Preliminary Hearing

What happens at the preliminary hearing in a criminal case in Utah?

The main purpose of the preliminary examination is “ferreting out of groundless and improvident prosecutions.” State v. Anderson, 612 P.2d 778, 783 (Utah 1980).

The preliminary hearing relieves "the accused from the substantial degradation and expense incident to a modern criminal trial when the charges against him are unwarranted or the evidence insufficient.” Id. at 784. 

The courts in Utah have historically viewed the preliminary hearing as serving secondarily as “a discovery device in which the defendant is not only informed of the nature of the State's case ... but is provided a means by which he can discover and preserve favorable evidence.” Id. 

This secondary purpose was eliminated through a constitutional amendment enacted in 1995 which declared that the function of the preliminary hearing “is limited to determining whether probable cause exists unless otherwise provided by statute.” Utah Const. art. I, § 12. Likewise, Utah Code Ann. § 78A–2–220(1)(f) provides that a magistrate has the authority to conduct a preliminary examination “to determine probable cause.”

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Attorney for the Preliminary Hearing in Salt Lake City, UT

The attorneys at Brown, Bradshaw & Moffat, LLP represent clients during preliminary hearings in Salt Lake City and throughout Utah. If you have criminal charges pending against you, then contact us to discuss your case. Find out more about the pending charges and important defenses that can help you right an unjust prosecution.

In some cases, you might be asked to knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive your right to a preliminary hearing. Before you decide to waive any of your rights, it is important to talk to a qualified attorney about your case before deciding on a strategy.

Call (801) 532-5297 today.

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Purpose of the Preliminary Hearing in Utah

At a preliminary hearing, “the prosecution has the burden of producing believable evidence of all the elements of the crime charged, but this evidence does not need to be capable of supporting a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” State v. Virgin, 2006.

The determination of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt rests with the fact-finder at trial. “Therefore, ‘an error at the preliminary stage is cured if the defendant is later convicted beyond a reasonable doubt.’ ” Thomas v. State, 63 P.3d 672 (quoting State v. Quas, 837 P.2d 565, 566 (Utah Ct.App.1992)). 

For this reason, a subsequent conviction in court using the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard cures any bindover defect, even when the error consists of a complete deprivation of a preliminary hearing. Nevertheless, the preliminary hearing might be an extremely important part of your case.

This article was last updated on Friday, March 9, 2018.