What Happens at the Preliminary Hearing?
If the defendant’s case was not dismissed at the preliminary hearing the case then moves to a trial court where the defendant is once again arraigned. However, this time a trial date is set. Generally speaking, the trial is set to occur within 60 days from the date of this new arraignment. Felony cases frequently require more time so the defense can conduct a complete independent investigation, interview witnesses, consult with expert witnesses, and prepare to challenge the evidence by the District Attorney.
The defense attorney may also make various motions in order to get the case dismissed on legal grounds, such as a motion to get evidence thrown out of court because the police acted improperly when seizing this evidence, or a motion to dismiss because the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing was not strong enough to warrant a trial. The defense might also make motions to force the District Attorney or the police to disclose evidence which could prove that the client is not guilty of the charge.
If the judge decides there is no probable cause, then you win. If the judge decides there is probable cause to believe you committed one of the charged crimes, then the judge will “hold you to answer” to the charges at trial, then a date will be set for your arraignment for trial.
While the case is ongoing, the defendant may decide he or she does not want to go to trial but wants to settle the matter. A District Attorney might offer the defendant a case settlement referred to as a “plea bargain,” to plead guilty to a less serious charge or agree to ask for reduced incarceration time at sentencing.
Settlement may occur at any time, from the first court appearance at the initial arraignment up to and even during the trial. Case settlement usually involves the defendant pleading “guilty” or “no contest” for an agreed sentence to an agreed-upon charge.
If the case does not settle, an adult criminal defendant has the right to a trial by jury. A trial is where 12 jurors listen to all the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense and decide whether the prosecution has proven the defendant’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge’s job at a jury trial is to make sure both the prosecution and the defense adhere to all the rules of evidence when presenting their case to a jury.
All 12 jurors must agree in order to either convict or acquit a defendant. If the jury cannot agree, a “mistrial” will be declared by the court and the case may either be tried again before a different jury, dismissed or a case settlement may be agreed by the prosecution and the defense.
If a defendant is found guilty, the judge will then impose a sentence. The possible range of sentence, which is set by various laws, may range from no jail and probation to imprisonment in the state prison.
Defendants who have been convicted after a trial have the right to appeal their conviction. This process is started by the trial attorney who, upon request of the client, will file a notice of appeal in the trial court within 60 days of the imposition of the sentence. A lawyer who specializes in appeals will then be appointed by the Court of Appeal to represent the defendant on appeal.