What happens in a felony case?

Someone who is accused of a felony has the right to a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is a hearing where the prosecutor must show “probable cause” that you committed the crime or crimes that you are being accused of. This is a much lower standard than the standard of proof at trial, which requires the prosecution to prove the charges “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The rules of evidence are also a little bit more relaxed at the preliminary hearing than they are at trial. For example, at the preliminary hearing, the police officers can testify about what other people told them (hearsay), which is not usually allowed at trial.

If the judge thinks that the prosecution met the hurdle of showing probable cause, then the judge will issue a “holding order” or “hold” you “to answer.” If the judge does not think that the prosecutor met the hurdle of showing probable cause, then the judge may throw out one or more of the charges.

Oftentimes, the defense does not “show its hand” at the preliminary hearing by introducing witnesses or evidence or having the defendant testify, but instead saves this evidence for trial. The defense may use the preliminary hearing as an opportunity to eliminate certain charges, poke holes in the prosecution’s case, or get a preview of the evidence. However, this is not always the case. An experienced criminal defense attorney like Mr. Rios can help you find the best strategy for your case at the preliminary hearing stage.

If the judge issues a “holding order” on one or more charges, then the next court date will be a second arraignment. At that arraignment, the prosecution will have filed a new charging document, called the “Information,” and you will again enter a plea, again usually “not guilty.” The judge may again ask if you “waive time.” If you do not waive time, then you are supposed to have a right to a speedy jury trial within 60 days of your second arraignment. Unfortunately, however, these deadlines are sometimes being extended due to a backlog of cases in the wake of COVID-19.

After that, the case will be set for a “felony plea date” where you and your lawyer will decide how to move forward with the case. Your lawyer may suggest filing pretrial motions like a motion to set aside the information, a speedy trial motion, a motion to suppress evidence, a Racial Justice Act motion, or a motion to try to admit or prevent certain evidence from being used at trial.

If the case cannot be resolved in a way that you feel comfortable with, then your lawyer may set the case for a jury trial. If that happens, Mr. Rios will be ready and willing to fight for you.