Status Conference and Preliminary Hearing
For felony cases, the next step for defendants will be a status conference with the court and the prosecutor or a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is a separate proceeding that occurs soon after the first appearance. This usually is a brief hearing during which the prosecutor will call only those witnesses necessary to show the judge that a crime happened and that there is a strong likelihood that the defendant committed it. Often there is just one witness, the police officer who investigated the crime or who arrested the defendant. The accused person must be present at the hearing, though the accused does not introduce evidence in his or her defense.
The preliminary hearing serves some of the functions of the grand jury, in that the judge determines whether there is enough evidence to charge the defendant with having committed a crime.
If the judge concludes that the state does not have sufficient evidence to support the charges, the judge will order the charges dismissed. If the judge believes the evidence is sufficient, as is usually the case, he or she may set the amount of the defendant’s bail or if the charge is serious, deny bail altogether, depending upon the nature of the crime and whether the accused is likely to flee.