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Arraignment vs Preliminary Hearing: Key Differences Explained

Becoming Familiar With the Criminal Justice System 

Navigating the complexities of the legal system can be overwhelming. When one is thrust into the arena of criminal justice, understanding the procedures and terminology becomes essential. One key step is an arraignment, where the accused is formally presented with the charges and asked to enter a plea. 

Many people wonder about the necessity of the preliminary hearing and how it differs from an arraignment. An arraignment starts the criminal process and is the defendant’s first direct contact with the criminal justice system following arrest. A preliminary hearing, in contrast, is an in-depth review to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed with the case.

We, as a legal team equipped to guide you through each judicial phase, appreciate the value of clarity in these critical early stages. In a system that can often seem confusing, we are dedicated to explaining the process so you are ready for what comes next.

At Hirsch Law Group, our experience enables us to provide the needed assistance in unraveling the intricacies of arraignment and preliminary hearing proceedings, ensuring that your rights are preserved and that you face the criminal justice system with confidence.

What Is an Arraignment?

At its core, an arraignment (725 ILCS 5/113-1) is when the accused appears in court, and the charges against them are read out loud. This informs them officially of what they are facing. It is a key moment where the defendant must respond by entering a plea: guilty, not guilty, or no contest.

The plea entered during an arraignment can significantly impact the course of legal proceedings. If a defendant pleads not guilty, the case moves toward trial or negotiations. A plea of no contest accepts conviction without admitting guilt and is often used in plea bargaining. If a defendant pleads guilty, the case typically moves directly to sentencing without a trial. The court will then determine the appropriate punishment based on the charges and circumstances.

Legal representation is crucial during an arraignment. An experienced attorney can advocate for the defendant’s rights and argue for favorable bail conditions. Without good legal counsel, navigating the courtroom can be overwhelming and confusing.

We understand that an arraignment is the defendant’s first exposure to the gravity of their situation under the law. It’s a juncture at which the accused must confront the weight of the state’s charges and make decisions that will influence their path forward. In Illinois, the arraignment procedure is defined in state laws, ensuring a consistent approach to the initial stage of criminal proceedings.

Every action taken during an arraignment has a lasting impact on the course of justice, shaping what follows. With proper preparation and guidance from a criminal defense lawyer, the accused can approach this crucial legal encounter with confidence.

What Is a Preliminary Hearing?

Preliminary hearings are a key moment in the criminal justice process. They are where the groundwork for a fair trial begins—not in a dramatic courtroom setting, but through careful legal examination. According to Illinois Law, a preliminary hearing (725 ILCS 5/109-3) is a procedural step following an arrest where the prosecution must demonstrate to a judge the existence of probable cause to proceed with a trial. 

Simply put, does enough evidence exist to indict? It acts as a filter, separating unfounded claims from those that deserve a trial. Unlike the quick pace of an arraignment, the preliminary hearing carefully examines the allegations, inviting a closer inspection. Witnesses may testify, and documents can be examined. However, evidence is not weighed for its sufficiency to convict but merely to determine if there is enough seriousness to proceed. 

If probable cause is found, the case moves toward trial. If not, the accused may be freed. Preliminary hearings preserve the integrity of the judicial apparatus. They shield the innocent and ensure the prosecution’s case endures the test of a judicial preview.

Key Differences Between an Arraignment and a Preliminary Hearing

When we find ourselves navigating the criminal justice system, it’s crucial to understand the distinct stages of a case. The arraignment and preliminary hearing serve unique but equally significant roles. 


  • The purpose of an arraignment is to formally charge the defendant and allow for a plea.

  • The judge reads the charges, and the defendant enters a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.

  • Proceedings occur soon after arrest and booking or upon receiving a summons.

  • In cases with felony charges, this is typically the first step following an indictment.

Preliminary Hearing:

  • The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to ascertain whether there is sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial.

  • It is an adversarial hearing where witnesses may be called and evidence presented.

  • It is traditionally held only if a defendant enters a not-guilty plea at arraignment and for felony cases.

  • Defendants have the option to waive this hearing to expedite the trial process.

As we guide our clients through these pivotal moments, it’s our responsibility at Hirsch Law Group to ensure they grasp the legal implications of each court hearing. In the arraignment, our client’s plea sets the trajectory for their defense, while in the preliminary hearing, we get an early glimpse of the prosecution’s case. Both steps are instrumental in shaping the defense strategy and can significantly influence the legal journey ahead.

How Hirsch Law Group Can Help

Facing criminal charges can be a daunting prospect. The period during arraignments and preliminary hearings is critical as they lay the groundwork for the defense strategy. Here at Hirsch Law Group, our skilled criminal defense attorney focuses on criminal defense and provides full support and preparation for clients during these important early stages of the legal process.

We assist clients in the following ways:

  • Arraignment Support: Our legal professionals help clients with the initial arraignment process, making sure they understand their rights and the charges against them. Our knowledgeable defense attorneys stand by your side at your hearing, advocating on your behalf.

  • Preliminary Hearing Preparation: The goals during a preliminary hearing are different, resembling a trial before the trial. We can carefully analyze the prosecution’s evidence to identify any weaknesses and develop a strong defense strategy that may affect the course of the trial.

At Hirsch Law Group, we believe in a tailored approach; each case is unique, necessitating personalized attention and a detailed strategy. Contact us today for an initial consultation if you or a loved one are confronting criminal charges.

Consult with our team, and let us take the first step towards navigating the complexities of your case together.