What Happens During a Preliminary Hearing?

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If you are arrested for a felony offense in California, you must attend a preliminary hearing.

Also called a probable cause hearing, the preliminary hearing gives the judge in your case an opportunity to determine whether enough evidence exists to support proceeding with the case.

At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution must demonstrate that enough evidence exists to potentially convince a jury that you are guilty of the crime or crimes with which you’ve been accused.

The Process

At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution calls witnesses and introduces evidence. The suspect’s criminal defense attorney then has the opportunity to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses.

Depending on the circumstances, preliminary hearings can last anywhere from a few minutes to several days.

Following the presentation of evidence and cross-examination by the criminal defense attorney, the judge may:

  • Decide that there is enough evidence to move forward with charges,
  • Dismiss the case, or
  • Reduce the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Is it necessary to have an attorney at my preliminary hearing?

Regardless of the type of crime, you have been arrested for, legal representation is always advisable, especially at a preliminary hearing. Experienced San Diego criminal defense attorneys understand the criminal law process, and they know what it takes to achieve successful results at preliminary hearings.

How can an attorney help me during my preliminary hearing?

An experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney can assist you in a number of ways at your preliminary hearing. In addition to guiding you through the process, your attorney may cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses during your preliminary hearing.

In addition, your criminal defense attorney may later use the transcript prepared during the hearing to your advantage if your case proceeds to trial.

One manner in which such a transcript may be used at trial is to point out inconsistencies between what a witness said during a preliminary hearing and what he or she said at trial.

This is known as impeachment, and it decreases your odds of conviction by calling a witness’s credibility into question.

An experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney will also help you determine whether it’s advisable to present your own evidence during the preliminary hearing.

San Diego Criminal Defense Attorneys

Due to the potential consequences involved, it is important that anyone charged with a crime in San Diego, California, seek the guidance of an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney.

At the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC., our experienced San Diego criminal defense attorneys provide all of our clients with expert legal guidance in order to achieve the most favorable results possible in both misdemeanor and felony cases. The talent and experience of our San Diego, California, attorneys ensure that our clients’ misdemeanor and felony cases are handled expertly and with the utmost care. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges in California, please contact us immediately for a free consultation.

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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