25 Sep 23

What is the difference between a preliminary hearing and a grand jury?

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Last Updated on: 26th September 2023, 05:19 pm

What is the Difference Between a Preliminary Hearing and a Grand Jury?

If you’ve been arrested and charged with a felony crime, your case may go through either a preliminary hearing or a grand jury proceeding. Both serve the purpose of determining if there is sufficient evidence to move forward to a full criminal trial. But there are some key differences between these pretrial procedures.

Preliminary Hearing

A preliminary hearing is an open court proceeding in which the prosecution must present evidence and witnesses to establish probable cause that the defendant committed the crime. Key aspects of preliminary hearings include:

  • Held in public within days or weeks of an arrest
  • Defendant can be present and is represented by counsel
  • Prosecution must show probable cause through testimony and evidence
  • Defense can cross-examine prosecution witnesses
  • Judge decides if case should proceed to trial

Grand Jury

A grand jury proceeding involves a group of citizens hearing evidence privately to determine if charges are warranted. Details on grand juries:

  • Not held in open court – proceedings are secret
  • Defendant has no right to be present or cross-examine
  • Prosecutor presents testimony and evidence to the jury
  • Grand jury decides if indictment and charges should be brought

Key Differences

In summary, main differences between the two procedures include:

  • Preliminary hearings allow defense participation – grand juries are one-sided
  • Preliminary hearings are public – grand jury proceedings are secret
  • Judge determines probable cause in preliminary hearing – grand jury decides on indictment

So in many ways, preliminary hearings are more favorable for the defense while prosecutors often prefer grand juries. Understanding the differences is key.


[1] Disney Law

[2] Pissetzky Law

[3] Nolo

[4] Course Sidekick

[5] Beyond Criminal Courts