Preliminary Hearings in Wisconsin

Preliminary hearings are held in felony cases in Wisconsin. At a preliminary hearing, the prosecution must show a judge that there is reason to believe the defendant committed the crime.

What happens at a preliminary hearing?

At a preliminary hearing, the prosecution will show evidence of probable cause, meaning there only needs to be a reasonable possibility that the defendant committed the crime in order for the case to move to trial, to be “bound over” in other words.

Although cross-examination is severely limited by courts in these hearings, they are a good opportunity for a skilled defense attorney to be able to find out some of the strengths and weaknesses of the State’s case through cross-examination. 

What is “hearsay”?

“Hearsay” is the legal term for secondhand knowledge. As of 2011 in Wisconsin, hearsay is enough reason to move a case to trial, making the prosecution’s job much easier. This means that the prosecution does not need the victim or an eyewitness to testify at the preliminary hearing. Often, they can rely on law enforcement to testify as to what happened.

What are my options at a preliminary hearing?

Since hearsay is admissible in a preliminary hearing, the bar for proving probable cause is low. Most preliminary hearings move to trial.

The defense can call witnesses and cases can sometimes be dismissed or reduced at a preliminary hearing, but it’s rare. This is because the credibility of those witnesses can only be determined at trial.

It may feel like moving to trial is a foregone conclusion, but having a capable lawyer behind you at your preliminary hearing gives you the best chance of success. Your lawyer can listen to the prosecution’s argument and start building your defense.

Contact the attorneys at Tracey Wood & Associates to discuss your case to ensure you are prepared for your preliminary hearing.

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