The PRELIMINARY HEARING date is usually the first setting after the defendant’s arraignment. Oftentimes, being the first setting, the defendant and his or her attorney is not ready for the hearing due to an attorney just being appointed or hired and needing more time to prepare the case for the defendant. Sometimes the state’s prosecuting officer or witnesses are not available due to the many other demands and scheduling conflicts for officers, as well as the difficulty in getting some witnesses served with subpoenas, etc. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to require the State of Tennessee (represented by the District Attorney General -hereinafter the “DAG”) to put on before the general sessions judge (not a jury) proof through testimony and/or other evidence that there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed and that the defendant committed that crime as set forth in the ‘charging instrument’ – the citation, criminal summons or warrant. Thus, the preliminary hearing is frequently referred to as a ‘probable cause hearing’. For both tactical reasons and due to time constraint issues the DAG usually does not put on all of its proof at these hearings, usually only limited proof enough to establish ‘probable cause’. After the hearing the judge can either ‘bind the case over to the grand jury’ upon a finding of probable cause or dismiss the case. Even if the case is dismissed at this level the DAG can still take the case directly before the grand jury (a point the will be discussed hereinafter).
What most often happens at the preliminary hearing date cases charging misdemeanors are resolved though guilty pleas or plea agreements. The majority of the general sessions court cases are disposed of in this manner. Due to the sheer volume of cases it would be impossible to have a preliminary hearing on every case so only the most serious misdemeanors and most all of the felony cases go through preliminary hearings. Oftentimes if an agreement cannot be reached the defendant through his or her attorney will ‘waive’ the preliminary hearing. Cases ‘bound over’ by the judge after preliminary hearing or ‘waived’ by the defendant are then presented by the DAG to the grand jury in that county for a True Bill indictment.