The Preliminary Hearing in A Utah Criminal Case

In the recent case State v. Maughan, 2013 UT 37, the Utah Supreme Court clarified the standard that applies to binding over a defendant for trial at a preliminary hearing.  A preliminary hearing is a “probable cause” hearing.  At that hearing the State has the burden to prove that there is enough evidence to support the court forcing the defendant to go to trial.

In Maughan the court set forth the following:  To bind a defendant over for trial, the prosecution is required only to produce believable evidence of all the elements of the crime charged.  See State v. Clark, 2001 UT 9.  In other words, the State must produce evidence sufficient to support a reasonable belief that the defendant committed the charged crime.  See Ramirez, 2012 UT 59. The judge must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the prosecution.  See Clark, 2001 UT 9. This is a lenient standard. An inference is reasonable unless it falls to a level of inconsistency or incredibility that no reasonable jury could accept it.  See Ramirez, 2012 UT 59.

The bindover standard does not call for an evaluation of the totality of the evidence in search of the most reasonable inference to be drawn therefrom. It instead asks only whether the evidence could support a reasonable jury’s decision to convict, through a lens that views all evidence in the light most favorable to the state.  See Clark, 2001 UT 9.

Further, the assessment of whether a reasonable inference exists does not encompass an assessment of whether such inference is more plausible than an alternative that cuts in favor of the defense‖ since that is a matter of fact finding, which is left for the jury at trial.

The Utah Supreme Court reaffirmed the extremely low burden that the State has to prove probable cause to bindover a defendant for trial.  If you have questions concerning the preliminary hearing in a Utah criminal case, call our Criminal Defense at 801.413.1753.

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