All About Preliminary Hearings, or "Prelims"

Preliminary hearings, often referred to as "prelims," require the prosecutor to show enough credible evidence to a judge to convince that judge to send the case on to trial.

Preliminary hearings are held only in cases in which a defendant pleads not guilty at the arraignment or initial appearance. But even then, whether a preliminary hearing will be held depends upon the laws of each state. In some states, preliminary hearings are held in every criminal case. In other states, they are held only if the defense requests them. In still other states, they are held only in felony cases.

In many states, the prosecutor may eliminate the need for a preliminary hearing altogether by convening a grand jury and obtaining an indictment. And, for strategic reasons, defendants may decide to waive (give up) their right to the preliminary hearing altogether and proceed directly to trial.

When Prelims are Held

The preliminary hearing typically takes place soon after charges are officially filed against the defendant. For instance, under the Federal Speedy Trial Act, a preliminary hearing must normally be held within 30 days of the time the defendant is arrested. (See 18 U.S.C. §â

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