What is a Preliminary Hearing?

A preliminary hearing is a crucial stage in the criminal justice process, and plays a significant role in determining whether a case will proceed to trial. In this blog post, we’ll delve into what a preliminary hearing entails in West Virginia, providing a comprehensive overview of its purpose, procedures, and significance for individuals accused of criminal offenses.

Whether you’re a defendant facing DUI charges, a concerned family member, or simply seeking to understand the legal system better, this guide will offer insights into the preliminary hearing process in West Virginia.

What is a Preliminary Hearing?

A preliminary hearing is a judicial proceeding held in the early stages of a criminal case. Its primary purpose is to determine whether there is sufficient probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed it. In essence, it serves as a screening mechanism to weed out cases where the evidence is weak or lacking.

Purpose of a Preliminary Hearing

The primary purpose of a preliminary hearing is to safeguard defendants’ constitutional rights by ensuring that they are not subjected to prolonged detention or prosecution without sufficient evidence of their involvement in a crime. Additionally, preliminary hearings serve to streamline the criminal justice process by allowing judges to dismiss weak cases early on, thereby conserving judicial resources and reducing case backlog.


Harley and Heather gave me peace of mind as they walked me through the process of my DUI. Heather was so quick to answer even the smallest and probably irrelevant questions I had. I was extremely nervous to walk in the courtroom, but Harley made sure I was in and out of there in no time with the best deal I could think of. My DUI charge was reduced to a speeding ticket and some online DUI classes. Would absolutely recommend Harley and Heather if you’re ever in need of a lawyer.”

- Antea Jarazi


The Wagner Law Firm was amazing from beginning to end dealing with my case. This was my first time ever dealing with anything like this and they helped me tremendously and answered all my questions super fast. We got the best outcome possible for my case and I will be recommending Harley and Heather to anyone that’s ever in my situation."

- Savanna Cummings


Harley and Heather do not stop and are excellent at always keeping their clients up to date on the status of their case and never left wondering. They do all the work and are very well connected throughout the state. I will forever be grateful to both Harley and Heather for what they did for me,,,, they aren’t just another law firm, they are great people who truly care. Thank you."

- Clint Anderson

Understanding the Preliminary Hearing Process

During a preliminary hearing, the process unfolds as follows: The prosecution starts by presenting evidence to show probable cause against the defendant, utilizing witness testimony, police reports, forensic findings, and other investigation materials. Following this, the defense gets a chance to cross-examine witnesses and challenge the evidence’s adequacy, aiming to expose any flaws or inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case. Subsequently, both sides may argue about the evidence’s sufficiency and the establishment of probable cause, with the judge assessing the arguments and evidence from both parties. Probable cause, the legal threshold for initiating criminal proceedings, implies a reasonable belief, based on evidence, that the defendant committed the crime. In a preliminary hearing, the evidence need only suggest a more likely than not scenario, not proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge then decides if there is probable cause to proceed with the case. If found, the case advances to further legal actions; if not, the charges might be dropped, and the defendant could be released.

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Preliminary Hearing, Grand Jury Trial, and Jury Trial: What is the Difference?

Understanding the differences between a preliminary hearing, a grand jury trial, and a jury trial is essential for individuals facing criminal charges. 

The primary purpose of a preliminary hearing is to establish probable cause. The prosecution presents evidence and witnesses to demonstrate to the judge that there is enough reason to believe the defendant committed the alleged offense. If the judge finds probable cause, the case is bound over to the circuit court for further proceedings likely a grand jury trial.

Harley Wagner

Defending West Virginia Residents for over 24 Years

Grand Jury Trial

A grand jury trial is a method for determining whether probable cause exists to proceed with criminal charges. It involves a group of 16 to 23 citizens, known as the grand jury, who review evidence presented by the prosecution to decide whether to indict the defendant. These proceedings are confidential, with the defendant and their attorney excluded. The prosecution introduces evidence and witnesses, and the jurors evaluate whether to indict based on the evidence. If the grand jury finds probable cause, they issue an indictment, leading to the formal charging of the defendant and the transfer of the case to the circuit court for further proceedings.

Jury Trial

A jury trial is the concluding phase of criminal proceedings where a group of peers determines the defendant’s guilt or innocence. In this process, both prosecution and defense engage in voir dire to select jurors, who will then listen to the trial’s evidence and decide on a verdict. The trial unfolds with the prosecution presenting its case through witness testimonies, physical evidence, and legal arguments, while the defense has the chance to counter by cross-examining witnesses and showcasing its evidence and arguments. Ultimately, the jury deliberates and issues a verdict, which can be guilty, not guilty, or, occasionally, results in a hung jury if unanimity is unattainable.

Case Results

DUI Felony 3rd Offense

Not Guilty

DUI 1st

Not Guilty

Aggravated DUI 1st

Charge Reduced

.08 DUI Causing Death

Case Dismissed

DUI Felony Fleeing / Attempted Murder by Vehicle

All Charges Dismissed

.14 Felony DUI Causing Death Case

Reduced to Misdemeanor

By Your Side, Every Step of the Way

In West Virginia, the criminal justice system involves several distinct stages, including preliminary hearings, grand jury trials, and jury trials. Each stage serves a specific purpose and has its own procedures and outcomes. Understanding these differences is crucial for individuals facing criminal charges and their legal representatives. 

At Wagner Law Firm, we are dedicated to guiding our clients through every step of the legal process, advocating for their rights and ensuring that they receive a fair trial. If you or someone you know is facing criminal DUI charges in West Virginia, don’t hesitate to seek experienced legal representation. Stay informed, stay empowered, and remember that you have rights under the law.

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