The PS4RS Legal and Regulatory Task Force has prepared this brief “tutorial” to help us better understand the process, implications and next steps regarding the preliminary hearing. We hope you find this helpful.
A preliminary hearing is NOT a trial. Instead, it is a hearing to determine whether the prosecution has enough evidence to go forward to a trial. There is no jury and no Judge. The matter is heard by a District Justice (who need not even be a lawyer). The standard is very low and in the great majority of cases, the matter is bound over for trial. In fact, in many cases, defendants will waive the preliminary hearing because the standard the government has to meet is so low.
The defense lawyers for Curley, Schultz, and Spanier know full well that the matter will not be thrown out. However, they are (like most defense counsel) using the preliminary hearing as an opportunity to know the government’s case, cross-examine witnesses and pin them down on their testimony.
At a preliminary hearing, the defense does not have an opportunity to present witnesses or introduce any evidence at all. This is important to repeat: the defense does NOT have a chance to present any part of its cases. Instead, the defendant only has the opportunity to cross-examine the government’s witnesses.
Here, once the hearing is complete, the Magistrate will conclude that the government has presented enough evidence to go to a trial. There will then be some limited discovery, a litany of motions on legal issues, and, ultimately, a trial. At the time of trial, the defense will have every right to present its case and its defense. However, the standard at the trial will be much, much higher (“beyond a reasonable doubt”) than at the preliminary hearing and the government will always carry that burden.
In terms of timing, much will depend on what legal arguments are raised. It is very possible that this matter will be delayed until at least late 2014, and perhaps longer if appeals on certain legal issues are pursued. In either event, there will not be a trial in the near future.