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A preliminary hearing is like a mini-trial where prosecutors put witnesses and/or evidence against a felony defendant. Unlike a trial where the legal standard is beyond a reasonable doubt, in a preliminary hearing there is a lesser legal standard of probable cause for the charges.

This decision at a preliminary hearing is made by a judge, not a jury.

If the judge finds there is no probable cause to believe an offense has been committed, he or she must dismiss the criminal complaint and discharge the defendant.

But the prosecution can turn around and file charges again against the defendant for the same offense.

About 95 percent of the preliminary hearings that I have attended result in findings of probable cause to hold defendants for trial.

For more information on preliminary hearings courtesy of Cornell School of Law go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcrmp/rule_5-1

The Court Reporter
Raul Hernandez has spent years writing stories about the drama that unfolds in the courtroom. Here he answers common questions, share some insights on the judicial system and passes along some of the little things that make the Ventura County courts an interesting place to be. You can contact him at rhernandez@vcstar.com.