Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury?
United State’s Attorney has two options to moving your case towards trial. First, the United States Attorney may opt to request a Preliminary Hearing. At the Preliminary Hearing, the Prosecutor puts on evidence that shows probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed. Probable cause is extremely low standard. For a layperson’s definition, probable cause means simply that there is some indication that a crime has been committed and an indication that you have committed the crime. If a Magistrate Judge finds that probable cause exists, your case will then move forward with the process and head towards trial. However, if the Magistrate finds no probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed or that you committed it the Magistrate Judge will dismiss the complaint and discharge you. Obviously, this is the result you are striving for in the Federal Court system. However, you should cautiously optimistic regarding the success at Preliminary Hearing. The Magistrate Judge at the Preliminary Hearing level dismisses very few cases.
However, the Preliminary Hearing level is an excellent opportunity for you and your lawyer to gauge the evidence that the government possesses against you. Yet, there are strategic reasons for waiving the Preliminary Hearing and moving the case forward these issues should be discussed in detail with your lawyer prior to making any determination in this regard.
The other alternative that Federal Prosecutor has in his arsenal is moving the case forward includes a Grand Jury. A Grand Jury is comprised of individuals selected from the district where the Federal Court sits. You and your defense attorney do not have the opportunity to be present during the Grand Jury testimony or the opportunity to question witnesses at the Grand Jury proceeding. If the Grand Jury believes probable cause exists, your case will be forwarded in the process. As with the determination of a Preliminary Hearing, if the Grand Jury does not find probable cause your case will not be further prosecuted.