On December 13, 2011, former Penn State assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, waived a preliminary hearing in the case brought against him by prosecutors of more than 50 counts of sexual abuse against boys. The waiver of this hearing will move the case forward to trial.
So, what is a preliminary hearing and why might a defendant waive it?
A preliminary hearing is a pre-trial proceeding wherein the government must prove that they have probable cause to bring the charges they are bringing against the defendant. Probable cause is a relatively low legal threshold, which essentially requires that the prosecution demonstrate that there exists trustworthy facts or knowledge sufficient for a reasonable person to believe that the suspect has committed or is committing a crime.
Today, the prosecution was prepared to present at least ten men who have come forward and accused Sandusky of sexually abusing them. Arguably, if these young men shared the allegations that they shared with the grand jury which ultimately moved to indict Sandusky, the threshold of probable cause would have been met. Because the threshold of probable cause would have been met during the preliminary hearing, the case would then be set for trial. Sandusky’s legal counsel likely advised him that the probable cause threshold would be met. Otherwise, it would not have been legally sound to waive the hearing, since if the probable cause threshold was not met, then the case against Sandusky would’ve been dismissed.
By waiving the preliminary hearing, what Sandusky’s defense did was effectively take away an opportunity for these men to rehash their allegations of sexual abuse by Sandusky in an open courtroom. Typically, preliminary hearings are open to the public and the press. Such was the case with today’s preliminary hearing, and reports indicate that there were hundreds present in the courtroom, with many of those individuals being members of the press.
Since members of the press were present in the courtroom, they would have reported what the alleged victims would have said in open court during the preliminary hearing. Arguably, these statements would have expounded upon what was presented in the grand jury report against Sandusky. In such a highly publicized case, Sandusky’s defense arguably did not want more allegations to spring forward as a result of the preliminary hearing, and arguably, taint a potential jury even more against his client. However, by waiving the hearing, Sandusky’s attorney lost an opportunity to actually hear the accuser’s stories and witness their demeanor on the witness stand. Such things are arguably beneficial in moving forward with preparing for trial.
Nonetheless, at the end of the day, Sandusky arguably decided to waive his right to a preliminary hearing due to legal maneuvering which was advised to him by his attorney.