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.”
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.”
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.” 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.”
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 fight 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 and a strategy for your defense.
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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.
A preliminary hearing essentially has one of two possible outcomes. If a judge finds that a prosecutor has not proven that probable cause exists to believe an alleged offender has committed a criminal offense, the case is over, and the criminal charges are dismissed.
When a judge finds that there is probable cause to believe that an alleged offender committed a crime, then the case will move towards trial in the appropriate court. A prosecutor often needs to support his or her case by providing the court with evidence against the alleged offender, and a criminal defense attorney will be able to review this evidence and determine how it was obtained.
The preliminary hearing has been called “the trial before the trial” because cases can very well be won, lost, or otherwise decided at this point in the criminal justice process. A Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer can work to make sure that all possible weaknesses in a prosecutor’s case are identified as soon as possible during a preliminary hearing.
District Attorney | Salt Lake County — The District Attorney's Office is responsible for the prosecution of all felony criminal matters in Salt Lake County. Visit this website to learn more about the many prosecution teams included in the Office’s Criminal Division. You can also look up cases and view archived press releases.
Utah Courts on the Rules of Criminal Procedure — View the full text of all state laws relating to criminal procedure in Utah. Arraignment is covered under Rule 10, but subsequent rules address pleas, motions, and subpoenas. You can also find information about discovery, the trial, and jury selection.
Are you or your loved one preparing for a preliminary hearing in Utah? Make sure that you do not appear in court without first contacting Brown, Bradshaw & Moffat, LLP.
Our Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys represent individuals in communities all over Utah County, Wasatch County, Davis County, Morgan County, Summit County, and Tooele County. You can have our lawyers provide a complete evaluation of your case when you call (801) 532-5297 or submit an online contact form to set up a free, confidential consultation.
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