The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued revisions to Rule 541 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure. This rule address a defendant’s waiver of a preliminary hearing and was amended on April 26, 2012, to go into effect 180 days thereafter.
This rule, prior to the amendments going into effect, simply allows a defendant who is represented by counsel to waive his right to a preliminary hearing. In a previous blog, we had addressed the purpose of a preliminary hearing, reasons why a defendant would want to waive a preliminary hearing and what the benefit, if any, would be to a waiver. You can access this blog here: Purpose of a Preliminary Hearing.
The change in this rule will cause a defendant to forever waive his right to challenge the Commonwealth’s prima facie case if he waives his right to a preliminary hearing. The amendments read reads as follows:
“The defendant thereafter is precluded from raising the sufficiency of the Commonwealth’s prima facie case unless the parties have agreed at the time of the waiver that the defendant later may challenge the sufficiency.”
“If the defendant waives the preliminary hearing by way of an agreement, made in writing or on the record, and the agreement is not accomplished, the defendant may challenge the sufficiency of the Commonwealth’s prima facie case.” You may access the full revisions and comments here: Rule 541 (pdf).
The comments to the rules state that the purpose behind the revision was to prohibit defendants from challenging the sufficiency of the Commonwealth’s case through pre-trial means, such as a habeas corpus hearing.