What is a Preliminary Hearing in California?

September 3, 2015

In any felony case in California, a criminal defendant has a constitutional right to a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is designated for the prosecutor to demonstrate to the judge that there is sufficient evidence to believe that a crime has been committed. The burden at a preliminary hearing is on the District Attorney to establish based on the preponderance of the evidence that you committed the crime alleged against you. In other words, a preliminary hearing is to show the judge that the prosecutor has not frivolously filed charges against you and that there is at least some evidence tending to show your guilt. Preliminary hearings can be short hearings, sometimes only last 15 minutes long. Other times, a preliminary hearing can last days. Nonetheless, the evidentiary standard is relatively low where the prosecutor need only call one single witness to establish their burden of proof.

When appropriate, your attorney may offer an affirmative defense to the accusations. Putting forth an affirmative defense does not happen often because in the event you lose the hearing, the prosecutor will then know your potential defense at trial and prepare against it. Affirmative defenses are common among medical marijuana sales cases, domestic violence / assault and battery where you were acting in self-defense and not the initial aggressor. For instance, in a battery hearing, the prosecutor may call the victim you struck them. After the prosecutor rests, your defense lawyer may call additional witnesses to show the judge that the victim was the actual aggressor and you merely struck the alleged victim in self-defense.

At the conclusion of the hearing, your lawyer will make a motion to dismiss based on insufficiency of the evidence. In other words, your attorney will say that there is not enough evidence to withstand the charges against you thus the charges should be dismissed. In the event the judge denies your motion to dismiss, the judge will “hold you to answer” for the charges. This means that the judge believes there is enough evidence for the prosecutor to continue their case against you. From that point forward, the case will be transferred to the trial court where you will be re-arraigned on the information.

For more information, contact Newport Beach Criminal Defense Attorney John Rogers at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers. Call (949) 625-4487 for a free confidential consultation concerning your rights and defenses.

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