Preliminary Hearings In Colorado

Preliminary Hearings In Colorado

What is the significance of a Preliminary hearing?

A preliminary hearing is a legal procedure that gives a person accused of a crime an opportunity to challenge in front of a judge the charges – prosecution's evidence – against him or her.  This process helps ensure that only charges with merit proceed forward through the judicial process and protects an accused from having to go forward on baseless claims against him or her.

Why and when is a preliminary hearing held?

The purpose of a preliminary hearing is not to determine guilt or innocence.  The preliminary hearing is used to determine if there is sufficient probable cause (enough evidence) that an ordinarily prudent person would have adequate reason to believe the accused person committed the crime of which he or she is accused.

A preliminary hearing is not an automatic right of the accused.  The preliminary hearing must be requested withing 7 days of the accused being brought into court.  Both the prosecution and the defense are entitled to request a preliminary hearing.

Only persons charged with a class 1, 2, or 3 felony are entitled to demand and receive a preliminary hearing.  Persons charged with a class 4, 5, or 6, felony are only entitled to demand a and receive a preliminary hearing if, the felony charged is one that requires mandatory sentencing, is a statutory crime of violence, is a sexual offense, or the defendant remains in custody for the offense for which the preliminary hearing is requested.

Can a preliminary hearing be continued or waived?

Upon the request of a preliminary hearing, the court must set the hearing to be held within 35 days of the request.  The hearing can only be held outside the 35-day period if good cause can be shown to the court that the preliminary need be hearing continued.  

The accused can waive the right to a preliminary heating in the following ways: (1) failing to make a timely request for a preliminary hearing; (2) by expressly waiving the right to a preliminary hearing; and (3) by failing to appear at the preliminary hearing is deemed a voluntary waiver of the right to a preliminary hearing. 

What evidence is needed in a preliminary hearing?

The prosecution has the burden of proof at the preliminary hearing to establish probable cause that the person accused what the one who committed the crime of which he or she was accused.  At the hearing the prosecution must show that an ordinarily prudent person would have adequate reason to believe the accused person committed the crime of which he or she is accused.  Because a preliminary hearing in a screening process and not a determination of guilt or innocence, evidence sufficient to support a conviction is not necessary.  The defendant may cross-examine any witnesses and present his or her own evidence.  The judge presiding over the preliminary hearing may temper the rules of evidence in the exercise of sound judicial discretion.  The judge must also view the evidence and draw inferences in the light most favorable to the prosecution.

What are the possible outcomes of a preliminary hearing?

At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, the judge will make a determination as to whether or not probable cause exists for the charges.  If the judge determines there is probable cause on all the charges the case will move forward.  If the judge determines there is not probable cause on some or all the charges, the charges for which probable cause was not found will be dismissed.  In short, based on the probable cause determination of the judge the case will either, move forward, charges will be reduced or dismissed, or all charges will be dismissed.