Boston Criminal Defense Attorney, Kevin J. Mahoney Explains the Probable Cause Hearing
To understand what a probable cause hearing is, you must know something about the Massachusetts criminal court system and the underlying purpose of the hearing.
Massachusetts Criminal Courts
Criminal cases in the Commonwealth are heard by one of three court departments – the District Court; the Juvenile Court; or the Superior Court. A case begins in the District Court when a person is arrested or when a criminal complaint is issued. A case begins in the Superior Court after the Grand Jury has returned an indictment or after a probable cause hearing.
Probable Cause Hearing
Most cases begin and end in the District Court. If, however, the District Court does not have authority (or “jurisdiction”) over the crime with which the defendant is charged, then the District Court will (or should) hold a probable cause hearing.
The purpose of a probable cause hearing is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to bind the defendant over to the Superior Court, which has jurisdiction over all crimes, including major felonies. A probable cause hearing is presided over by a judge, and is similar to a trial in that witnesses are called to testify and are subject to cross-examination. The parties also may present physical evidence. Based on all the evidence, the judge must determine whether (a) a crime was committed; and (b) there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed that crime. If so, then the defendant will be bound over to the Superior Court.
Often, the District Attorney’s Office will seek (and obtain) a continuance of the hearing while it decides whether to seek an indictment. If the DA’s Office obtains an indictment, the defendant is re-arraigned in Superior Court, and no probable cause hearing is held.
Contact Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney, Kevin J. Mahoney
A probable cause hearing is, in essence, a mini-trial of the criminal charges against you. Do not take it lightly, as it likely offers your lawyer his only opportunity to cross-examine the prosecutions witnesses prior to trial. Call us at 617-492-0055, to schedule a free consultation.