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Probable Cause Hearings

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What Is a Probable Cause Hearing?

A Probable Cause hearing is one of the pre-trial stages of a criminal case. During a probable cause hearing, the judge will determine whether probable cause existed, usually in relation to an arrest or a search for evidence. 

Probable cause is a reasonable belief, based on objective facts, that the suspect has committed or is going to commit a crime. Police officers need to establish probable cause before they can make an arrest or seize evidence.

When Is a Probable Cause Hearing Necessary?

There are two basic instances when a probable cause hearing becomes necessary. The first happens before an arrest has been made. This is where the judge is requested to issue a warrant for the arrest of the suspect. In that case, police authorities need to establish probable cause before they can obtain the arrest warrant.

The second instance where a probable cause hearing is necessary occurs after an arrest has already been made. This is usually to determine whether the arrest was legal or not, and whether the police had probable cause to make the arrest. This type is sometimes called a preliminary hearing and can occur in connection with the suspect’s arraignment

What Issues Are Addressed in a Probable Cause Hearing?

Probable cause hearings usually address two main issues. The first is whether or not the crime was committed within the court’s jurisdiction. The second is the main finding of probable cause. Other issues may also be discussed, such as the amount of bail, as well as any other charges that might be added to the case. 

How Is Probable Cause Established?

Probable cause may be established during the hearing through many different forms of evidence. These can include physical evidence, forensic evidence, or testimonial evidence. 

In a probable cause hearing, the normal evidentiary rules often don’t apply, since trial has not formally begun yet. Thus, testimony that might be considered hearsay during the actual trial may be presented during the probable cause hearing. Also, illegally obtained evidence may not yet be excluded for the purposes of the hearing, although it may be excluded later on once trial begins.

What Are the Defendant’s Rights in a Probable Cause Hearing?

Although trial may not have formally begun, the defendant still has a number of legal rights in connection with a probable cause hearing. These include:

  • The right to appear in person during the hearing
  • The right to be represented by a lawyer during the hearing
  • The right to cross-examine witnesses called by the prosecution
  • The right to contest the existence of probable cause
  • The right to waive the probable cause hearing

If the defendant waives their right to probable cause, it does not mean that they are admitting they are guilty. Formal pleas (such as guilty, not guilty, etc.) are not entered in until the formal arraignment process. 

Finally, if the prosecution is unable to prove that probable cause existed, it can often result in the case being dismissed.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Probable Cause Hearing?

Probable cause hearings can often be complex and generally require the assistance of a qualified criminal lawyer. If you have any issues or questions regarding a probable cause hearing, it’s to your benefit to enlist the services of a criminal attorney in your area. Your attorney will be able to represent you during the hearing and can assist with rules of evidence, which are different than the rules during trial. 

Photo of page author Peter Clarke

, LegalMatch Content Manager

Last Modified: 03-01-2018 12:20 AM PST

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