The preliminary hearing, which occurs three to ten days after the arrest, unless continued or postponed, is normally held before the MDJ who works in the area where the crime took place. There are over 550 MDJ’s located throughout Pennsylvania, except in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where they have a Municipal Court System.
The MDJ’s listen to all of the evidence presented by the prosecution and by the defense. At the preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth must present a prima facie case, or in other words, they must show enough evidence that a crime has been committed and that the defendant is most likely the one who committed the crime.
If you are the victim of a crime in which a suspect has been arrested, you will most likely be asked to be a witness at the preliminary hearing. A subpoena will be sent to you by the MDJ or delivered to you by the police department investigating the crime. You will have the opportunity to speak with the police officer and/or representative from the DA's office before the start of the preliminary hearing.
The MDJ reviews whether there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed and that the person standing in front of the court is the one who committed the crime. The MDJ then decides if there is enough evidence to send the case to Common Pleas Court. If the MDJ does not agree with the evidence presented by the Commonwealth, the charges are dismissed.
A defendant does not need to have a preliminary hearing. The case can go directly to Common Pleas Court, if the defendant waives the preliminary hearing.
Although the police officer may be the one who prosecutes the preliminary hearing before the MDJ, in most Pennsylvania counties, the DA will usually appear and present the case on behalf of the Commonwealth, especially when the charges are of a more serious nature.