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What Is a Preliminary Hearing?

Your right to a Preliminary Hearing in Wisconsin

The state of Wisconsin offers those charged with a felony the right to a preliminary hearing, also called a prelim or preliminary examination. This portion of the court case happens early, within 10 to 20 days of the defendant’s first appearance in front of the judge, depending on whether the defendant is in custody or not. What happens during a prelim is often a source of confusion for people who haven’t been through it before. The criminal lawyers at Eisenberg Law Offices can walk you through the process and let you know what to expect.


In a way, the prelim is a gatekeeping function performed by the court. This is the time for the court to see if the case in question has enough evidence to actually go to trial. If the case is approved for trial, it’s said to be bound over for trial.

Anyone involved in a felony case should be aware that hearsay is allowed during the preliminary hearing.

What Happens in a Prelim?

As mentioned, the state will provide some evidence, possibly including brief testimony from a witness, often a police officer. The defense has a chance to cross-examine the witness as well.

You too can have witnesses testify for you at a prelim, but again, now that hearsay is allowed, any defense testimony would come down to we-said-they-said. And if that happens, the court generally has to send the case to trial. Note that credibility of witnesses is not something that’s considered at a prelim.

Additional Steps

After a prelim that results in being bound over for trial, there is an arraignment. This gives the state a chance to modify charges, and it gives the court a chance to ensure the defendant knows the exact charges against him or her. The arraignment is the point at which a plea, such as not guilty, is entered with the court.

This is a simplified look at preliminary hearings; in practice they contain a great amount of detail and require the help of a competent attorney. Please contact Eisenberg Law Offices to discuss representation for your case.