I have been charged with child endangerment and I am innocent. I have a ph coming up but I want to see if I can be proven innocent just by character references or what am I able to present at a preliminary hearing to prove my innocents? what does the court look at in trial?
Your question illustrates why you absolutely need an attorney. If you do not have one, do not delay – get one immediately. On any felony case, you are risking substantial incarceration.
Just for your knowledge, a preliminary hearing is also known as a "probable cause" hearing. The judge determines whether or not the district attorney has sufficient evidence where you should be ordered to stand trial.
Yes, you do have certain rights at preliminary hearing to present a defense, but character references is not going to do it. The judges determining whether or not there is enough evidence for you to go forward. If you have an affirmative defense (alibi, self-defense or a few others), you may put that on preliminary hearing, but because the burden of proof is so low, why give the prosecution a free shot at your witnesses and your defense?
The prosecution must prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. That is the highest burden of proof in any aspect of the law.
I cannot stress this enough. Get an attorney.
The above answer is for general information only and is based on the information you posted. Every case is fact dependent, so to get a thorough analysis of your situation, you will need to consult face to face with an attorney licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where the incident took place. Do not conclusively rely on any information posted online when deciding what to do about your case.
Mr. Dane's answer says it all. I would only add that defendants do not "win" at the PH stage. All the rules of evidence for a PH give the advantage to the prosecution. I consider it a win if after the PH I can get the charges reduced. Besides that if you do win the DA can re-file. You're in over your head. Lawyer up.
A preliminary hearing is a constitutional requirement when you are charged with a felony and are charged by information instead of indictment. The vast majority of crimes in California are charged by information. This means that the prosecution simply types up a list of charges in a document called a complaint. You cannot be tried until the complaint has been turned into an information. To do so, the prosecution must prove to a magistrate judge that there is a preponderance of evidence to justify taking you to trial. This is what the preliminary hearing is for. If the magistrate judge determines that there is sufficient evidence than you are "held to answer" the charges in a trial. If he determines there is not enough evidence, he will dismiss the case.
You do not have to be proven innocent either at the preliminary hearing or at trial. Criminal defendants have constitutional right to a presumption of innocence. The burden at trial is entirely on the prosecution to prove each and every element of each and every charge beyond a reasonable doubt. You are never under any obligation to prove your innocence.
That having been said, in reality, people are convicted on far less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt every day. You need a criminal defense attorney to advise you and fight for your rights. Character references aren't likely to be enough to counter strong evidence against you. But, they might be valuable if the prosecution has only a borderline case. Only an attorney can tell you whether such evidence will be valuable or not. Hire one right away. Do not speak to anyone about your case or post any details about it anywhere without your attorney present or having received his advice.
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All my colleagues have answered your question. A preliminary hearing is a probable cause hearing. Even though the standard of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt, a preliminary hearing is a probable cause standard - is there sufficient evidence presented by the prosecution to show to the judge that you committed the charge of child endangerment. Most of the time, the judge will find sufficient probable cause and certify your case and an Information (which takes the place of the complaint) is filed. You can present evidence in your defense at the preliminary hearing, but most defense attorneys will advise otherwise. Your solution is to make sure you have a qualified and experienced defense attorney that can advise you and make sure that your rights are protected.
All the other attorneys are absolutely correct, lawyer up asap and allow the attorney to handle strategy in your case. To be blunt, you have no chance of winning a preliminary hearing on the basis of character witnesses. Although you can legally present a defense at preliminary hearing, this rarely occurs. Usually all that occurs is your attorney will cross examine the government's witness. Often the only witnesses for the government are police officers who under the law are allowed to testify to hearsay so that the actual or "live" witnesses to the criminality may not testify. Other times the government purposely subpoenas and wants the live witnesses to testify because they want to see how well and credible a witness will come across if the matter proceeded to trial. As the other attorneys have said, the standard of proof for holding a defendant to answer is quite low at a preliminary hearing and judges will look to find any way to find for the government even on relatively weak evidence. That said, preliminary hearings can be quite fruitful for the defense. Your attorney may well uncover information that wasn't apparent in reading the police report and the attorney can create a record in the form of a transcript through testimony that can be used at trial. So the preliminary hearing can be quite important depending on the case but I would certainly not view this as the occasion to prove your innocence, especially through the introduction of character witnesses. Again, rely on your attorney do develop a coherent strategy to prove your innocence. If your don't have an attorney, hire one asap. If your attorney is the public defender and you haven't had a long conversation about strategy yet, you should do that asap or hire a private attorney who can give you more individual attention.
You can't be proven innocent. There is no such finding available, you are held to answer or the case is dismissed. The DA has a relatively low proof standard at a preliminary hearing. The standard is probable cause to believe a crime occurred( (far less than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard used at trial). The rules if evidence are very different than those at trial, and hearsay can be admissible under certain specific circumstances.
To be found Innocent required a Finding of Factual Innocence motion.
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My colleagues have done a fantastic job of clarifying the Preliminary Hearing.
I would only add that it is essential to maintain reasonable expectations. Many clients believe so deeply in their innocence that they often blind themselves and do not understand why they are being held to answer after a Preliminary Hearing.
As has been said already, character evidence is not going to be of much help in a PH. The Judge only needs to see that there is probable cause to let a jury decide whether you are guilty.
Let there be no doubt: YOU NEED A LAWYER to represent you at the Preliminary Hearing and throughout your case.
A preliminary hearing is a hearing where both sides, the defense and the prosecution, appear before a Judge who decides whether or not there is probable cause to hold you to answer for your crimes at trial. Normally at a preliminary hearing, the prosecution is really the only side to call witnesses. I doubt the judge will allow character witnesses, as the issues are narrowed to whether or not there is probable cause to hold you to stand trial for the crime in question. Instead of the standard, "beyond a reasonable doubt," it is a much lower standard used by the Judge to determine whether or not you will be held to answer for your alleged crimes. There is the possibility that the prosecution cannot show probable cause however, and the defense does have a chance to cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses. If there a finding of no probable cause to hold you to answer, then there will be no trial and the case will be dismissed. However, if you are found held to answer at trial, you can always file a motion to reconsider the preliminary hearing findings under Penal Code section 995, before the trial date.
At trial, you will likely be able to introduce character evidence. But be careful, because the prosecution cannot introduce character evidence unless you try and prove good character first. So any dirt they may find on you can be introduced at trial against you once you "open the door" and allow the prosecution to attack your character.
I would recommend you consult with a seasoned criminal defense attorney however, to walk you through this process.
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A preliminary hearing is a mini trial where the DA usually puts on just enough evidence to get you held to answer. The standard of proof is really low: Would a reasonable person entertain a strong suspicion in the guilt of the accused. Really? Just a suspicion? YES. It's a very low standard. The standard is so low that defendants lose unless either there is almost no evidence or the evidence doesn't show an actual crime. Because the standard is so low, my strategy, in general, is to not subject any defense witness to a preliminary hearing. I do that, because everyone's story changes a little between preliminary hearing and trial even if you are telling the truth. A decent DA will exploit those small changes. Additionally, putting on defense witnesses clues the DA into what the defense is going to be. You don't want the DA taking months to think about your defense. So, because you are going to lose anyway because of the low standard, it's usually stupid to put on defense witnesses. Of course, that is a general rule, which can be broken under the right circumstances.
Character references are not used as much as people think, even at trial. Moreover, the law makes their use very limited. A character witness can say you have a reputation for telling the truth, but won't be allowed to say that the crime is out of the defendant's character. I don't think I've ever seen character references used at a preliminary hearing. Most preliminary hearings are short hearings lasting about 30 or 45 minutes. In California, DAs usually only put cops on the stand, who, at the prelim, can talk about what witnesses said to the cop. That's hearsay, but there is an exception to the hearsay rule. Moreover, this means that the actual prosecution witnesses aren't subjected to cross examination at prelim. Only the cops are and they might not be the ones who testify at trial. So the DAs get to save their civilian witnesses until trial.
Although I have about a decade of experience, I don't think I've ever heard of character witnesses being used at a prelim. However, defense witnesses can be brought, but they are usually limited to impeachment or a defense (such as entrapment or that the thing didn't happen or that the defendant wasn't the one who did it). A judge may very well not let character evidence come in. You could have a person who witnessed the evidence and can say you didn't do it come in and testify at the prelim. But that's a risk. You may want to save that witness for the jury trial when the standard of proof isn't a "suspicion" but is beyond a reasonable doubt.
Of course, these are all questions for your attorney. You don't get to choose the witnesses. Your attorney does. And he may decide not to use those witnesses for trail for tactical or strategic witnesses.
The last time I used defense witnesses at a prelim was in like 2009 or 2010. And I regret it to this day. The witnesses said all the right things. They were good upper middle class folks, too. They came off well. At the end of the prelim, the DA said "someone is fibbing" and he didn't know who. But, because the standard is so low, he held the defendant to answer. However, one of my witnesses did say something I didn't want him to say. Had we gone to trial, that would have been a real problem. Had I saved them all for trial, even if he said what he said then, it wouldn't have been a problem. Since then, I haven't had a case where it was worth it to put on defense witnesses. I'm not saying there never will be. But that's very, very rare.
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