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Preliminary Hearing Basics

Anytime you’re charged with a crime, it should be taken very seriously. The legal system can be intimidating, and it can be difficult to advocate for yourself properly if you don’t have all of the necessary and relevant information about the crime you’re charged with and what might happen next. This article aims to explain what a preliminary hearing is, what its purpose is, and what the possible outcomes of the preliminary hearing could be.

What is a Preliminary Hearing?

In California, when the prosecutor files felony charges, a preliminary hearing follows. It is one of the first hearings in a criminal case. This hearing is often referred to as a prelim or a probable cause hearing. This hearing typically lasts anywhere from 25 minutes to several hours, depending on the complexity of the case and the number of witnesses the prosecutor calls to the stand. At this hearing, the prosecutor must present evidence and testimony so the judge can decide if a trial will take place in the future.

What is the Purpose of the Preliminary Hearing?

The primary purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine if there is enough evidence to bring a defendant to trial. The prosecutor will present witnesses and a limited amount of evidence, and based on that information, the judge or magistrate will make their decision. At the preliminary hearing, a prosecutor does not put all of their witnesses on the stand or present all of their evidence. The only purpose is to present enough evidence and testimony to get the judge to hold the case for trial. The judge or magistrate has to answer two questions:

  1. Is there evidence that a crime was committed?
  2. Is there evidence that the defendant was the one who committed the crime?

If the answer to these two questions is yes, then the case will get held for trial.

Burden of Proof

The burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is very different from what is required at the actual trial. At trial, all elements of a crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest possible standard. At a preliminary hearing, the only determination being made is whether there is probable cause. The crime does not have to be proven. Probable cause, as it relates to a preliminary hearing, is defined as “a state of facts as would lean a man of ordinary care and prudence to believe and conscientiously entertain an honest and strong suspicion that the person is guilty of a crime.”

Possible Outcomes

At a preliminary hearing, several things could happen. First, the judge or magistrate could determine that the prosecutor has met its burden for all the crimes the defendant is charged with and hold the case for trial. If this occurs, the defendant will be brought to trial on everything they’ve been charged with. In some circumstances, some charges could be dropped, while the remaining ones are held for trial. Finally, the judge or magistrate may determine that the prosecutor hasn’t met their burden for any of the crimes charged, and the entire case will be dismissed.

It’s also possible to bring a bail motion at a preliminary hearing. If the individual charged with the crime is in custody during the preliminary hearing, their attorney can request a decrease in bail so they can be released pretrial. It will be up to the judge to grant or deny that motion. Additionally, the judge could decide to raise bail or even take a defendant into custody who had already been free on bail. This often happens if the facts that come to light at the preliminary hearing are especially egregious.

Attorney William S. Kroger Has The Experience You Need

Being charged with any type of crime is serious and scary. A preliminary hearing is one of the most critical parts of a criminal case, and you need a lawyer who has the experience and dedication required to handle your case. Preliminary hearings might sound simple and not that serious, but many positive and negative outcomes can occur at the preliminary hearing. Attorney William S. Kroger has been practicing criminal law for decades and will do whatever it takes to defend you and get the best outcome for you. If you were arrested or believe you will soon be facing criminal charges, Attorney William S. Kroger is here for you. He is admitted to practice in several federal jurisdictions and is capable of handling any type of criminal offense in the state of California. Attorney William S. Kroger will do everything necessary to protect you and your rights. Don’t hesitate to reach out for a free, confidential consultation. Set up a meeting by calling 323-655-5700 or by messaging us today.

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