By a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer

When individuals are charged with a crime in Philadelphia, whether it is a murder charge or possession of drugs, the first step of the criminal judicial process is a preliminary hearing.  It is best for individuals to seek counsel from a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer when charged with a crime and have counsel present at a preliminary hearing.  This article will discuss preliminary hearings and why they are important in Philadelphia criminal defense cases.


A preliminary hearing is where the court decides whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a criminal trial.  The purpose of the hearing is not determining the guilt or innocence of a defendant.  A Magisterial District Judge will hear the case and decide whether the case should proceed to trial.

The prosecution’s burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is much lower than at trial.  Rather than having to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution must establish a prima facie case.  “A prima facie case consists of evidence, read in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, that sufficiently establishes both the commission of a crime and that the accused is probably the perpetrator of that crime.” Commonwealth v. Packard (Pa.Super.2001).

In other words, the prosecution must present some evidence that the crime was committed by the defendant.  In addition, if the judge accepts the evidence as true, then the case will move forward to a jury trial.


A preliminary hearing is important because it is the first time a defendant will hear the prosecution’s case.  It is also the first time the defendant can challenge the prosecution’s evidence.

A skilled Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer would start to build the defendant’s case at a preliminary hearing.  For instance, in a Philadelphia drug possession case, the prosecution presents the arresting police officer as a witness.  In his testimony, the police officer testifies that he stopped the defendant’s vehicle due to a traffic violation, and drugs were found in the car.  A skilled criminal defense lawyer would cross-examine the prosecution’s witness and start to build a record of testimony for potential suppression of evidence related to search and seizure issues.

Related: Top Rated Philadelphia Criminal Lawyer Discusses PA Drug Charges & Federal Drug Charges


If you are facing criminal charges, call David S. Nenner to schedule a consultation. (215) 564-0644.  David S. Nenner, Esq. offers FREE consultations.

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