Saturday, March 15, 2014.
The court scheduled a preliminary hearing for Craig Michael Wood on Wednesday, April 2nd at 9 am.
Although a judge has already reviewed the lead detective’s affidavit summarizing the evidence against Mr. Wood at his initial appearance after his arrest and determined that probable cause (i.e., reasonable grounds) exists to believe that he committed the crimes charged in the complaint, Mr. Wood has a right to revisit the probable cause issue at a preliminary hearing.
A preliminary hearing is not a trial. The hearing will be before a judge without a jury and the rules of evidence will be relaxed.
The issue the judge must decide is the same. That is whether probable cause exists to believe Mr. Wood committed the crimes charged in the complaint. The difference is that the decision must be based on the evidence presented at the hearing by the prosecution, as opposed to the initial appearance when no witnesses testified and the judge based his decision on reviewing the affidavit for probable cause.
Since hearsay is admissible at a preliminary hearing, prosecutors generally call only a few witnesses. In most cases they only call the lead detective who wrote the affidavit for probable cause. He or she is placed under oath and answers the prosecutor’s questions.
The defense gets to cross examine the witness after the prosecution finishes the direct exam.
Defense counsel know they are unlikely to win a probable cause argument, so they use cross examination to discover potential vulnerabilities in the prosecution’s case and to lock the witness down on any facts that may be favorable to the client’s case.
Therefore, you will often hear the prosecutor object to the relevance of any question asked by defense counsel that is not probative of probable cause.
I have already written about a potential vulnerability in the prosecution’s case regarding the first entry into Mr. Wood’s house. He was not present and they apparently did not have a search warrant. They may have lacked probable cause to believe she was in the house and their safety sweep of the premises may have exceeded the limited scope of a safety check.
Questions regarding that subject matter would likely trigger a relevancy objection, since the sole issue before the judge will be whether probable cause supports the charges, not whether police unlawfully entered the house.
Do not be surprised, however, if the grand jury returns an indictment against Mr. Wood before the preliminary hearing. Should that happen, the grand jury would have already determined that probable cause supports the charges in the indictment and there would no longer be any need for a preliminary hearing.
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