In criminal cases where a complaint is filed alleging a felony offense, the defendant is typically scheduled for a preliminary hearing in Municipal Court.
The prosecutor can call witnesses and present evidence at the preliminary hearing. Any witnesses are subject to cross-examination by the defense attorney and the judge. This gives the defense an advantage if the case later goes to trial. The defense attorney also has the opportunity to present witnesses and evidence. Still, it is usually not wise to do so.
In any case, it is important for you to be represented by a criminal defense lawyer with an in-depth knowledge of the local court system. Whether your preliminary hearing is waived, your case dismissed for review, bound over, or you are indicted the day before, you need an attorney available on-site to react to any action taken by the court on that day. This could make the difference between you going back home of being taken to jail.
After hearing the testimony and considering the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing, the court determines whether there is probable cause that the defendant committed the charged offense or any other offense. If probable cause is found for a felony offense, then the defendant is bound over to the common pleas court, and the case is presented to a Grand Jury for indictment. If probable cause for a misdemeanor is found, the case remains in the municipal court. If no probable cause is found, the defendant is free to leave.
A preliminary hearing in Municipal Court provides the defense attorney with an excellent opportunity to find out more about the strength and weaknesses of the prosecution’s case.
A person charged with a felony under Ohio law will be scheduled for a preliminary hearing within ten days if they are held in jail, fifteen days if they are not detained. Bond is set at the initial appearance (usually the arraignment) but may be addressed during negotiations at the preliminary hearing by a criminal defense lawyer.
In some jurisdictions, like Ravenna Municipal Court, Kent Municipal Court, and Stow Municipal Court, preliminary hearings are sometimes treated like Pre-Trial Conferences, where the attorneys try to resolve the case before it progresses any further.
In some instances, the prosecution simply does not want to subject their witnesses to cross-examination by a skilled defense lawyer. In other instances, namely upper-level felonies, the defendant is indicted by a grand jury before the preliminary hearing.
In many cases, especially when a defendant has no attorney, the prosecution dismisses the case for further review (DFR). This means that the defendant’s case will be presented to a grand jury for future indictment, usually very soon after. The defendant is then re-arrested on a secret indictment filed in common pleas court, without any warning. A criminal defense lawyer may be able to prevent this.
Guilt or innocence is not determined at a preliminary hearing or by a grand jury. It is only determined at a trial in Common Pleas Courts.
In some municipal courts in Summit County, namely Akron Municipal Court and Barberton Municipal Court, the prosecution utilizes a direct indictment system.
This means that no preliminary hearing usually occurs. The court will tell you when your case will be scheduled for felony indictment by a grand jury in Summit County Common Pleas Court in Akron.
The Preliminary Hearing System in Ohio is Archaic and Illogical
The preliminary hearing process in Ohio dates back to the 1800s. It is illogical and fraught with peril. Sometimes it results in people being arrested twice, usually at very inconvenient times or places. If you are charged with a felony in Ohio, a criminal defense lawyer is a necessity.
It takes a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you through the felony system in Ohio. Without a lawyer early on in this process, you will have no chance of resolving the case before it gets presented to a grand jury for indictment. It is absolutely critical to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer at this stage of the proceedings.
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