What is a preliminary hearing?

What is a preliminary hearing?

What is a preliminary hearing?

The bottom line:   In a preliminary hearing in Tennessee’s General Sessions Court, the judge determines whether there is probable cause to continue to the next phase of criminal prosecution.

If you are charged with any crime in Tennessee, the first court you will appear in is the General Sessions Court.  Many cases are resolved in General Sessions Court.  In Tennessee you are entitled to a preliminary hearing if your case cannot be resolved in General Sessions. 

During the hearing, the prosecution will offer evidence of the alleged crime.   Often, this evidence is the witness testimony of a police officer involved in the arrest or investigation.

Your lawyer will have the opportunity to ask the witness questions under oath.  You lawyer may also present witnesses to the court.

After hearing the testimony, the judge will determine whether there is probable cause to bind over the charge to the grand jury.

  • There is “probable cause” if there is evidence that makes it reasonable to believe that you committed a crime. 
  • “Bind over” means that the case will be sent to the grand jury.
  • The grand jury is a group of 13 people who review the evidence and decide if there is probable cause (again!) to continue the prosecution in Circuit/Criminal Court.

If the judge finds that there is not probable cause, then the charge is dismissed.

Because very little proof is required to show probable cause, the reality is that most charges are bound over to the grand jury.  Even so, the preliminary hearing is an important part of your criminal defense.  In a future blog post, I will explain more about how a preliminary hearing can help you. 

 

Do I have to go to court on a criminal charge if the other party does not want to press charges?

Do I have to go to court on a criminal charge if the other party does not want to press charges?

Do I have to go to court on a criminal charge if the other party does not want to press charges?

The bottom line:  Yes.  The District Attorney’s office decides whether to prosecute someone for a crime; it is not up to a private individual to “press charges.”  If you do not show up for court, the judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest. This means you will have an additional criminal charge of “failure to appear.”

The concept of “pressing charges” is popular on TV police shows, but in real life, it is not up to an individual to decide whether to pursue a criminal charge after an arrest has been made.  The D.A.’s office decides that.

Let’s look at a domestic violence allegation as an example.   Sometimes a person who calls the police and alleges domestic violence later has a change of heart and tells the police that she does not want to press charges.  In Tennessee, the police will almost always make an arrest if there is probable cause that a domestic assault law has been broken.  (In a future post, I will explain what “probable cause” means and the arrest process.)  

An Assistant District Attorney (ADA) will review the police report and the arrest warrant and speak with the alleged victim to determine whether to proceed with prosecution.  Based on the available information, if the ADA believes a crime has been committed and that there is enough evidence, the ADA will proceed with prosecution.

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