Area of Law: Criminal Law
Answer # 758
Preliminary hearings in a criminal trialRegion: Ontario Answer # 758
A preliminary hearing is a court proceeding that takes place before the trial of a serious offence. Preliminary hearings are not available for most minor offences. It can only be requested in cases where an adult is accused of a crime that is punishable by 14 years imprisonment or more, such as murder or aggravated assault. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is for the judge to decide whether there is enough evidence against the person that a reasonable jury properly directed by the judge could convict. If there is not sufficient evidence, the accused will be discharged. Generally, that is the same as the case being dismissed.
A preliminary hearing is similar to a trial, but usually much shorter. The Crown prosecutor will call witnesses and present evidence against the accused. The defence lawyer will be entitled to cross-examine the Crown prosecutor’s witnesses. It is the Crown prosecutor’s job to try to show the judge that there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial. Although very few cases are dismissed at this stage, preliminary hearings give the accused the opportunity to see the case against them and may help to plan the defence at trial. They also show the accused the strength of the case against them and may assist in resolving the matter.
If you are charged with an offence where a preliminary hearing is available, you can usually choose not to have the hearing. By doing this, you are accepting that there is enough evidence to go to trial, but you are not admitting guilt. Your lawyer will advise you whether you should have a preliminary hearing or not. There are some risks that are involved with taking a preliminary hearing. For example, where the evidence discloses a more serious charge, in some cases you may be ordered to stand trial on that charge as well.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, or for advice about preliminary hearings, contact one of our preferred criminal law experts:
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