The Criminal Preliminary Hearing and the Prima Facie Burden of Proof


     I am commonly asked, during my free consultations in respect to criminal cases, if I can assure the prospective client to get their criminal charges dismissed at the Preliminary Hearing.  The prospective client, more often than not, finds distaste in my answer in the negative.  Many of these clients, however, are actually oblivious to the extremely low burden of proof which govern the Preliminary Hearing known as “prima facie” evidence.

     At the preliminary hearing stage of a criminal prosecution, the state need not prove the Defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but rather, must merely put forth sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of guilt.  A prima facie case exists when the Commonwealth produces evidence of each of the material elements of the crime charged and establishes probable cause to warrant the belief that the accused  committed the offense.  (See Commonwealth v. Karetny, 583 Pa. 514 (2005) (citing cases.)

    It is important to point out that a determination of whether a prima facie case has been made by the Commonwealth is based soley upon the evidence presented by the Commonwealth. In other words, it would not matter if the Defendant presented overwhelming evidence of innocence at a preliminary hearing, the case could still be held for court if the Commonwealth presents sufficient evidence that alleges that the Defendant committed a prohibited act.

 Many people do not know that a preliminary hearing is different than a criminal trial where a jury gets to weigh evidence and decide credibility. At a preliminary hearing, a magistrate will not weigh evidence and decide which evidence is credible; rather, a magistrate will look to whether the Commonwealth can establish two things: (1) that a crime was committed; and (2) that is is probable that Defendant may have committed that crime.

    To define “prima facie” in layman’s terms, to establish the prima facie burden of proof, the state need only to establish the elements of the offense(s) charged, and that it is probable or likely that the person charged committed the offense(s).  This burden of proof is far lower than that of the criminal trial burden of proof of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” (Which is  defined as doubt that makes a reasonable person pause in a matter of importance in their daily life.)

     Knowing about the “prima facie” burden of proof in respects to the criminal preliminary hearing is important, as it enables the prospective client to make an informed decision on whether or not to retain private counsel premised upon reasonable expectations. 

    A criminal defendant deserves a criminal defense attorney who is candid and whose integrity is unmatched.  At the Law Offices of Attorney Roy Galloway, those traits are our brand.

   If you are charged with a criminal offense, please contact the Law Offices of Roy Galloway at (717) 737-3300 to speak with a knowledgeable and professional criminal defense attorney.  Call today for your free consultation.  Knowing the truth births freedom.  Call today!