What happens during a probable cause hearing

On Behalf of | Oct 30, 2020 | Criminal Defense |

A probable cause hearing in California occurs after a defendant has been charged with a criminal offense. This commonly occurs within six weeks after the arrest. Though the sessions generally run short, it determines if the defendant committed a crime.

Reasons behind probable cause hearing

The law gives a defendant with a felony charge a right to a probable cause hearing. This commonly doesn’t apply to misdemeanors. Probable cause hearings determine if the case has enough evidence to support a trial, or prima facie. The prosecution must prove the defendant has more than likely committed an offense.

Probable cause hearing waiver

Defendants may waive a probable cause hearing, and it sometimes results in reduced charges. It doesn’t mean the defendant has entered a guilty plea, and the waiver cannot be used in trial.

It makes the case move faster to the arraignment phase. A guilty or not guilty verdict won’t be rendered in probable cause hearings, though it seems like a mini-trial.Factors needed to prove probable cause

A prima facie case begins with the prosecutor giving evidence of a crime commonly taken as factual. Some states allow the prosecution to use hearsay as proof, which they could not present in court. The arresting officer gets called to tell their story, and sometimes, witnesses may be summoned to the hearing.

The defense commonly challenges evidence and questions witnesses. They may argue the charges should be reduced because the prosecution has weak evidence.


The judge will decide whether to proceed to a trial once they hear both sides. A judge may dismiss a case that lacks enough evidence, but a prosecutor could ask for retrial upon finding more proof.

The judge states the charges asks the defendant if they understand them, then the judge issues sentencing. A case may be dismissed without sufficient probable cause, but retried at a later date if the prosecution finds more evidence.

Prosecutors can make mistakes as well as arresting officers. A criminal defense attorney may be able to help them prove innocence or reduce charges.