If you have been charged with a felony offense, you have a legal right to a preliminary hearing in your case. In felony cases, a preliminary hearing is the court appearance that follows the initial appearance hearing. In misdemeanor criminal cases, there is no preliminary hearing.
Preliminary hearings are also known as preliminary examinations, probable cause hearings, or simply as ‘prelims.’ As the individual who is accused of committing a criminal offense, you do not have a right to testify at a preliminary hearing. In other words, you cannot take the witness stand and talk about your version of events. However, your lawyer has the right cross-examine any witnesses, including police officers and others, whom the prosecuting attorney calls as a witness. The court will then make a determination about whether probable cause exists to charge you with the felony offense.
If you are facing a felony criminal charge, it is very important that you have an experienced attorney on your side representing you throughout your criminal case from beginning to end. The experienced Wisconsin criminal defense lawyers at Hogan Eickhoff can represent you at both your initial appearance hearing and your preliminary hearing – as well as at all other court appearances that occur throughout your criminal case. Our team will work hard to help you reach the best possible conclusion in your case, whether that be a favorable jury verdict or a favorable plea deal with the prosecution. Give us a call today to learn more about how we can assist you at your preliminary hearing and at all of your future court appearances.
Meeting the Probable Cause Standard
At a preliminary hearing, the State is responsible for demonstrating probable cause that a felony offense was committed and that you were the person who committed it. Probable cause is defined in different ways. In some instances, it’s described at 50.1 percent. At other times, it’s defined as “something more than a reasonable suspicion” that you committed the underlying offense.
At a preliminary hearing, if the court finds that the prosecution failed to meet its legal burden and that no probable cause exists in your case, then the felony charge that is pending against you may be dismissed. In addition, the court can release you from any conditions that may have been imposed as a part of your bail (e.g., no contact restrictions).
It is important to keep in mind that the preliminary hearing stage of a criminal case only applies to felony charges. If you have been charged with both felony and misdemeanor offenses, the felonies may be subject to dismissal at the preliminary hearing, assuming the prosecution fails to prove that probable cause exists. However, you will still have to answer to any remaining criminal misdemeanor charges that may be pending in your case.
Testimony by Witnesses at Preliminary Hearings
Proving probable cause can be a difficult legal burden for the prosecution to meet. Consequently, at a preliminary hearing, the prosecuting attorney can call witnesses to help establish that probable cause exists. When witnesses testify at the preliminary hearing, they can talk about the events that they recall occurring, including dates and times. One of the prosecution’s most important witnesses at a preliminary hearing is usually the police officer who made the arrest in your case.
At your preliminary hearing, it is extremely important that you have an experienced Wisconsin criminal defense attorney in court representing you. During the preliminary hearing, after the prosecuting attorney examines a witness, your attorney is permitted to cross-examine the witness and examine all of the evidence which has been presented by the prosecuting attorney during the hearing. The purpose of cross-examination is to try and poke holes in the prosecution’s version of the case and to draw attention to areas where the prosecution’s evidence may be weak.
Applicability of Hearsay Laws to Preliminary Hearings in Wisconsin
A few years ago, the legislature in the State of Wisconsin changed several laws pertaining to preliminary hearings that take place in criminal cases. Specifically, with regard to hearsay, the laws were changed so that hearsay evidence might be admitted during these hearings, in order for the prosecution to prove that probable cause exists.
A hearsay statement is a statement that a person makes out of court and that is being introduced for its truth – which the law refers to as the “truth of the matter asserted.” Since hearsay statements are now admissible at preliminary hearings in Wisconsin, it is not necessary for the prosecuting attorney to present a witness at the hearing who saw the incident firsthand – or who has firsthand knowledge of what went on. All the State must do is put someone on the stand and read the police reports pertaining to your criminal charge or charges into the record.
Even when the prosecuting attorney attempts to introduce hearsay evidence against you at a preliminary hearing, your lawyer has the right to cross-examine the witness after he or she has testified, in an attempt to weaken the impact of that testimony. For example, the defense attorney may call into question the witness’ knowledge of the event or ability to see what was occurring at the time of the incident.
Contact a Wisconsin Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
The experienced Wisconsin criminal defense lawyers at Hogan Eickhoff can assist you throughout every stage of your criminal case, from the initial appearance hearing (or arraignment) to the preliminary hearing, and all the way up through trial. Our legal team will zealously advocate for all of your legal rights throughout your criminal case and will do everything possible to help you achieve a favorable result at the conclusion of your case.