Child Molestation in California: Part I: What happens once I'm arrested and the preliminary hearing
So now you've posted the appropriate bail and been given a piece of paper informing you of your first court date. This date is called an arraignment. On this date you will appear before a judge and will be read the charges. You will then be asked if you can afford an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed you. However, in some smaller counties you will be asked to fill out a financial form to determine if you qualify for the services of a public defender. If you do not, then you will not receive a public defender and must provide your own attorney. Prior to your arraignment date, it would be a good idea to contact several criminal defense attorneys and get some general information about your situation. Many attorneys offer a free or low cost consultation. Be sure to ask each attorney if they have ever handled a child molest case and if so, how many. The laws governing sexual assault, especially those involving child molestation. are extremely omplicated and confusing, especially the sentencing laws. Many attorneys who do not regularly handle sexual assault cases may not understand the nuances which are needed to effectively handle a sexual assault case. Don't be afraid to walk away if the attorney does not appear to understand the laws regarding childmolest.
- What happens before a preliminary hearing
Prior the preliminary hearing, your attorney will be gathering information on the complaining witness, such as school and family law records, CPS records, medical records and other important documentation. Your attorney may have you evaluated by a psychologist or psychiatrist to help prepare a STOLL report. If the child was questioned by a forensic examiner, your attorney may hire a child psychiatrist to review the interview to determine if the questioning was age appropriate and/or suggestive. A nurse consultant will be hired to review the records of any sexual assault examination that was conducted. A private investigator will be hired to interview witnesses, take crime scene photographs and review social media sites such as Facebook and MySpace to see if the complaining witness has posted information on these sites. A graphic artist may be hired to prepare charts and diagrams for use during trial. You will have many meetings with your attorney to discuss the investigation being conducted and to discuss any new information that may come up. All this information may become necessary as your attorney tries to negotiate with the DA in an attempt to get your case dismissed before trial
- The preliminary hearing
If your case cannot be settled, then the next step is the process is called the preliminary hearing. The DA has to provide sufficient evidence to a judge at an evidentiary hearing to convince the judge that something has happened. As opposed to trial, a judge only has to have a strong suspicion or reasonable suspicion that something has happened. In other words, if 51% of the evidence points towards guilt, the judge issues a holding order and sets the case for trial. Generally, Defendants do not put on any evidence at a preliminary heairng because the burden of proof is so low. If there is a conflict in the evidence or between witness statements, the judge will not determine who is telling the truth but will set the case for trial. Cases are rarely dismised at the preliminary hearing stage unless the DA cannot prove all the elements of the crime that has been charged. Once a holding order is issued, the complaint will be deemed an information, you will be arraigned on the information and dates for a settlement conference and trial will be set within the statutory 60 day time period unless the DA and your attorney agree otherwise, with your permission.