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For defendants facing federal charges, it is important to understand what to expect in a preliminary hearing.

After your attorney has entered a not-guilty plea, the preliminary hearing typically occurs. In the preliminary hearings, the prosecutor will attempt to demonstrate the existence of sufficient evidence to charge you.

If you’ve been charged with a crime at the federal level, you need a distinguished criminal defense lawyer. Michael J. Petro has more than 30 years of experience assisting individuals as their cases move through the federal court system.

Scheduling a Hearing in Illinois

Under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Judge must hold a preliminary hearing within a certain time frame. The hearing occurs no later than 14 days following an initial appearance if authorities are holding the defendant in custody. If the defendant is not in law enforcement custody, the preliminary hearing is held no more than 21 days after the initial appearance.

The Judge can extend the time limits for the preliminary hearing if the defendant consents to the extension. If the defendant refuses to consent, the Judge still may still hold the hearing at a later date  under certain circumstances.

What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing?

The U.S. Department of Justice notes that preliminary hearings are similar to mini-trials, with the prosecutor introducing evidence and calling witnesses, and the defense having the option to cross-examine the witnesses.

After the hearing, if the judge determines that there is probable cause that a crime was committed and that the defendant committed the crime in question, the case is set for a trial.

However, if the Judge believes that the evidence does NOT establish probable cause, the Judge can dismiss the charges and the person is released from jail.  The preliminary hearing is recorded by either a recording device or a court reporter, and any party can request a copy of the recording and transcript with proper payment.

Steps Before and After

If you are under investigation and expect to be charged with a federal crime, understand that the preliminary hearing is just one step in the prosecution. Where does the preliminary hearing fall in the sequence of events?

Law enforcement officers usually obtain a warrant for your arrest, based on an indictment or complaint presented to the U.S. District Court. A law enforcement officer usually signs an affidavit explaining the alleged offense and the role of the accused individual.

Soon after arrest, you’ll make an initial appearance before a Judge or Magistrate, where you will be informed of your rights. Additionally at that time, the Judge can release a person on bond.  But, if the federal prosecutor objects and requests your detention, a detention hearing will be scheduled within in three days for the Judge to determine if you are a  risk of fleeing the jurisdiction or a risk of danger to the community.  If the Judge determines that you are NOT a risk of flight or a danger to the community, you will  released until your trial.

The preliminary hearing comes next. In some cases, a grand jury issues an indictment prior to the preliminary hearing, meaning that the preliminary hearing is not needed.  If the hearing is needed and the Judge finds probable cause, your case is sent to a grand jury to return an indictment.

After the grand jury issues an indictment, an arraignment then takes place. During the arraignment, the Judge reads the charges against you. At this time, you enter a NOT GUILTY plea, and a schedule is created for motion hearings.

Unless your attorney can work out a plea agreement, your case then proceeds to trial.

Seek Experienced Legal Counsel in the Chicago Area for Federal Cases

If you are charged with a federal offense, it’s critical that you engage the best possible legal representation. For a consultation, contact Chicago criminal defense attorney Attorney Michael J. Petro.