Key Differences Between Trial And Preliminary Hearing

If you have been charged with a crime, then it is possible that you will be called for a preliminary hearing early in your case. While you may be apprehensive about the hearing, you should know that it is not the same as a trial. In fact, there are some key differences between a preliminary hearing and trial such as:

Duration and Aim of the Trial

Due to the nature of the preliminary hearing proceedings, they don't last very long. This is because the prosecution isn't expected to provide a watertight case at this point. All he or she has to do is to show that there is at least some evidence tying you to the case. Therefore, a preliminary hearing can last as short as two hours, unlike trials that can run for weeks or even months.

Your defense lawyer understands this, which is why he or she isn't likely to raise many objections or even refute the prosecution's evidence strongly. He or she may only do that during the preliminary hearing if the evidence is obviously illegal or a plain lie. In fact, depending on your case, it might be a good idea to dispense with the whole idea of a preliminary hearing and wait for the trial. This is possible because the defendant reserves the right to waive the hearing.


The aim of a trial is to determine whether you are guilty or innocent. The main aim of a preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to suspect you of the crimes you have been charged with.  This is why the defense may not put up a spirited fight during a preliminary hearing.


A criminal trial can either be held in front of a judge or judge and jury. However, preliminary hearings are only handled by the judge. Again, this ties in with the aim of a preliminary hearing – to determine if there is plausible cause for your arrest and charges. The juries do not have to be involved at this stage because theirs is to determine guilt or innocence.


At the close of a preliminary hearing, the judge can dismiss your case, reduce your charges or send you to trial. On the other hand, a trial ends with your case being dismissed, or you being found guilty or innocent. If you are found guilty, then you are sentenced according to the criminal laws of your state.

As you can see, a preliminary hearing is much like a mini-trial. Therefore, you shouldn't get frustrated with your attorney if he or she doesn't seem to do much at this time. It may be that he or she doesn't want to "show his or her hand" to the prosecution, and is saving the big guns for when it matters most – trial.

For more information, contact Alexander & Associates, P.C. or a similar firm.