Long Beach Criminal Attorney Lectures on Preliminary Hearings

California criminal law offers the accused many rights when the D.A. files charges.  Among those is the right to a preliminary hearing in all felony cases.  The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to establish whether probable cause exists to believe that the defendant has committed a felony. Determining whether sufficient probable cause exists at a preliminary hearing can weed out groundless charges of grave offenses and relieve the accused of the degradation and expense of a criminal trial. It also can operate as a judicial check on the exercise of prosecutorial discretion and help ensure that the defendant is not charged excessively, which could confer a tactical advantage upon the prosecutor in respect to plea bargaining.  In addition to acting as a check on prosecutorial overreaching, determining that probable cause exists ensures that a defendant is not detained for a crime that was not committed.  According to one Long Beach Criminal Attorney, a preliminary hearing is conducted by a magistrate after a defendant has been arraigned and has pleaded not guilty to one or more felony charges lodged in the complaint. In addition, the California Constitution also requires a preliminary hearing for a defendant charged in a complaint with one or more felonies. It is also well settled that a preliminary hearing must be held before a magistrate to ensure that there is enough evidence to hold the defendant to answer. The California Constitution also provides, however, that a preliminary hearing cannot be held if a felony prosecution is initiated by a grand jury indictment.

At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution must present sufficient evidence to convince the magistrate that probable cause exists to believe that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed the crime. If the prosecution shows probable cause, the magistrate holds the defendant to answer to the charge, and the prosecution must then file an information with the court within 15 calendar days.  If the magistrate finds insufficient evidence that probable cause exists, the magistrate must dismiss the case.  At the preliminary hearing, the magistrate must be convinced only of such a state of facts as would lead a reasonable person to believe and conscientiously entertain a strong suspicion of the defendant’s guilt.

Matthew Ruff is a practicing criminal attorney in Long Beach and provides defense on all felony and misdemeanor cases.

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