A preliminary hearing is a judicial proceeding, usually before an inferior court judge of criminal jurisdiction, to determine whether reasonable and probable cause exists to issue an indictment to hold a trial against a criminal defendant in superior court. It is a fairly modern part of criminal procedure, and either replaces or supplements the use of a grand jury for the same purpose.

However, unlike a grand jury proceeding, the defendant is allowed to be represented by a lawyer throughout the proceedings, and the lawyer is allowed to cross-examine prosecution witnesses, although in most cases the right of a defendant to call witnesses is limited. In addition, a preliminary hearing is held before a judge who controls the proceedings.