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What to expect during the preliminary hearing for Paul and Ruben Flores

paul flores.jpg
Posted at 12:40 PM, Jul 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 15:40:20-04

The preliminary hearing in the case against Paul and Ruben Flores is set to begin in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court next week.

Paul Flores is charged with murder in the 1996 disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart. His father, Ruben, is charged as an accessory after the fact.

The preliminary hearing is expected to be lengthy, lasting up to three weeks. Preliminary hearings typically last one to two hours.

"The stage is set for an extraordinary judicial proceeding,” said San Luis Obispo County criminal defense attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu. "I think all bets are off on the way preliminary hearings are usually conducted and this will be in effect a mini-trial, without a jury."

On Monday, evidence and witness testimonies in the 25-year-old Kristin Smart case will be presented in court for a highly-anticipated preliminary hearing.

A preliminary hearing allows the court to examine evidence and determine if there is enough evidence for a trial.

"It's a really easy step for [the prosecution] to get past. It's probable cause, which is the lowest standard of law, but they have to show a connection… that yes, a crime was committed and you were the one who did it,” said local criminal defense attorney Scott Taylor.

"It's really a protective device for the defendant to make sure that this district attorney doesn't abuse its executive branch powers to take any case willy-nilly to trial,” Funke-Bilu said.

He and Taylor are both familiar with how prelims work.

First, the prosecution puts on all their witnesses, then the defense gets to cross-examine and it may be the only chance they get.

"If you confront and cross-examine at the preliminary hearing and they are later unavailable at trial, well, you already had your shot, and sometimes that preliminary hearing transcript can get introduced at trial,” Taylor said.

Recently unsealed court documents revealed what investigators say was found during the March and April searches of Ruben Flores's Arroyo Grande home.

Both attorneys believe evidence such as soil samples could also be presented during the hearings.

“I suspect they are going to be putting on a lot of evidence, more than they typically do. Two, I suspect the defense will put on affirmative evidence. Typically the defense puts on no evidence,” Funke-Bilu said.

If the judge does not think there's enough probable cause for trial, “he has the power to discharge both defendants and the case gets terminated,” Funke-Bilu explained. "The DA can re-arrest both again."

Defendants typically will not take the stand during preliminary hearings.

If the judge in the Flores case feels there's enough probable cause to go to trial, attorneys say an arraignment date will be set in the weeks following the preliminary hearing and a possible trial date could happen well into 2022.