03 Oct 23

What is a Preliminary Hearing and How Can a St. Petersburg Lawyer Help?

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Last Updated on: 3rd November 2023, 07:12 pm

What is a Preliminary Hearing and How Can a St. Petersburg Lawyer Help?

If you’ve been charged with a crime in St. Petersburg, Florida, one of the first things that will happen is a preliminary hearing. This hearing happens pretty early on in the criminal process, so it’s important to understand what it is and how having a good lawyer can help.

A preliminary hearing is kind of like a mini-trial before the actual trial. It’s a chance for the judge to hear some of the evidence against you and decide whether there’s enough to justify the charges. If the judge decides there isn’t enough evidence, the charges will be dropped right then and there. But if the judge decides there is enough evidence, then your case will move ahead to a full trial.

What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing?

There’s a few key things that happen at a preliminary hearing:

  • The prosecutor presents some of their evidence. This usually includes the testimony of the arresting officer or key witnesses.
  • Your defense lawyer gets to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses. This means asking them questions to poke holes in their story or discredit them.
  • Your lawyer can present evidence and witnesses of their own to show weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.
  • The judge decides if there’s “probable cause” to justify the charges against you and let the case proceed.

The standard of proof at a preliminary hearing is pretty low. The prosecution only has to show there’s a probability that you committed the crime – not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt like at a full trial. So it’s rare for charges to get dismissed completely at this stage.

Why You Need a Lawyer for the Preliminary Hearing

Even though the standard of proof is low, having an experienced criminal defense lawyer represent you at your preliminary hearing can make a huge difference. Here’s some of the key ways a lawyer can help:

  • They can aggressively cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses to discredit them and poke holes in their story. Even small inconsistencies they reveal could lead to charges getting reduced or dismissed.
  • They may be able to get certain evidence thrown out if it was obtained illegally. This prevents it from being used against you later on.
  • They can present affirmative evidence and call witnesses of your own. For example, an alibi witness who can testify you were somewhere else at the time.
  • They can negotiate with the prosecutor ahead of time to get charges reduced or even dismissed without a hearing.
  • They can argue to the judge that the charges should be dismissed or reduced even if there is some evidence against you.
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Having an experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense lawyer in your corner levels the playing field and ensures your rights are protected at this critical early stage.

How Lawyers Get Charges Dismissed at Preliminary Hearings

While it’s uncommon for charges to get dismissed completely at a preliminary hearing, it does happen in some cases. Here’s a few of the main ways a good lawyer can get charges thrown out:

  • Showing the police violated your rights when gathering evidence against you. For example, making an illegal search or coercing a confession from you. If the main evidence is ruled inadmissible, the charges may have to be dropped.
  • Proving an affirmative defense like self-defense or insanity. If your lawyer can show you acted lawfully or were legally insane, the charges can get dismissed right away.
  • Discrediting the prosecution’s main witnesses by showing they have bias, a lack of credibility, or are simply lying. With no reliable witnesses left, the case falls apart.
  • Presenting rock-solid alibi evidence showing you couldn’t have committed the crime. Hard to prosecute you if you weren’t there!
  • Convincing the prosecutor to drop or reduce charges because of weaknesses in their case – no need for a hearing.

While getting charges dismissed completely is rare, it does happen in the right circumstances. An experienced lawyer knows how to look for and exploit the weaknesses in the prosecution’s preliminary hearing evidence.

Why the Preliminary Hearing Matters for Your Defense

Even if charges aren’t dismissed, the preliminary hearing is still extremely important for building your defense down the road. Here’s some reasons why:

  • Your lawyer gets a preview of the prosecution’s key evidence and witnesses early on.
  • Their cross-examination locks the witnesses into a story that can’t later change at trial.
  • You learn details about the prosecution’s case you can start investigating and rebutting.
  • It highlights weaknesses for your attorney to exploit at trial.
  • You may obtain plea bargain leverage if major flaws are exposed.

The evidence and testimony presented at your preliminary hearing will likely form the backbone of the prosecution’s eventual trial case. That’s why it’s so important to have an experienced lawyer exposing flaws and locking witnesses into their stories right from the start.

How an Aggressive Lawyer Can Help at Your Hearing

Having an aggressive and experienced criminal defense lawyer represent you at your St. Petersburg preliminary hearing can make all the difference. Here’s some of the key benefits a great lawyer provides:

  • Thoroughly investigates the prosecution’s case and looks for every weakness.
  • Tenaciously cross-examines witnesses to expose contradictions and lies.
  • Presents affirmative evidence and witnesses that rebut the charges.
  • Argues to get damaging evidence thrown out on constitutional grounds.
  • Negotiates with the prosecutor to get favorable plea deals.
  • Relentlessly argues to get charges dismissed or reduced.
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A less experienced lawyer may be intimidated by the prosecutor or accept plea deals that aren’t in your best interest. A smart, aggressive lawyer won’t back down and will fight to get charges dismissed or reduced during the preliminary hearing.

Finding the Right Lawyer for Your Hearing

Not every lawyer has the skills and experience to best represent you at your preliminary hearing. When searching for the right attorney, you want to look for these important traits:

  • Trial experience – You want a lawyer who routinely appears in court and litigates cases, not just negotiates plea deals.
  • Knowledge of local prosecutors – A lawyer who has worked extensively with local prosecutors will know how to negotiate with them and what arguments they respond to best.
  • Commitment to aggressive defense – Look for a lawyer willing to fight tooth and nail to get charges dismissed immediately.
  • Resources to investigate – The top lawyers have teams of investigators, forensic experts and others to fully examine (and undermine) the prosecution’s case.
  • Appellate experience – In case charges aren’t dismissed, you want a lawyer ready to file appeals and continue challenging the case.

Don’t leave your fate in the hands of an inexperienced or indifferent lawyer. The preliminary hearing sets the tone for your entire case, so be sure to have an aggressive trial lawyer in your corner.

What Happens After the Preliminary Hearing?

If charges aren’t dismissed and your case proceeds after the preliminary hearing, there’s still a lot of important steps ahead, including:

  • Arraignment – This is when you formally enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Your lawyer will advise you on the best plea to enter.
  • Pretrial motions – Your lawyer may file motions to suppress evidence, dismiss charges, or obtain other pretrial rulings in your favor.
  • Plea negotiations – Your lawyer will negotiate with the prosecution to try to get a favorable plea bargain resolving the case.
  • Trial preparation – If no plea deal is reached, your lawyer will fully investigate the case, interview witnesses, consult experts, etc. to build your trial defense.
  • Trial – If you don’t plead guilty, your case will go to trial before a judge or jury, where your lawyer will defend you against the charges.
  • Sentencing – If found guilty, your lawyer will argue for the lightest possible sentence under the law.
  • Appeal – Your lawyer can appeal the conviction or sentence and keep fighting for your freedom.

Having skilled counsel is crucial at every single phase of your defense. The preliminary hearing is just the first step in the process, but it sets the tone for everything to come.

Why the Right Lawyer Matters

Navigating Florida’s criminal justice system is incredibly complex. The prosecution has tons of resources on their side, and they play for keeps. The stakes for you – your freedom, reputation, and future – could not be higher.

That’s why having the a great lawyer represent you from the very start is so critical. An experienced attorney levels the playing field, protects your rights every step of the way, and fights relentlessly in your corner. They know how to defend you whether it’s at the preliminary hearing, trial, appeal, or any other phase.

Don’t take chances with your life and liberty. The right lawyer makes all the difference.