A crucial part to any felony criminal case is the preliminary hearing. This is the opportunity for your criminal defense attorney to attack the prosecution's case and establish, early on in the process, defenses that may exist on a criminal case.
In this blog I will discuss the general concepts that make up a preliminary hearing. Please note however that no two cases are alike and things that apply generally to most cases may not apply to yours.
That is why it is important to contact a criminal defense attorney who will be able to properly advise you about your particular situation.
FOR A FREE CASE REVIEW AND CONSULTATION WITH AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY IN LOS ANGELES, CALL 818 325-0570OR CONTACT US TODAY.
WHAT IS A PRELIMINARY HEARING?
A preliminary hearing is an examination of the evidence that occurs prior to a trial. It is held before a judge or a magistrate who will hear the evidence and then make a ruling if there is sufficient cause to believe that a criminal act has occurred and if the criminal acts charged in a complaint are properly filed.
There are two purposes for a preliminary hearing in a criminal felony case:
(1) To determine whether a criminal felony or other crime has been committed; and
(2) To determine whether there is sufficient cause to believe that the person charged with the criminal act is the person that committed it.
The preliminary hearing is an opportunity to weed out groundless criminal charges and any special enhancements that are charged against a person in a criminal case.
Many times, prosecutors will “throw the book” at a criminal defendant in order to intimidate a person and get him to take a plea early in the process. The preliminary hearing is the opportunity to ask the judge to throw out criminal charges and enhancements that do not apply to a particular criminal case.
That is why it is of utmost importance to hire an experienced criminal attorney to handle your preliminary hearing. We have successfully been able to reduce and sometimes dismiss altogether criminal cases at the preliminary hearing.
That is why it is to your advantage to hire a criminal defense attorney early on in the case because this gives us an opportunity to attack the case early on at the preliminary hearing.
THE ROLE OF THE PARTIES AT A PRELIMINARY HEARING
THE ROLE OF THE PROSECUTOR
The prosecutor's role at a preliminary hearing is to establish the required sufficient cause exists for a person charged with a crime to be held to answer in the trial court. If they so choose, a prosecutor may use hearsay evidence and present a greatly abridged version of their case.
This could work to their advantage and one of the things a criminal defense attorney will try to do is arrange for a prosecutor to put on as much evidence of the criminal conduct as possible.
That is an advantage in several ways to the defendant not the least of which is it serves to find out as much information about the prosecutors case as possible. This is something I like to call a “meaningful prelim”
THE ROLE OF THE CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY
As I discussed above, the preliminary hearing is a crucial time for a person charged with crime. It is a great opportunity for his or her criminal defense attorney to make great headway into resolving a criminal case to his client's advantage.
A criminal defense attorney may use the preliminary hearing to:
(1) Establish a reason for the court to dismiss all or part of the criminal charges;
(2) Cross examine and establish a foundation to later impeach a prosecution witness at time of trial;
(3) Preserve the testimony of a witness for later use;
(4) Establish a basis for the prosecutor to want to enter into plea negotiations (i.e. work out a better deal);
(5) Provide a substitute for trial; and
(6) Establish a defense (see discussion below)
ESTABLISHING A DEFENSE AT PRELIMINARY HEARING
A criminal defense attorney, if he so chooses, can establish an affirmative defense to a criminal charge at the time of preliminary hearing. Generally this is something that is a strategic consideration and not always done as it may involve showing your cards too early in the criminal process.
The decision of whether or not to try to establish a defense and call witnesses to establish it is usually done on a case by case basis. There is no steadfast rule that you can apply to know whether or not this is in your best interest in a criminal case. Only an experienced criminal defense attorney who has knowledge of the facts of your case can advise you properly.
A CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY SHOULD BE HIRED WELL BEFORE THE PRELIMINARY HEARING.
Other than a trial, the preliminary hearing is the most important hearing in a criminal case. That is why it is crucial that an experienced criminal defense attorney be on hand to lead the defense case. It has been my experience that a public defender will generally not do the legwork required to properly prepare for a preliminary hearing and often times a person who is charged with a felony crime will miss a very important opportunity of he doesn't retain a criminal defense attorney.
FOR A FREE CASE REVIEW AND CONSULTATION WITH AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY, CALL818 325-0570