Defending a PC 187 Murder Case at the Preliminary Hearing
Preliminary hearings, from the prosecutor’s standpoint, aren’t very important. But from the defense standpoint, they’re very, very important, especially when it comes to a murder case under California Penal Code 187.
The prosecutors at the preliminary hearing basically have to put on a prima facia case that the person is guilty of murder. Meaning, they have to at least put some evidence on for all the elements on a murder case (CALCRIM520) in order for the judge to hold the defendant to answer — send the case to the trial court.
In doing so, they can put on minimal evidence or they can put on a lot of evidence. It’s up to them.
First Opportunity for Defense to Challenge the Evidence
The bottom line is this, from a defense standpoint, this is an opportunity to challenge the evidence. To lock witnesses into place and to really start to develop your theory of the case at the preliminary hearing.
Because anything that a witness testifies to at a preliminary hearing will be documented in the preliminary hearing transcript and of course, is under penalty of perjury.
So, if in a future trial, that person tries to change their testimony on a particular issue in a case, the preliminary hearing transcript in the murder case could be used to impeach them or attack their credibility and attack their testimony.
I do it all the time when somebody says something different than what they said at the preliminary hearing. You then ask them, didn’t you testify in this matter at a preliminary hearing? Weren’t you under oath at the time just like you are now?
Then you confront them with the statement that they made and you match that up against what they just told the jury on the witness stand under penalty of perjury. Now, you have the makings of attacking the prosecution’s case, especially if the witness that is testifying is an important witness who is providing important testimony.
Negotiation with Prosecutor to Resolve Murder Case
Another important angle of the preliminary hearing is to try to resolve cases. Sometimes if you can show some weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, or if you could show that their theory of what happened and how it happened is not completely accurate, sometimes they will take a second look at their case and maybe make a better offer to settle it.
A lot of times, nowadays in murder cases in Los Angeles, prosecutors won’t even make offers on the case to settle it until after the preliminary hearing.
So, if you’re going to have to do the preliminary hearing anyways, then obviously, you want to make sure that you do a good job.
This means being thorough, get all the details out there and if there’s anything about the testimony and the witnesses that can help your client, you want to make sure that you emphasize that, highlight that.
Showing Contradictory Evidence at Preliminary Hearing
A lot of times I will do that when I do the preliminary hearing and then there’s a transcript that’s created, and when I go to meet with the supervisors if I’m trying to resolve the case.
I’m able to show the supervisors the contradictory evidence through the preliminary hearing because you’ll have the police report and you’ll also have the testimony from the preliminary hearing.
When you’re able to show both of those and there are key contradictions that relate to materially important evidence, now you’re in a position to make some very strong arguments on your client’s behalf.
So, the bottom line is, preliminary hearings in Los Angeles county as it relates to murder cases, are crucial from my prospective having defended hundreds of murder cases over the last 26 years.
I’ve worked for the prosecutor’s office. I’ve worked for a Superior Court Judge, and since 1994, I have been a criminal defense attorney defending people charged with murder and had a lot of success using the preliminary hearing as a vehicle to get what we want or to damage the prosecution’s case at a potential trial.
Hedding Law Firm is a criminal defense law firm located in Los Angeles County at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436. Contact our office a free case evaluation at (213) 374-3952.
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