A new effort to streamline criminal prosecutions in Wisconsin takes aim at hearings once considered critical, but which some argue have morphed into costly, time-consuming tools for the defense: the preliminary examination, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A Senate bill would allow all forms of hearsay at preliminary hearings and has rekindled talk of eliminating them – something the state’s Judicial Council supports.
Defense lawyers expressed concerns that the move could be the start of erosion of due process rights in the name of saving money. Preliminary hearings are not trials. They are statutory creations, not required by the state or federal constitutions. Most defendants either waive their right to the preliminary examination, or a judge finds sufficient probable cause to bind the defendant over for trial. Defense lawyers often use the hearings to get an early feeling for testimony from state witnesses, almost like taking a deposition.