Pennsylvania DUI Preliminary Hearing: What is it? What's the Purpose? What's the Strategy? (Part I of IV)

May 4, 2011
By Jason Antoine on May 4, 2011 10:39 PM |

This week I was back in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, Chester County, to defend a 1st offense DUI at the preliminary hearing. I was in front of Magisterial District Judge Grover E. Koon. This case was an exciting one and really got me thinking about trial strategy for DUI defendants at a preliminary hearing. Judge Koon is one of two district judges out of Coatesville. Judge Koon is a laid back judge, and jovial guy, but I know from my time in the Chester County District Attorney's Office that Judge Koon is tough on crime and will usually hold the charges for the Court of Common Pleas.

The preliminary hearing is very important step in the criminal process and a good Pennsylvania DUI attorney will start planning his trial strategy at the prelim. Many of my clients ask me, "what is a preliminary hearing?" What is its purpose? It can be a tough concept to grasp, but I usually explain it to my clients in manner below. Other attorneys may have a different way of explaining it, but I like to keep things simple and easy to understand without using too much legalese.

Once you are charged with a crime, you will be scheduled for a preliminary hearing in the magisterial district court where the crime occurred. At the preliminary hearing, a representative from the DA's office will appear on behalf of the Commonwealth. In Chester County and Delaware County certified legal interns typically prosecute preliminary hearings. Certified legal interns are second or third year law students that work for the DA's office while attending school.

It is the Commonwealth's burden to produce evidence and prove what is called a prima facia case. The way I explain the term prima facia is that the Commonwealth must have evidence, whether it be good or bad evidence, on each element of the crime(s) charged. Like I said, other attorney's will explain this concept differently but I believe this is an easy way for people to understand. At the preliminary hearing, credibility of the witness is not an issue and the judge must take everything that the Commonwealth's witness says as true, even if it is a lie. If the cop says the sky is purple, theoretically, the sky will be purple for the hearing. Many of my clients used to ask me, "what is the point to a preliminary hearing if the Commonwealth wins most of the time and the cops can lie?" The point to the preliminary hearing is to protect citizens against unlawful detentions. I think the rationale is to protect citizens from situations where the cops merely wish to accuse an individual of a crime, but cannot back that up with evidence. Please keep in mind bad evidence is still evidence and it is for a jury to determine if the evidence is credible. Even if all of the evidence presented by the Commonwealth are lies, this is an issue for the jury or trial court judge to decide, not the Magisterial District judge at the preliminary hearing.

If you or a loved one is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in a Pennsylvania DUI case and have questions regarding the process contact Jason R. Antoine Chester County DUI attorney for a free consultation.

To be continued......