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What is a "preliminary examination" in court?

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Quick Answer

A preliminary examination is a court hearing in which the prosecutor must prove to the judge that there is enough evidence and probable cause for a case to go to trial, according to Cornell University Law School. The hearing does not determine the guilt of the defendant.

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Full Answer

Many criminal cases have preliminary examinations before the trial. However, in some cases, preliminary examinations, or hearings, are not necessary. According to Cornell University Law School, in federal criminal cases, no preliminary examination is conducted if the charges are for a petty offense, the defendant waives the hearing, the defendant is indicted or the federal government presses misdemeanor charges.

Cornell University Law School explains that if the prosecuting attorney proves there is enough evidence to prove probable cause that the defendant is guilty of the crime, the judge orders the case to go to trial. If the judge rules there is not enough evidence, the case is dismissed and the defendant is released. If the case is dismissed, the defendant may still face charges for the same crime if new evidence is uncovered.

During the preliminary examination, the prosecuting attorney introduces evidence and questions witnesses to prove probable cause. According to Tennessee State Courts, the defendant has the right to cross-examine these witnesses during the hearing.

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