Jerry Sandusky Waives Preliminary Hearing (and why it’s no big deal…)

Before testimony could begin today, defense attorney Joe Amendola announced that Sandusky had chosen to waive his preliminary hearing on the 52 counts against him. To understand what this means, you need to know what a preliminary hearing is in the first place.

Generally, a preliminary hearing is where a judge decides whether there’s enough evidence to make you stand trial on the charges filed against you. The judge’s decision at a preliminary hearing is like the decision a grand jury makes in deciding whether to return an indictment against you.

Essentially, it answers two questions:

  1. Did the alleged crimes occur within the court’s jurisdiction?
  2. Is there probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crimes in question?

Whether there is probable cause is a very low hurdle to meet.  Think of it like “reason to believe.” It doesn’t rise anywhere near the level of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” or even “preponderance of the evidence,” which is the standard used in civil cases.  In most jurisdictions, the judge is just a rubber stamp for the prosecution.

Why isn’t this a big deal?

  • Preliminary hearings are typically sham hearings in the first place.  The defendants are rail-roaded, whether they are innocent or not.
  • Even if the judge finds that no probable cause existed, the prosecutors can just reissue the charges and send the case through a grand jury.
  • None of this means that Jerry Sandusky has admitted guilt. When a defendant waives a preliminary hearing he is merely admitting that probable cause exists.
  • The fact that he waived the hearing means nothing to the jury, because they will never be told about it.
  • The choice to waive the hearing was merely a strategic decision made by Sandusky’s attorney.  He likely wanted to keep as much of information out of the press as possible so as not to taint the jury pool.