In California, the defendant has a right to a probable cause hearing, otherwise known as a “preliminary hearing”. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to establish whether probable cause exists to believe that the defendant has committed a felony. A preliminary hearing, however, may not be used for the purpose of discovery, in accordance with Penal Code §866(b). Determining whether probable cause exists at a preliminary hearing can weed out groundless charges of grave offenses and relieve the accused of the degradation and expense of a criminal trial. It also can operate as a judicial check on the exercise of prosecutorial discretion and help ensure that the defendant is not charged excessively, which could confer a tactical advantage upon the prosecutor in respect to plea bargaining. In addition to acting as a check on prosecutorial overreaching, determining that probable cause exists ensures that a defendant is not detained for a crime that was not committed.
A preliminary hearing is conducted by a criminal court judge after a defendant has been arraigned and has pleaded not guilty to one or more felony charges filed in the criminal complaint. According to one prominent Torrance Criminal Lawyer, The California Constitution requires a preliminary hearing for a defendant charged in a complaint with one or more felonies. Cal Const art I, §14. A preliminary hearing must be held before a magistrate to ensure that there is enough evidence to hold the defendant to answer. See Penal Code §872(a). The California Constitution also provides, however, that a preliminary hearing cannot be held if a felony prosecution is initiated by a grand jury indictment.
At the preliminary hearing, the District Attorney must present enough credible evidence to convince the Court that probable cause exists to believe that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed the crime. Pen C §§866(b), 872(a). See §92.85. If the prosecution shows probable cause, the Judge holds the defendant to answer to the charge, and the prosecution must then file an information with the court within 15 calendar days. Pen C §§739, 1382(a)(1). If the Court finds insufficient evidence that probable cause exists, the Judge must dismiss the case.