The two officers who have been charged by the Orange County District Attorney’s office for the killing of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man, have completed their preliminary hearing after three days of testimony.
Most people don’t see preliminary hearings when it comes to criminal proceedings because the trial is usually the biggest attraction. The preliminary hearing (or sometimes referred to as “Prelim”) is a critical stage in the process leading up to the trial. This is the case for multiple reasons. But the most important is the issue of which charges will stay and which will go. A judge has the power at this stage to determine that there is not enough evidence to bring a particular charge to trial, and they may therefore dismiss the count.
Additionally, if the testimony at the preliminary hearing points in the direction that the charged offense is not the right one (based on the evidence), then again the judge can choose to modify the charge to what is more appropriate.
In the Kelly Thomas case, which was heard in front of Judge Schwarm, the hearing lasted a total of three days–which is not a typical length of time. Most felony hearings last anywhere between forty-five minutes to a 3 hours.