What Happens at a Preliminary Hearing for Domestic Violence in California?

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Domestic violence incidents often arise in emotional, high-stress scenarios when both parties say and do things they might regret in the future. Facing domestic violence charges is intimidating, as a conviction can severely limit your future job opportunities and cause irreparable damage to your reputation. 

Many people do not know what to expect when facing a domestic violence charge in California, but that is where our experienced criminal defense lawyers come into play. If you or a loved one are charged with domestic violence, you should act fast to talk to an attorney. Our team can review the details of your case and prepare you for what happens at a preliminary hearing.

What Is the Primary Purpose of a Preliminary Hearing?

At a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor must present sufficient evidence to continue its prosecution toward trial. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to weed out any criminal cases with insufficient evidence to proceed. The judge only needs to find probable cause to believe that the accused committed the alleged crime, so it is very difficult for a criminal defendant to prevail in a preliminary hearing.

Prosecutors will offer witness testimony and other evidence as supporting evidence for probable cause. Testimony from the arresting police officer is a common type of evidence presented in preliminary hearings to establish probable cause. However, they do not need to present all of their evidence to prevail in the preliminary hearing. 

Is a Preliminary Hearing the Same as the Arraignment?

No, a preliminary hearing is a separate proceeding from an arraignment. An arraignment is the first court proceeding a person attends after their arrest. At arraignment, the accused enters a plea of “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “no contest.” An arraignment proceeding should occur within forty-eight hours of an arrest, unless it is the weekend or a court holiday.

If the accused pleads not guilty, the court will determine whether to release the defendant on bail or on their own recognizance. 

In a domestic violence case, the court will usually impose a mandatory protective order that prevents the accused from contacting their alleged victim.

A preliminary hearing must occur within ten court days of the accused’s arraignment.

Valid Defenses at a Domestic Violence Preliminary Hearing

Even though the prosecutor faces a much lower burden in a preliminary hearing than trial, some legal defenses can negate probable cause and help the accused get their charges dismissed.

False Accusations

Domestic violence accusations are a guaranteed way to create serious problems for an accuser’s enemy. Proving that the accuser falsely accused you of domestic violence to get revenge can poke holes in the prosecution’s case. Possible motives for false allegations of domestic violence include:

  • Gaining the upper hand in a child custody battle,
  • Removing the accused from a shared residence, or
  • Hurting the reputation of someone who committed a perceived wrong.

Our team will locate inconsistencies in the accuser’s story and determine their motivation for making false accusations against you. 


In some cases, domestic violence allegations may arise in situations where you were legally defending yourself or someone else. California recognizes a person’s right to protect themselves and others from immediate physical harm or death. To prove self defense, we need to demonstrate that you reasonably feared for your life or someone else’s life, or the risk of bodily injury.

Insufficient Evidence

Another potential defense at a domestic violence preliminary hearing is simply the lack of probable cause to make the arrest. 

This defense strategy highlights the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, such as a lack of witnesses, nonexistent physical evidence, or a lack of proper investigation to identify you as the suspect. 

Can I Plead Guilty Before a Preliminary Hearing?

Yes, you can plead guilty before a preliminary hearing. In some cases, the prosecution may offer you a better plea agreement if you plead guilty before the preliminary hearing occurs. 

A criminal defense attorney will negotiate a favorable plea agreement with the prosecutor if you want to avoid the expense and uncertainty of going to trial. 

It is ultimately up to you whether you accept a plea agreement or proceed to trial. A criminal defense lawyer can explain the benefits and risks of each alternative.

What Questions Does a Judge Ask During a Preliminary Hearing? Contact The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, Today to Find Out

Emotions run high in domestic violence cases. You need an experienced, knowledgeable attorney to advise you on your next steps and prevent you from making a devastating mistake. 

If you or a loved one were accused of domestic violence, seek the advice of a domestic violence lawyer as soon as possible. 

A domestic violence attorney can help you by:

  • Conducting a comprehensive investigation into the allegations against you,
  • Representing you at your preliminary hearing,
  • Preparing potential witnesses to testify on your behalf, and
  • Negotiating with the prosecutor for a favorable plea agreement.

We know a one-size-fits-all defense strategy will not help our clients prevail in a preliminary hearing. Our attorneys investigate domestic violence accusations on a case-by-case basis and build client-specific strategies to secure positive results.

Contact our team at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, today to schedule an appointment with an attorney.

Where You Can Find Our San Diego Office

Frequently Asked Questions

Our team provided answers to some of the most common questions about domestic violence accusations below. 

Can I Contact My Accuser Before a Preliminary Hearing?

No, you should not contact your accuser before a preliminary hearing. You do not want to risk violating any automatic protection orders imposed as a result of the domestic violence accusations. 

Is Domestic Violence a Felony in California?

Domestic violence charges in California qualify as both misdemeanors and felonies. Domestic battery is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Corporal injury to a spouse or inhabitant is a wobbler, meaning the prosecutor decides whether to charge the accused with a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecutor will consider certain factors in their determination, such as:

  • The defendant’s criminal history,
  • The facts of the case, and
  • The severity of the victim’s injuries.

Our team can determine whether your domestic violence charge is a misdemeanor or felony. 

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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