What Is a Preliminary Hearing?
The criminal process contains numerous safeguards to ensure that your rights are protected. One of these is the preliminary hearing, where prosecutors must convince a court that there is sufficient evidence to charge you with a crime.
After you have been charged and entered a plea, the prosecutor must demonstrate to the judge that there is enough evidence to move forward with the case. The law recognizes that criminal charges are stressful and dominate your entire life. Therefore, this hearing must usually be held within 14 days after charges have been filed in your case or 21 days after your initial appearance when you are free on bail.
You want to present your strongest possible defense at every stage of your case with the help of a Santa Barbara or Ventura criminal defense attorney.
This Is Essentially a Mini Trial
A preliminary hearing is essentially a small-scale trial where the prosecution will present evidence against you. They may even call several witnesses to testify. This is your attorney’s first chance to cast doubt on the case against you. Your attorney has the ability to cross-examine witnesses and show the judge that the evidence does not support the charges.
In reality, it is difficult to get charges dropped after a preliminary hearing. The standard at a preliminary hearing is much lower than at trial. Here, the judge must find that there is probable cause to support the charges as opposed to the trial standard of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Why the Preliminary Hearing Is Important
Nonetheless, the preliminary hearing is still a milestone for your case for several reasons:
- It is your first chance to see what the prosecutor’s case against you may look like and the strength of their possible evidence.
- Your lawyer has the first opportunity to show the strength of your defense, and a strong showing could force the prosecutor to negotiate if you choose not to fight the charges.
- Through cross-examination, your attorney can lock witnesses into statements that they cannot credibly change at trial.
If aggressively fighting the charges is your course of action, the preliminary hearing is the first chance that you have to go on offense against the prosecutor. Of course, defendants can waive their right to a preliminary hearing, but it rarely makes sense to do so.
Remember that “losing” at a preliminary hearing does not by any stretch mean that you will lose your case. Most times, you can expect the judge to go ahead with scheduling the trial. However, you gain a wealth of information about:
- The prosecutor’s evidence
- Their theory of the case
- The credibility of their witness
- The strength of their case
This will guide many of your decisions going forward. Often, the defendant and their lawyer will have an extended conversation after the preliminary hearings about the next steps and the strategy of their case.
A Ventura and Santa Barbara Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help You
When you are facing criminal charges, you need an aggressive yet realistic defense attorney to help you chart your legal path forward. Call the Santa Barbara and Ventura criminal defense attorneys at Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC at (805) 643-5555 or contact us online as early as possible in your case. Hiring a defense attorney immediately could keep law enforcement from violating your rights.