Grand Jury v. Preliminary Hearing


When a felony case is introduced in court, it must first go through a probable cause determination before the matter can be set for trial. The court must find that probable cause exists to believe that the defendant committed the crime before the defendant may be prosecuted. There are two different ways in which a court can determine probable cause: (A) Grand Jury; and (B) Preliminary Hearing.

  1. Grand Jury

When a case is submitted to a grand jury, the prosecution presents the case to a group of citizens outside the presence of the defendant and then they are asked to determine whether probable cause exists based on the evidence presented to them by the prosecution. If the grand jury finds that probable cause exists, then they return an indictment, which then becomes the charging document in that case. In a grand jury, the prosecutor runs the proceeding and no judge is present. Furthermore, defense lawyers are not allowed to be present in the grand jury and cannot present evidence.

  1. Preliminary Hearing

Alternatively a felony charge can be introduced through a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is conducted in the same manner as a trial; however, during a preliminary hearing there is no jury present, rather a judge is the fact finder and the burden of proof is much lower than the ordinary criminal trial. At a criminal trial, the United States Constitution requires that the prosecution provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt before that can occur. During a preliminary hearing however the prosecution is required only to demonstrate that probable cause exists. If a preliminary hearing is held and the judge finds probable cause the state is permitted to file a document called an Information, which would be used as the charging document throughout the remainder of that case.

If you have been charged with a felony and need an experienced attorney to defende you, contact The Sumner Law Group today!