Apparently "preliminary hearings" are to determine whether or not the defendant should be sent to Superior Court for a "full" trial. (My "source" for this is "Perry Mason.")

What exactly is a "preliminary hearing"? Is it a "halfway house" between say, a grand jury indictment and a trial? Or given the sequence of arrest and "preliminary hearing," is it the grand jury indictment process itself?

  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about an old TV show, and we can't be expected to review 271 episodes. A question about preliminary hearings without the TV show entanglement could be on topic.
    – user6726
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 16:41
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    @user6726: Re-worked the question by focusing on "preliminary hearing" and reducing "Perry Mason to a parenthetical.
    – Libra
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 16:47
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    I have read (and own copies of) all the Perry Mason novels, and have seen many if not all of the TV episodes, most of which were fairly closely based on one of the novels. In any case this question is largely about what a Preliminary hearing is, and IMO should not be closed. I would vote to reopen if this were closed. Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 16:50

2 Answers 2


A "preliminary hearing", of the kind depicted in the Perry Mason novels, is a procedure in California and some other states. It is an alternative to a Grand jury proceeding. It is used to determine whether there is probable cause to put the defendant on trial.

Such hearing are mostly rather routine, and rarely reach the level of drama shown in "Perry Mason". But the prosecutor does present witnesses, which the defendant's lawyer can cross-examine. The defendant may, but rarely does, also present witnesses.

Note that Mason stories sometimes involved a full trial, not just a preliminary hearing.

Gardner, who wrote Perry Mason, was a practicing attorney in CA, and most of the law as he shows it was accurate when he wrote, but he often showed legally possible but highly unlikely events to improve the drama of his stories.

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    FWIW roughly half the states primarily use preliminary hearings (most of those still use grand juries for narrow circumstances only, usually organized crime cases and/or cases involving law enforcement defendants or politicians) and about half of the states (and the federal government) use grand juries, with grand juries being much more common in the eastern U.S. and preliminary hearings being much more common in the western U.S. Preliminary hearings are waived more often than not in less serious felony cases in cases when it is also true that probable cause is clear.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 23:34

In addition to David Siegel's accurate answer, here is a map of which states do and do not use grand juries. States where they are not mandatory use them very rarely and instead use preliminary hearings more than 95% of the time in cases where they are not required. (Preliminary hearings are usually only available in felony cases and not in misdemeanors.)

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