The criminal justice system involves many different components. There will be numerous court dates for different proceedings after you have been cited or arrested for a crime. One proceeding that is perhaps somewhat less know is called the preliminary hearing. Its lack of notoriety may be due to the fact that it is only a step in the process for felonies and class A misdemeanors, and even then, it is often waived by the defendant.
In some situations, however, a preliminary hearing can be a turning point in the case. The prosecutor must present enough evidence to convince the judge to hold you over for trial at a preliminary hearing. This can be an opportunity to glimpse the legal strategy of the prosecutor and adjust our plans accordingly. We can also begin arguing against the evidence presented by prosecutors and hopefully get your charges dismissed. If the evidence against you seems particularly strong, we may even start to think about possible plea deal negotiations.
If you are facing criminal charges, experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers like those at Overson Law, PLLC can help. Our team is able to aggressively cross-examine witnesses and make skillful arguments that no probable cause existed for your arrest. Schedule a free, private legal consultation with our Utah criminal defense attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC. Call our offices at (801) 758-2287 to set up a meeting with our legal team.
What is a Utah Preliminary Hearing?
There will be an optional proceeding known as the preliminary hearing in cases involving felonies or Class A misdemeanors, such as aggravated assault and robbery. This hearing will function sort of like a mini-trial, where the prosecution will have to put on their evidence and witnesses. Your attorney will be given a chance to present a rebuttal and cross-examining any witnesses. The judge will then decide if there is enough evidence to constitute probable cause for the case to proceed.
Keep in mind that the preliminary hearing outcome does not affect the final verdict on your trial. Just because a prosecutor presents strong evidence at your preliminary hearing does not mean they will be successful at your trial. In addition, at a preliminary hearing, prosecutors do not have to meet the extremely high burden of proof imposed in full trials. At a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor need not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, they only have to convince a judge that enough evidence exists to justify having a trial at all.
If you have been charged with an alleged crime, you may be faced with a preliminary hearing. Call our Utah criminal defense lawyers for help fighting your charges.
What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing in Utah?
At a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor is tasked with convincing the judge that your case warrants a trial. Think of a preliminary hearing as a hurdle for prosecutors. If their case is weak, they are unlikely to overcome this hurdle, and there might not be a trial. Preliminary hearings often prevent weak cases based on little to no evidence from reaching a courtroom. To overcome their burden at a preliminary hearing, prosecutors must show the judge that enough evidence exists to justify having a trial.
In a way, preliminary hearings function in much the same way that full trials do. Each side may present evidence and arguments, and they may also cross-examine the opponent’s evidence. However, the defendant’s guilt is not the main issue in a preliminary hearing. This hearing is designed to determine if enough evidence exists to support prosecuting the defendant at all.
Much like at a trial, the prosecutor will present evidence and witnesses. It is our job to cross-examine and undermine the prosecutor’s case. If we can demonstrate their evidence is too weak, the judge may deny the trial. Prosecutors will often present just enough evidence to convince a judge, but not necessarily all their evidence. This is often a strategic maneuver that gets the caser to a trial without letting the defense see the prosecution’s entire case strategy.
For help at your preliminary hearing, call our Riverton criminal defense lawyers right away.
Do I Get a Preliminary Hearing for Misdemeanor Charges in Utah?
Ordinarily, the only misdemeanors that get preliminary hearings are Class A misdemeanors, which are just a step below felonies. If you are charged with Class B or C misdemeanors, there will be no preliminary hearing, and you will proceed right to a trial. However, there may be circumstances in which Class B and C misdemeanors get preliminary hearings.
You might have a preliminary hearing involving minor misdemeanors if you are charged with a mix of offenses. For example, it is not uncommon for defendants charged with serious felonies to also be charged with multiple misdemeanors. On their own, misdemeanors would not usually get preliminary hearings. However, when they are connected to a felony, these misdemeanors will be examined at a preliminary hearing, and we will have a chance to fight them.
Do You Need an Attorney for a Utah Preliminary Hearing?
An attorney is not legally required at a preliminary hearing or any hearing for that matter, and you have the choice to represent yourself throughout the criminal justice process. However, proceeding without an attorney is not a wise decision. You should absolutely hire a lawyer as soon as possible, preferably right after being arrested. The legal process is long and complex, and you are unlikely equipped to successfully handle your case on your own.
As mentioned above, your lawyer can help you argue against the evidence represented by the prosecution. Legal arguments are not always based on the truth of the evidence presented. Instead, an attorney could argue that the evidence was illegally obtained, unreliable, or overly prejudicial. Attorneys have an arsenal of legal know-how and experience to draw upon to help you in a preliminary hearing. Call our Ogden criminal defense lawyers for help with your charges today.
How Can a Lawyer Help at a Preliminary Hearing in Utah?
You should always have counsel by the time of your preliminary hearing. Usually, the prosecutor will request your consent for the preliminary hearing to be waived. You should never consent to the waiver of this hearing without first consulting with an experienced Utah attorney for preliminary hearings like those at Overson Law, PLLC. While in some cases we may feel that the hearing will not be fruitful, in others where we feel the prosecution’s case is weak, it gives us a chance to show the judge that the prosecutor’s case does not pass even the most basic smell test.
Through our years of training and experience, our skilled criminal defense attorneys understand how to make the most persuasive legal arguments at the preliminary hearing that probable cause does not exist to charge you with this crime based on the law and the particulars of your case. If the judge agrees, the charges will be dropped, and you will not have to waste months to years of your life fighting these charges at trial.
However, if the judge believes there is probable cause to proceed, this does not mean you will be found guilty at trial, as the burden of proof will be higher, and a jury may feel very differently than a judge. Furthermore, we will at least have had a chance to look at the prosecutor’s evidence, see how they are framing the case, and see how their witnesses hold up to cross-examination, which is all valuable information if the case ends up going to trial.
For help handling your criminal charges, call our St. George criminal defense attorneys today.
How Can a Lawyer Help After a Utah Preliminary Hearing?
Since the burden of proof at the preliminary hearing is much lower than it is at trial, most of the time, the judge at this hearing will find probable cause to proceed. As noted above, however, this is far from the end of the defense our attorneys can wage on your behalf. If the judge finds probable cause, we will proceed to request any outstanding discovery from the prosecutor, file any motions, like a motion to suppress evidence obtained as the result of an illegal search and seizure and begin negotiations for a potential plea deal if that is something that you may be interested.
After your preliminary hearing, we will have a better idea of what kind of evidence the prosecutor has and how they intend to use it. “Discovery” is the legal process in which the prosecution shares evidence with the defense. Discovery is legally required, and prosecutors can get into serious trouble if they withhold any evidence during the discovery process. We can use what we learn from the preliminary hearing and discovery to begin filing motions to fight the evidence against you.
A motion to suppress evidence, mentioned above, is a common motion in criminal hearings. When police conduct criminal investigations, searches, and seizures, they must follow strict legal procedures. Primarily, evidence may not be seized without a warrant. Illegally seized evidence must be suppressed, no matter how strong it is. We can learn what evidence exists and how it was seized after requesting discovery. Call our Utah criminal defense lawyers for more information.
Plea Negotiations and Alternative Sentencing After a Preliminary Hearing in Utah
In some cases, depending on the severity of your charges and whether this is your first offense, we might be able to convince the prosecutor to let you into a pre-trial diversion program for first-time offenders or to enter a plea in abeyance. A pre-trial diversion program might involve you complying with conditions like mandatory drug and alcohol counseling, community service, or taking a defensive driving course for the charges to be dropped. A plea in abeyance is when you plead guilty on the condition that your plea will never be entered and your charges will be dropped if you stay out of further trouble for a certain period, usually up to a year. However, if you get charged with another crime, your plea will be entered, and you will be sentenced for the first crime.
Sometimes, the prosecutor is unwilling to allow a plea in abeyance no matter how hard we advocate. However, there are other potential deals that we can negotiate, such as a downgrade in your charge, like from murder to manslaughter, in exchange for you entering a guilty plea. The prosecutor may also offer to recommend a lenient sentence to the judge if you plead guilty and save the state the time and cost of trial. Of course, if you wish to take your case to trial, our Utah criminal defense attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC will leave no stone unturned fighting for a not guilty verdict in the courtroom.
Call Our Skilled Utah Attorneys for a Preliminary Hearing Today
The preliminary hearing can be a chance for you to start building your defense before your trial begins. Our experienced Park City criminal defense attorneys will know how to show that the prosecutor has not met their burden. For a free consultation with our Utah criminal defense lawyers, call Overson Law, PLLC today at (801) 758-2328.