This coming Monday, January 7, a preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin in the James Holmes’ Aurora-Cinemark movie murders case. So, exactly what is a preliminary hearing?
A Preliminary Hearing Finds Probable Cause
A preliminary hearing (or prelim as it is referred to by criminal attorneys and courthouse employees) is traditionally defined as “a screening device” that is designed to find whether there is probable cause to order the accused defendant to stand trial.
So what exactly is probable cause? Simply, whether there was enough evidence introduced by the prosecution to cause the judge to entertain a reasonable belief that the defendant committed the crime charged. The prosecution does not have to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. The defendant has no right to present evidence or even to cross-examine witnesses extensively.
How Long Do Preliminary Hearings Last?
The average preliminary hearing lasts 10 minutes to an hour, even in a murder case. In contrast, the Holmes preliminary hearing is scheduled for a week. The average preliminary hearing (in a murder case) will involve 2-4 witnesses. The Holmes preliminary hearing will involve many more than that. The average preliminary hearing has a couple of spectators, if any at all. The Holmes preliminary hearing will have so many spectators and media members that the will be completely disrupted and other cases for countless other defendants rescheduled. On Thursday, Judge Sylvester ruled that the defense can call two witnesses on the issue of Mr. Holmes’ mental state. In most cases, a defense lawyer would not be allowed to call witnesses.
How This Case Differs from Other Cases
So why is this case (and the preliminary hearing) different from other cases? This case is so notorious, so bloody. It is fraught with blunders, tears, civil lawsuits and national media attention. The public wants to know about Holmes, his mental processes, his reasons for committing these crimes and how he committed these crimes. The families of the victims, and the surviving victims, have a right to know how he got the guns and got into the theater with guns, and why his doctor did not hospitalize him sooner before his mental state worsened.
Being a Defense Lawyer in a High-Profile Case
What is it like being the defense lawyer in a case like this? You only pay attention to one case. Other lawyers, both in your firm and outside your firm, pitch in to help you with your other cases. In the courtroom, you can ask the “extra” question because the judge wants to know everything that they can about the case. In other words, time limitations go out the window.
Cases like the Holmes case are just special in a court house. The regular rules do not apply. Judges accomodate the press and allow cameras in the courtroom more than they would in an “average” murder case.
Colorado criminal defense lawyer Shaun Kaufman has defended a number of high-profile murder cases, and he is now representing victims of the Aurora Cinemark shooting in their lawsuit against that theater.
He is proud to use his criminal courtroom experience to aid victims of assault, sexual assault and DUI drivers. If you want to discuss a criminal or civil case call 303-309-0430 today.
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