Rule 542. Preliminary Hearing; Continuances.
(A) The attorney for the Commonwealth may appear at a preliminary hearing and:
(1) assume charge of the prosecution; and
(2) recommend to the issuing authority that the defendant be discharged or bound over to court according to law.
(B) When no attorney appears on behalf of the Commonwealth at a preliminary hearing, the affiant may be permitted to ask questions of any witness who testifies.
(C) The defendant shall be present at any preliminary hearing except as provided in these rules, and may:
(1) be represented by counsel;
(2) cross-examine witnesses and inspect physical evidence offered against the defendant;
(3) call witnesses on the defendants behalf, other than witnesses to the defendants good reputation only;
(4) offer evidence on the defendants own behalf, and testify; and
(5) make written notes of the proceedings, or have counsel do so, or make a stenographic, mechanical, or electronic record of the proceedings.
(D) At the preliminary hearing, the issuing authority shall determine from the evidence presented whether there is a prima facie case that (1) an offense has been committed and (2) the defendant has committed it.
(E) Hearsay as provided by law shall be considered by the issuing authority in determining whether a prima facie case has been established. Hearsay evidence shall be sufficient to establish any element of an offense, including, but not limited to, those requiring proof of the ownership of, non-permitted use of, damage to, or value of property.
(F) In any case in which a summary offense is joined with a misdemeanor, felony, or murder charge, the issuing authority shall not proceed on the summary offense except as provided in Rule 543(F).
(1) The issuing authority may, for cause shown, grant a continuance and shall note on the transcript every continuance together with:
(a) the grounds for granting each continuance;
(b) the identity of the party requesting such continuance; and
(c) the new date, time, and place for the preliminary hearing, and the reasons that the particular date was chosen.
When the preliminary hearing is conducted in the court of common pleas, the judge shall record the party to which the period of delay caused by the continuance shall be attributed and whether the time will be included in or excluded from the computation of the time within which trial must commence in accordance with Rule 600.
(2) The issuing authority shall give notice of the new date, time, and place for the preliminary hearing to the defendant, the defendants attorney of record, if any, and the attorney for the Commonwealth.
(a) The notice shall be in writing.
(b) Notice shall be served on the defendant either in person or by first class mail.
(c) Notice shall be served on defendants attorney of record and the attorney for the Commonwealth either by personal delivery, or by leaving a copy for or mailing a copy to the attorneys at the attorneys offices.
As the judicial officer presiding at the preliminary hearing, the issuing authority controls the conduct of the preliminary hearing generally. When an attorney appears on behalf of the Commonwealth, the prosecution of the case is under the control of that attorney. When no attorney appears at the preliminary hearing on behalf of the Commonwealth, the issuing authority may ask questions of any witness who testifies, and the affiant may request the issuing authority to ask specific questions. In the appropriate circumstances, the issuing authority may also permit the affiant to question Commonwealth witnesses, cross-examine defense witnesses, and make recommendations about the case to the issuing authority.
Paragraph (C)(3) is intended to make clear that the defendant may call witnesses at a preliminary hearing only to negate the existence of a prima facie case, and not merely for the purpose of discovering the Commonwealths case. The modification changes the language of the rule interpreted by the Court in Commonwealth v. Mullen, 460 Pa. 336, 333 A.2d 755 (1975). This amendment was made to preserve the limited function of a preliminary hearing.
Paragraph (E) was amended in 2013 to reiterate that traditionally our courts have not applied the law of evidence in its full rigor in proceedings such as preliminary hearings, especially with regard to the use of hearsay to establish the elements of a prima facie case. See the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence generally, but in particular, Article VIII. Accordingly, hearsay, whether written or oral, may establish the elements of any offense. The presence of witnesses to establish these elements is not required at the preliminary hearing. But compare Commonwealth ex rel. Buchanan v. Verbonitz, 525 Pa. 413, 581 A.2d 172 (Pa. 1990) (plurality) (disapproving reliance on hearsay testimony as the sole basis for establishing a prima facie case). See also Rule 1003 concerning preliminary hearings in Philadelphia Municipal Court.
If the case is held for court, the normal rules of evidence will apply at trial.
For the procedures when a defendant fails to appear for the preliminary hearing, see Rule 543(D).
In cases in which summary offenses are joined with misdemeanor, felony, or murder charges, pursuant to paragraph (F), during the preliminary hearing, the issuing authority is prohibited from proceeding on the summary offenses, or adjudicating or disposing of the summary offenses, except as provided in Rule 543(F).
For the contents of the transcript, see Rule 135.
See Chapter 5 Part E for the procedures governing indicting grand juries. Under these rules, a case may be presented to the grand jury instead of proceeding to a preliminary hearing. See Rule 556.2.
Former Rule 141, previously Rule 120, adopted June 30, 1964, effective January 1, 1965; suspended January 31, 1970, effective May 1, 1970; revised January 31, 1970, effective May 1, 1970; renumbered Rule 141 and amended September 18, 1973, effective January 1, 1974; amended June 30, 1975, effective July 30, 1975; amended October 21, 1977, effective January 1, 1978; paragraph (D) amended April 26, 1979, effective July 1, 1979; amended February 13, 1998, effective July 1, 1998; rescinded October 8, 1999, effective January 1, 2000. Former Rule 142, previously Rule 124, adopted June 30, 1964, effective January 1, 1965, suspended effective May 1, 1970; present rule adopted January 31, 1970, effective May 1, 1970; renumbered Rule 142 September 18, 1973, effective January 1, 1974; amended October 22, 1981, effective January 1, 1982; effective date extended to July 1, 1982; amended July 12, 1985, effective January 1, 1986, effective date extended to July 1, 1986; rescinded October 8, 1999, effective January 1, 2000. New Rule 141, combining former Rules 141 and 142, adopted October 8, 1999, effective January 1, 2000; renumbered Rule 542 and Comment revised March 1, 2000, effective April 1, 2001; amended August 24, 2004, effective August 1, 2005; amended March 9, 2006, effective September 1, 2006; amended May 1, 2007, effective September 4, 2007, and May 1, 2007 Order amended May 15, 2007; amended January 27, 2011, effective in 30 days; amended June 21, 2012, effective in 180 days; amended October 1, 2012, effective July 1, 2013; amended April 25, 2013, effective June 1, 2013.
Committee Explanatory Reports:
Final Report explaining the February 13, 1998 amendments concerning questioning of witnesses published with the Courts Order at 28 Pa.B. 1127 (February 28, 1998).
Final Report explaining new Rule 141 published with the Courts Order at 29 Pa.B. 5509 (October 23, 1999).
Final Report explaining the March 1, 2000 reorganization and renumbering of the rules published with the Courts Order at 30 Pa.B. 1478 (March 18, 2000).
Final Report explaining the August 24, 2004 amendments concerning notice published with the Courts Order at 34 Pa.B. 5025 (September 11, 2004).
Final Report explaining the March 9, 2006 amendments to paragraph (D) published with the Courts Order at 36 Pa.B. 1392 (March 25, 2006).
Final Report explaining the May 1, 2007 amendments deleting the certified mail service requirement from paragraph (E)(2)(b) published with the Courts Order at 37 Pa.B. 2503 (June 2, 2007).
Courts Order of January 27, 2011 adding new paragraphs (D) and (E) concerning hearsay at the preliminary hearing published at 41 Pa.B. 834 (February 12, 2011).
Final Report explaining the June 21, 2012 revision of the Comment concerning indicting grand juries published with the Courts Order at 42 Pa.B. 4153 (July 7, 2012).
Final Report explaining the October 1, 2012 amendments to paragraph (G)(1) concerning computation of time and (G)(2) concerning notice of continuance published with the Courts Order at 42 Pa.B. 6629 (October 20, 2012).
Final Report explaining the April 25, 2013 amendments to paragraph (E) concerning hearsay at preliminary hearings published with the Courts Order at 43 Pa.B. 2562 (May 11, 2013).
The provisions of this Rule 542 amended August 24, 2004, effective August 1, 2005, 34 Pa.B. 5016; amended March 9, 2006, effective September 1, 2006, 36 Pa.B. 1385; amended May 1, 2007, effective September 4, 2007, 37 Pa.B. 2496; amended January 27, 2011, effective in 30 days, 41 Pa.B. 834; amended June 21, 2012, effective in 180 days, 42 Pa.B. 4140; amended October 1, 2012, effective July 1, 2013, 42 Pa.B. 6622; amended April 25, 2013, effective June 1, 2013, 43 Pa.B. 2560. Immediately preceeding text appears at serial pages (364099) to (364102).
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