Preliminary Hearing in Criminal Case
Under Oklahoma’s state constitution, anyone charged with a felony crime is entitled to a preliminary hearing. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is sufficient probable cause to believe that:
- A crime was committed
- The accused person committed the crime
The preliminary hearing is not meant to decide the defendant’s guilt or innocence; rather, the hearing is meant to determine whether the prosecution has established sufficient evidence against the defendant to justify a trial. The State is only required to show the elements of the crime and not necessarily present its entire case or evidence.
Preliminary Hearing Process
During the preliminary hearing, the prosecution will present evidence to support probable cause, which could include witness testimony. As the defendant, you cannot be forced to testify at this hearing because you are constitutionally protected from self-incrimination. At this stage, the evidence is taken in the light most favorable to the State.
Binding Over for Trial
If the judge decides that the probable cause presented is sufficient for trial, he or she will issue an order that binds you over for trial. This is simply a legal phrase meaning that you are required to appear before your assigned judge in district court for an arraignment.
Your Rights at a Preliminary Hearing
In addition to the right to have a preliminary hearing, you also have the right to be represented by legal counsel at the hearing if you have been charged with a felony offense. However, if the prosecution agrees, you may waive your right to the preliminary hearing, though you should only consider doing so after consulting with an experienced defense attorney.
Because probable cause is a relatively low standard of proof, most preliminary hearings end with the defendant being bound over for trial. However, this is not always the case.
If the judge does find the probable cause sufficient, the preliminary hearing can expose weaknesses in the prosecution’s case or in witness testimony that may be exploited later at trial.