The Preliminary Hearing is the first opportunity for the defense to hear the details of the allegations against him/her from the mouth of the accuser and witnesses. It is rare for the Defendant to testify at the Preliminary Hearing as the standard is only "Prima Facie" or "on its face". This means that it appears a crime was probably committed and that the Defendant was probably involved. It is a very low standard to meet, and the District Justice must assume all evidence as offered by the Government is true.The preliminary hearing for suspected state police killer Eric Frein has been moved to a later date,The hearing was scheduled for Wednesday morning in Pike County, but has been pushed back to Dec. 12.Frein is accused of killing state police Cpl. Bryon Dickson and seriously wounding Trooper Alex Douglass on Sept. 12 when the police barracks was ambushed late that night.Frein, who police identified as the only suspect on Sept. 16, was captured on Oct. 30 at the abandoned Birchwood Resort in Pocono Township after a massive manhunt that drew world-wide attention.- See more at: http://www.poconorecord.com/article/20141110/NEWS/141119968/101010/NEWS#sthash.xhrwIpC2.dpuf
At a Preliminary Hearing the Defendant is not found guilty or not guilty, all that is determined is whether there is sufficient evidence for the case to move forward to the Court of Common Pleas for a plea or jury trial.
If the burden is so low and it is likely the charges will move forward, what is the benefit of a Preliminary Hearing for the Defendant?
First, it binds the witnesses to their testimony. A court reporter will usually be present to take notes of the testimony - which is made under oath. That way, if a witness attempts to change his or her testimony later the Defense can point out how the story has changed.
Second, it provides a clearer understanding of the charges against the Defendant. Specifics including when, where, who and how must be introduced.
Third, it is an opportunity for the Defense and the Government to discuss the case with an eye toward a possible resolution.
Fourth, it is an important step for the Defendant to get a real feel of the process going forward and what kind of issues he or she will face. Defense Counsel has been through these procedures hundreds if not thousands of times, but this may be the Defendant's first trip through the criminal justice process.
There are many other reasons to hold the Preliminary Hearing, of course, but that's a subject for another post.
As to Frein's continuance, this is not unexpected in major criminal cases. Both sides need time to prep for the hearing and to subpoena witnesses. Mr. Frein is held without bail because his case is a capital one (Pennsylvania does not permit bail in capital cases) so there is no prejudice to either side by the continuance. I am sure the defense team is preparing all waking hours for the Preliminary Hearing.
While the evidence may seem overwhelming it is still important to defend the case as best the defense team can. Even if it is admitted that Mr. Frein was the shooter (which has not to my knowledge been admitted) there may be other considerations. For example, if the intent of Mr. Frein is at issue that could conceivably reduce the charge from a capital charge to a lesser count of Murder. Or if he suffers from some sort of mental disability that may disqualify him from capital charges.
There are many reasons to pursue the Preliminary Hearing and to ensure that justice is mete as appropriate in this case. I expect this will be a major media sensation in the coming months (years).