Whenever a defendant has been charged with a Los Angeles felony offense, the law requires that the Court conduct a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is probable cause to hold the defendant to answer to the criminal charges. This is a special proceeding and is like a “mini-trial.” What happens at a preliminary hearing is often highly significant to the eventual outcome of the case and it is important to be represented by a skilled Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney during this critical hearing.
During the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor will present witnesses and evidence. The defendant would have an opportunity to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses and challenge the admissibility of evidence. The defense can call witnesses of its own and the defendant would have an opportunity to testify as well. If the judge determines that the prosecution has met its burden, the defendant will be held to answer and a new date will be set for the defendant to be arraigned on the criminal information that will be filed by the prosecution. If the judge determines that there is insufficient evidence to hold the defendant to answer, the charge may be dismissed. In these cases, the prosecution may have another opportunity to refile the charges against the defendant.
The preliminary hearing must take place within ten days of the defendant’s arraignment, however it is often in the defendant’s interest to waive this statutory time requirement to allow time for his or her attorney to obtain additional discovery material and prepare a defense.
The prosecution’s burden of proof is much lower than it is during trial. During a criminal trial, a prosecutor must prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the preliminary hearing only requires a showing that there is sufficient probable cause to believe that the crime charged was committed and that there is probable cause showing that the defendant was the person who committed the crime. The rules regarding hearsay are relaxed at preliminary hearing and the prosecution can bring in certain statements without witnesses present in ways that would not be permissible at trial.
At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, the judge can hold the defendant to answer to the charges. Alternatively, the judge can dismiss the case or can reduce the charge to a misdemeanor if the offense is a “wobbler.” If held to answer, the defendant would be re-arraigned 15 days later and the defense would be provided a transcript of the preliminary hearing.
The defense can then file a motion to dismiss pursuant to California Penal Code Section 995 PC based on the preliminary hearing transcript and any errors that may have occurred during the preliminary hearing.
Even in cases where the defendant is held to answer, the preliminary hearing can be extremely important to his or her case. The defendant’s attorney may be able to expose crucial problems with the prosecutor’s case during the preliminary hearing and would get a chance to thoroughly cross-examine the People’s witnesses. The witnesses testify under oath during the preliminary hearing and the transcript can be used against them if they testify differently at a later point or during trial. In many cases, the judge may comment on the strengths and weaknesses of a case before holding someone to answer, and these comments may persuade a prosecutor to reduce the charges significantly or to offer a resolution that would be acceptable to the defendant.
During the preliminary hearing, the defendant can also argue a motion to suppress evidence pursuant to California Penal Code Section 1538.5 PC. If the judge finds that there was insufficient reasonable cause to support the stop, search, seizure or arrest of the defendant, the judge may suppress all evidence discovered a result of the unlawful search or seizure. In many cases, the prosecution would dismiss the charge because it is unable to move forward.
If you or a loved one have been charged with a felony offense, it is absolutely critical that you discuss your case with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer as soon as possible. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experiences who knows how to effectively and successfully defend clients at preliminary hearings.
For more information about Los Angeles preliminary hearings, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.