determining if the defendant has committed the crime.
The defense attorney is permitted to ask limited questions pertaining to the facts. An experienced criminal defense attorney will try to obtain as much detail from the police officer, under oath, for use down the road at trial. For such reasons, holding a preliminary hearing may be useful to the defense-even if the judge does not dismiss the felony charge(s).
Often times a defendant will show up for court expecting a preliminary hearing, only to find that 1) the case has been indicted by a grand jury, 2) the prosecutor has exercised his/her discretion and dropped the felony(s), or 3) the entire case has been dropped (nolle pros) or placed on the stet docket (indefinite postponement). Often, an experienced criminal defense attorney can sway the prosecutor into dropping the charges even before the preliminary hearing is held.
For more information on a criminal defendant’s rights and the strategy of holding a preliminary hearing in Maryland, please contact the Law Offices of Gabriel J. Christian & Associates, LLC at 301-218-9400 for a free consultation.