Preliminary Hearings in Arizona – Tucson Criminal Lawyers

preliminary hearings in Arizona

Preliminary Hearings in Arizona

Difference Between Trials and Preliminary Hearings in Arizona

When an individual commits a crime, there are a lot of potential consequences that will follow. There will also be a lot of steps to swift through the judicial system. In many instances, the trial will be the final phase for the individual. Before the individual can get their day in court, the individual must go through an arraignment or preliminary hearing. Preliminary hearings in Arizona are very similar to an arraignment, but the preliminary hearing provides more opportunity for counter-arguments to be presented.i Also, a preliminary hearing has a lot of similarities to a trial, but both serve very different functions in the judicial process.

Preliminary Hearings Generally

preliminary hearings in ArizonaCriminal prosecution begins with the preliminary hearing, or the arraignment.ii Preliminary hearings in Arizona are broader than standard arraignments, and for this reason the preliminary hearing is very similar to the actual full trial. Preliminary hearings are often referred to as the “trial before the trial.”iii At a preliminary hearing, first of all there will only be a judge –no jury. The judge will make the determination of whether there is enough evidence for the defendant to be forced to stand trial.iv The judge will not make the determination of whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty at this preliminary hearing.v In making this determination, the judge will use the probable cause legal standard to decide whether the government has enough evidence to convince a reasonable jury that the defendant committed the alleged crimes.vi

The standard that is used a trial is beyond a reasonable doubt, which is much higher than the standard the judge uses at the preliminary hearing.vii A preliminary hearing may not be held in every criminal case, even if the defendant wants to assert a not guilty plea.viii Some states chose to only conduct a preliminary hearing when the defendant is being charged with a felony.ix Other states utilize the grand jury indictment over a preliminary hearing all together.x The grand jury indictment utilizes a designated group of citizens who will make the determination of whether the government has enough evidence to proceed to trial with this particular defendant.xi

At any time during a criminal proceeding, even the day of trial, the defendant may accept a plea bargain between themselves and the government.xii Many defendants could find it beneficial to work out a plea bargain before the preliminary hearing or grand jury indictment because if it is shown that there is enough evidence to bring the defendant to trial, the prosecution may not be as open to offering the plea after that determination. However, if the defendant goes through with the preliminary hearing and the prosecution has very little evidence moving forward, but still enough to move forward, the defendant may be able to work out a more favorable plea bargain for themselves.xiii

At the actual preliminary hearing itself, the prosecution may call witnesses to testify or present actual evidence to the court to help prove their case.xiv The defense will have the ability to cross examine the government’s witnesses and also call into question any piece of evidence that is presented at the hearing. The obvious goal of the defense is to have the case dismissed at this phase of the proceeding.

A Criminal Trial Generally

A criminal trial, while there are similarities between that and a preliminary hearing, is far more complex than any other hearing the defendant will go through. Not only will the prosecution and defense present evidence and testimony at trial, there is a jury present and very specific set of rules of procedure that must be followed.xv

Differences between Preliminary Hearing and Criminal Trial

To begin with, preliminary hearings are far shorter than trials.xvi A preliminary hearing may take anywhere from a few minutes to hours.xvii A criminal trial could take weeks or months to conclude, but it is not uncommon for a criminal trial to take less than that as well. The next difference is that the preliminary hearing is only conducted before a judge.xviii While a criminal trial may be conducted before just a judge as well, known as a bench trial, but a criminal defendant has the right to a jury trial.xix A defendant may waive his right to a jury trial, but a defendant does not have a right to a jury trial for a preliminary hearing.

Next, the burden of proof differs between the preliminary hearing and the trial.xx At trial, the burden of proof for the prosecution is to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt for each element of the charged offenses.xxi At a preliminary hearing, the prosecution only has to show that there is probable cause that the accused committed the charged crimes.xxii This simply means that the prosecution must prove to the judge and have the judge form the belief that the defendant committed the crime.xxiii

A final, but important, distinction between the preliminary hearing the trial is the end goal. The preliminary hearing is a way for the judicial system to weed out cases that will not prove to be well founded or weed out cases that do not have strong evidence for the actual criminal trial.xxiv The criminal trial is used to prosecute defendants that the prosecution believes committed the crime and want to provide justice as the end result.

Conclusion to Preliminary Hearings in Arizona

A preliminary hearing and a criminal trial both play a vital role in the criminal justice system. While there are a lot of similarities between the two processes, there are a lot of differences as well. One of the main differences between the two is the end goal of the proceeding. A preliminary hearing is meant for the prosecution to test out the weight of the evidence they have on the accused and determine whether the case will survive a higher burden of proof at the criminal trial. The actual criminal trial is utilized by the prosecution for cases that have made it through the preliminary hearings in Arizona, or similar process, and now are seeking justice for the crimes committed. There are a lot of steps between the crime being committed and the trial, but all of those steps are necessary to ensure that the accused rights are upheld every step of the way.


i See Preliminary Hearing FindLaw (Accessed January 19, 2017) http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-procedure/preliminary-hearing.html

ii See Preliminary Hearing FindLaw (Accessed January 19, 2017) http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-procedure/preliminary-hearing.html

iii Id.

iv Id.

v Id.

vi Id.

vii See Preliminary Hearing FindLaw (Accessed January 19, 2017) http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-procedure/preliminary-hearing.html

viii Id.

ix Id.

x Id.

xi Id.

xii Id.

xiii See Preliminary Hearing FindLaw (Accessed January 19, 2017) http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-procedure/preliminary-hearing.html

xiv Id.

xv See Criminal Trials NOLO Legal Encyclopedia (Accessed January 19, 2017) http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/criminal-trials

xvi See The Differences Between a Preliminary Hearing and a Trial NOLO Legal Encyclopedia (Accessed January 19, 2017) http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/the-difference-between-preliminary-hearing-trial.html

xvii Id.

xviii Id.

xix Id.

xx Id.

xxi Id.

xxii Id.

xxiii Id.

xxiv See The Differences Between a Preliminary Hearing and a Trial NOLO Legal Encyclopedia (Accessed January 19, 2017) http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/the-difference-between-preliminary-hearing-trial.html