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What is a Preliminary Hearing in a Criminal Case?

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A criminal court case consists of more steps than just a trial – there are several steps a defendant and his or her lawyers must make before a case even gets to trial. The classic criminal case begins with an arrest and then moves to the preliminary hearing state. A preliminary hearing–also known as a probable cause determination or a “trial before the trial” – is a pretrial hearing in which evidence is reviewed to determine whether probable cause existed for the arrest so that the trial can move forward. The judge at a preliminary hearing evaluates probable cause by determining whether it would be likely to a reasonably prudent person that (a) a crime was committed, and (b) that the person who was arrested committed it.

According to the rules of Florida criminal procedure, there are two types of preliminary hearings in a criminal case–adversarial and non-adversarial.

Non-Adversarial Preliminary Hearings

In all cases in which a defendant has been arrested and is in custody, a non-adversarial preliminary hearing must ordinarily be held within 48 hours of an arrest in order to determine probable cause. If probable cause is found, the defendant will be held to further answer for the charges. If no probable cause is found, the defendant is free to go. Note that this initial non-adversary hearing is not necessary if the defendant was arrested pursuant to a warrant since the arresting officer had to have shown probable cause to a judge in order to obtain a warrant.

Adversarial Preliminary Hearings 

If a defendant was arrested for a felony and the state of Florida has not brought charges in an indictment within 21 days of the non-adversarial preliminary hearing, he may petition the court for a second, adversarial preliminary hearing to once again determine probable cause. At an adversary preliminary hearing, witnesses are called to testify on behalf of the state and the defendant and are then cross-examined by opposing counsel. If the judge determines that there was probable cause, the defendant will then be held to answer in circuit court; if not, he is free to go.

Contact a St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney 

If you’ve been charged with a crime, it is important that you have a trusted criminal defense attorney who you can rely on. The attorneys at the Khonsari Law Group handle all types of criminal cases and every step of the process, including preliminary hearings. Please contact us for a free consultation by calling us at 727-269-5300. 



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