What is a preliminary hearing?

by admin on November 12, 2008 · 5 comments

If you are arrested for a felony in California, the question that is probably going through your head is, “Now what happens to me?”  Unless you make bail, you will remain in custody throughout your court case.  Your first court appearance is the arraignment.  (See this post for more information on the arraignment.)  After that, most felony cases proceed to preliminary hearing.

In a felony case, there is a crucial stage between the arrest & arraignment and the trial.  Before proceeding to trial, you must be either indicted by the grand jury or be held for trial after a preliminary hearing.  These are designed to be safeguards for you – to weed out cases and charges that should not go forward.

The preliminary hearing is essentially a “preview” of the evidence put on by the prosecution.  They must convince the judge at the preliminary hearing that enough evidence exists to warrant holding you for trial.  They must show sufficient evidence of each and every charge – and each and every element of each offense.  The preliminary hearing is my first real opportunity to fight the evidence.  The D.A. cannot just rely on the police reports, but must present witnesses to testify under oath.  That means that I get to cross-examine them on your behalf.  Many times, evidence that looked good on a police report falls apart when it is tested by aggressive representation in court.  If the prosecution cannot prove the charges against you, they cannot proceed on them at trial.

The preliminary hearing is also the first time the judge gets to see the evidence, too.  When bail is first set, it is based on just the charges alone.  The judge usually follows the standard bail schedule without knowing anything about how weak or strong the case against you is.  Often, your bail can be reduced by the judge who hears the evidence at the preliminary hearing.

You cannot afford to sit back and see how things unfold at the preliminary hearing before deciding to fight.  The preliminary hearing is our first in several steps to fight the case building against you.  Don’t let it slip away.  Contact me for a free initial consultation about your case.