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What Happens After My Preliminary Hearing?

What Happens After My Preliminary Hearing?

Felonies get filed two ways in California State Courts. People can be indicted by a grand jury or far more often is the case that a complaint is filed by the District Attorney. After the complaint is filed, the client sees the judge and enters a not guilty plea. We have the right to a speedy preliminary hearing or probable cause determination before a judge. This occurs within 10 court days and not more than 60 calendar days of our arraignment unless we waive our rights to a speedy hearing.

Many felonies in California settle before the preliminary hearing. If we are unable to settle the case prior to the prelim, and we are “held to answer” or probably cause is found to exist and we are bound over to face felony charges in superior court, here is what happens:

First, the DA files an “indictment”. This means that the charges are filed again in a more formal manner. We get arraigned on the indictment two weeks after the prelim. We plead “not guilty” again and we normally set two dates, a date for a pretrial conference in about thirty days and a trial date in about sixty days.

In Los Angeles County, after the preliminary hearing, defendants will go before a different judge after the prelim. The new judge is a trial court judge and is often the presiding over the court where that person’s trial would ultimately take place. Before trial, there are several things that normally happen after the prelim. First, we get to see a different DA then we say in the old court. We discuss any outstanding legal issues with the case. Is there additional discovery we need? Are there any motions that need to be addressed? Can we settle the case in some way before we discuss the trial?
From my perspective, is there any additional investigation that needs to be done before we go forward? Do we have scientific evidence which needs to be evaluated? Are there any legal defenses or mitigation tactics which should be pursued?

Most all of these things should happen within the month after the Superior Court arraignment. In very serious cases or cases with a massive volume of discovery, these things may take a bit longer. For example, in a murder case, the police agency may not yet be done with the “murder book” by the time the first pre-trial comes around. In the case of a large fraud or conspiracy case, it might take me more than a month to get through the huge volume discovery that was turned over to the defense.

After we have our defense case ready, we have reviewed our discovery, talked to our client, and we have a defense theory of how to proceed, then we may want to talk to the prosecution about a trying to settle the case. Sometimes we have to go up the chain of command in order to get where we want to be. If we have mental health issues, maybe we have to submit a mental health package to the mental health unit. If we have mitigation, maybe it needs to go to a unit supervisor or even higher. If we want a strike stricken, we likely have to go to a department head at the DA’s office. These things do take time.

In the mean time, maybe we can talk to the judge about settling our case. Depending upon the charges, and the case, sometimes we can be very successful in settling cases directly with the judge. Normally, settling a case with the judge means that the client has to plead guilty or no contest to all the charges. But, if there is no mandatory minimum sentence or the minimum is acceptable to the client, we may be able to take the case out of the DA’s hands.

In some cases, there will be no settlement. This may be where the client is unwilling to accept a plea to anything. This may be a case such as a third strike where sentencing is mandatory and the mandatory sentence is life. In these cases, it may become necessary or even advisable to get ready for trial. Although most criminal cases are settled prior to trial, some are not.
Many years ago, the great Charlie Unger said, “Good things happen when we answer ready for trial”. I learned that on my first trial. I do believe it’s still true today. It may not be true in every case, but it is true in many. This is to say that many cases can and should be settled prior to trial. However, if we can’t settle a case, we cannot be afraid to go forward and try the case we have to. When the prosecution is not ready, good things can happen. When witnesses don’t want to prosecute, good things can happen. When cops get disciplined, injured, prosecuted or simply retire or relocate, good things can happen.

If you or someone you care about is facing felony charges, call a lawyer that is not afraid of going past the preliminary hearing. Call a lawyer who isn’t afraid of trial. If your lawyer is too quick to talk to you about settling the case at the early disposition conference, you may not have the right lawyer. If you want a lawyer who is in it with you for the long term, call me:

Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or (805) 230-3651

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I look forward to helping you.