The journey through the criminal justice system for someone who has been arrested or cited for a crime can often be a long and arduous one. There are multiple different court proceedings that will occur before you ever get to an actual trial. While you might be familiar with the concept of some of these events, like a bail hearing, there are others that you may have less of an understanding of. One such lesser-known event, partially because it is only held in class A misdemeanor and felony cases and is optional even there, is the preliminary hearing. However, this hearing can have major ramifications on your case and can even end with the charges against you being dismissed in some instances.
At Overson & Bugden, our knowledgeable Utah preliminary hearing attorneys have years of experience working with clients throughout the state to assess whether a preliminary hearing might be helpful in their case and, if we believe it is, to craft the best argument to convince the judge that probable cause does not exist to proceed with the charges. If the hearing is unsuccessful, we can nonetheless use what we learned to work out a better deal with the prosecutor or have a leg up at trial Call our firm today at (801) 758-2287 for a free consultation.
Deciding Whether Or Not to Waive a Utah Preliminary Hearing
As noted above, the preliminary hearing is only an option in cases involving charges that are classified as felonies or class A misdemeanors. For lower misdemeanors or infractions, this hearing will never occur. Even if you are charged with a felony or a class A misdemeanor, however, you will have the right to waive this hearing. Almost always, the prosecutor will ask you to exercise this right and waive the hearing. They might refer to it as an unnecessary formality that is rarely successful for the defense.
However, in many cases the preliminary hearing can be quite fruitful. Even if we are not able to get the charges dismissed at this early stage, it can give us a sense of how strong the evidence is and how good the witnesses are on the stand. You should never waive your right to a preliminary hearing without first consulting an experienced Utah criminal defense lawyer like those at Overson & Bugden, who can advise you whether the hearing might be beneficial to your case for a number of reasons. In cases where we already have a clear deal for something like pre-trial diversion worked out with the prosecutor or have an expectation of one being worked out shortly, we may advise you to waive this hearing as to not antagonize the prosecutor and make them change their minds about offering you a deal.
How a Utah Preliminary Hearing Works
The preliminary hearing will occur after your bail hearing and initial appearance, but before a formal arraignment in felony cases. In a sense, the hearing functions as a sort of mini-trial where the prosecution will be required to show, through their evidence, arguments, and the testimony of any witnesses, that there is probable cause to support allowing the charges to moved forward. This is a much lower standard than required at an actual trial, where all charges must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In a sense, this hearing serves as a way to ferret out the most meritless cases where the judge believes the evidence could never justify a guilty verdict and it would be a miscarriage of justice, as well as a waste of state resources, to allow the prosecution to continue.
Once the prosecutor presents their case, your lawyer will be able to rebut their evidence, cross-examine any witnesses that they put on the stand, and introduce any evidence of your own that they believe may be persuasive to the judge. Usually the arresting officer will be there, and we can question them on the stand. As mentioned above, this can serve as an important test of their ability on the stand and the strength of their story, and if they testify poorly, even if the charges are ultimately not dismissed at the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor may be far more willing to make a good deal. If the judge does find that no probable cause exists, then the charges will be dismissed and the matter will end there.
What Comes Next If the Charges Are Not Dismissed at a Utah Preliminary Hearing
If the judge does not dismiss the charges, in felony cases you will be arraigned and asked to enter you initial plea. Then, our skilled criminal defense lawyers at Overson & Bugden will get to work trying to negotiate a deal with the prosecutor to get your charges downgraded or dismissed, using what we learned at the preliminary hearing in the bargaining process. For some more minor charges and those without a criminal record, we may be able to negotiate a deal for you to enter into a pre-trial diversion program which, if successfully completed, will result in the charges against you being dropped. In other cases, we can try to get the prosecutor to downgrade the charge, like from a felony to a misdemeanor, in exchange for you pleading guilty, or we can get the prosecutor to agree to recommend a lenient punishment to the judge, such as no jail time.
Of course, if you are not satisfied with the deals offered or simply wish to prove your innocence at trial, our skilled trial lawyers at Overson & Bugden are always ready to fight for you in the courtroom. We will work every angle to craft the best possible defense to result in a not guilty verdict for you.
Contact Our Experienced Utah Preliminary Hearing Attorneys Today
The preliminary hearing can serve as a very important event in felony and class A misdemeanor cases. Even if we cannot convince the judge that no probable cause exists to charge you with the crimes, we will get a preview of the way the prosecution plans to put on their case at trial and how strong their evidence and witnesses are. You should always contact a seasoned Utah preliminary hearing attorney like those at Overson & Bugden before choosing to waive this hearing. For a free consultation, call us today at (801) 758-2287.