If you are arrested and charged with a felony in Franklin County, Ohio, you will attend a preliminary hearing in a local municipal court. A preliminary hearing takes place before the actual trial, allowing you to learn more about your charges, the evidence against you, and possible penalties.
It’s important to understand the preliminary hearing process to feel more comfortable going to court and making reasonable decisions about your case. At Luftman, Heck & Associates, our Columbus criminal defense attorneys can help you prepare for your preliminary hearing, explain your options, and guide you through the legal process.
What’s a Preliminary Hearing & When Are They Necessary?
A preliminary hearing, sometimes called a preliminary meeting, occurs after a defendant’s arrest for felony charges. If the defendant is in jail, the preliminary hearing must be held within 10 days. If they are not detained, it must take place within 15 days.
During the preliminary hearing, a judge will review the charges and the prosecution’s evidence to determine whether there is reasonable cause to keep the defendant in jail or release them on a bond. If there is insufficient evidence to keep the defendant in jail or apply a bond, the defendant will be released, and the charges will be dismissed.
Preliminary hearings take place for felony cases in Franklin County, Ohio. That is because the judge must decide whether there is probable cause to keep the felony defendant in jail while charges are pending before trial.
Charges that frequently require a preliminary hearing include:
Where Do Preliminary Hearings Happen in Franklin County?
Preliminary hearings occur in the Franklin County Municipal Court, 375 S. High St., Columbus, Ohio 43215. It is located in the Franklin County Complex building just north of I-70 in downtown Columbus. The building encompasses an entire block surrounding High Street, Fulton Street, Front Street, and Mound Street.
This is the same location where arraignments for persons held in custody take place.
The Purpose of Preliminary Hearings
A preliminary hearing’s purpose is not to determine guilt or innocence. Instead, the preliminary hearing is meant to ensure enough reasonable cause to hold a defendant in jail, allow a bond, and otherwise proceed with the case. The judge will evaluate the evidence and compare it with the required elements of the alleged crime. Preliminary hearings are essentially a safeguard against baseless accusations and wrongful incarceration.
The Procedure of Preliminary Hearings
The procedure of a preliminary hearing is relatively straightforward. The prosecution presents evidence to the judge for consideration. This represents your first opportunity to examine the details of your case and challenge evidence. These challenges come in the form of legal motions, arguments in your favor, and cross-examination of witnesses.
At the end of your preliminary hearing, the judge will decide if there is sufficient evidence that you committed a crime. If they determine probable cause, your case will be transferred to a court of common pleas and scheduled for trial. If there is insufficient evidence to support the allegations against you, then charges will be dropped, and the case will be dismissed.
Prepping for a Preliminary Hearing
If you or a loved one must attend a preliminary hearing, you should work closely with a Columbus criminal defense attorney. Your lawyer will evaluate the prosecution’s evidence and develop an effective strategy. Your defense will likely include a combination of discrediting the prosecution’s evidence and presenting favorable information to your case.
You should communicate openly and provide relevant information to your lawyer. That way, they can fully help you prepare for the preliminary hearing. Tell your lawyer everything that happened and keep them up to date about new evidence you remember that could support your case.
The Possible Outcomes of Preliminary Hearings
A preliminary hearing can end in various ways. If there is insufficient evidence to support the charges against you, there is no probable cause to hold you in jail. This means you will be released, and your case will be dismissed due to insufficient evidence. Your attorney may also be able to get your case dismissed due to procedural violations using pre-trial motions, such as a motion to dismiss.
In some cases, charges will be reduced to a lesser crime. If that crime is a misdemeanor, your case will remain in the municipal court for trial.
If the judge finds probable cause to hold you in jail and enough evidence to proceed to the next stage with your case, then your case will be transferred to the Franklin County Common Pleas Court. That’s where Pretrial hearings will take place, and a trial will be scheduled.
FAQ About Preliminary Hearings
We understand that if you or a loved one has a preliminary hearing scheduled, you likely have many questions. Luftman, Heck, & Associates is here with answers.
Can My Case Be Dismissed at a Preliminary Hearing?
Yes, your case may be dismissed at a preliminary hearing if there is insufficient evidence to support probable cause that you committed a crime. Factors influencing dismissal will include evidence presented by the prosecution and any procedural mistakes made by the police, investigators, and prosecution. Working with an experienced defense lawyer who can poke holes in the prosecution’s case and try to get your case dismissed is important.
What Happens After a Preliminary Hearing?
If probable cause is found at a preliminary hearing, you will proceed to the next stages of the criminal justice process. Your case will likely be transferred to a common pleas court, where a trial will be scheduled. Many steps will take place before the trial, such as pretrial hearings and negotiations for plea agreements with the prosecutor.
Your case may be dismissed if probable cause is not found at the preliminary hearing. However, the prosecutor may gather additional evidence and refile charges for the same or another related crime.
Are Preliminary Hearings Public?
In most cases, preliminary hearings are public proceedings, which means that members of the public can attend and observe the proceedings. However, there may be certain circumstances in which the judge may decide to close the hearing to the public, such as when sensitive or confidential information is being discussed or when the safety of a witness may be at risk. Also, when a preliminary hearing is open to the public, there may be restrictions on recording, photography, or other means of capturing the proceedings.
Get an Attorney to Handle Your Preliminary Hearing
A preliminary hearing in Franklin County is not a legal proceeding you should tackle alone. With so much at stake, contact an experienced defense lawyer as soon as possible.
Luftman, Heck & Associates has a team of Columbus criminal defense attorneys familiar with the preliminary hearing process in Franklin County, Ohio. We know the judges and their staff. We work with people in the courts daily. Our intimate knowledge of the Franklin County preliminary hearing process will allow us to use the information to support your case and help you to get the best outcome possible.