Felony cases are treated differently and more seriously. First the defendant has a right to a preliminary hearing. At the hearing, the state must make out a prima facie case that defendant committed the crime. A prima facie showing is usually equated to mean “more likely than not.” If the defendant’s charges are held at the preliminary hearing, the case is listed for trial in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. If convicted at the Common Pleas level, there is no automatic right of appeal.
The grand jury is an alternative avenue that is sometimes used instead of the preliminary hearing. At a grand jury, the facts are presented to a panel of jurors instead of a judge. The people then make a determination as to whether the state has made out a prima facie case. Grand juries are time consuming. The defense attorney does not have an opportunity to ask questions. As a result, defendants who are indicted by grand jury instead of by preliminary hearing, can go months without viewing the evidence against them.
Grand Juries are also confidential. The defendant and his lawyer are usually not permitted to review discovery until sixty days before trial. This puts the defense at a severe disadvantage in preparing for the case. Some investigations can take six months to a year.
The difference between grand juries and preliminary hearings is significant. Your defense attorney should approach the case differently depending on how you are prosecuted. The above post applies exclusively to prosecutions in Philadelphia county.