This last Sunday, we discussed a bill being considered in the Wisconsin legislature which would allow hearsay to be admitted during preliminary criminal hearings. Passage of this bill would result in the elimination of an important criminal defense protection.
Unfortunately, the Wisconsin Attorney General wants to take the bill much, much farther in the wrong direction. Earlier this month, Van Hollen informed the Wisconsin Senate Judiciary Committee that preliminary hearings themselves should be abolished. He insisted that they no longer serve any purpose.
A critical question is answered during preliminary hearings: does the prosecution have a strong enough case to warrant continuing action against the accused? Absent these hearings, the criminally accused could be subject to full trial even before the prosecution has shown that it has even a marginally legitimate case against him or her.
Without preliminary hearings, there can be no guarantee that the accused are even being held under the legally required standard of sufficient probable cause.
The Attorney General insists that the hearings are costly, archaic and unnecessary. Yet even he recognizes that at least "some" cases warrant these hearings. In a prepared statement to the committee, he insisted that, "Preliminary hearings consume scarce resources and burden courts, police officers, crime victims, and witnesses with costly delays and time in court. Rather than a hearing in all cases, our constitutional protections allow defendants to request evidentiary hearings in the small number of cases when warranted."
Though the preliminary hearing system may require some reforms, the elimination of preliminary hearings would erode critical protections afforded to the accused by law. Hopefully the Attorney General's request will fail to gain any traction or significant support.
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Van Hollen supports elimination of preliminary hearings," Bruce Vielmetti, Feb. 8, 2012