Michael Jace, an actor best known for his portrayal of a Los Angeles police officer on the TV crime drama "The Shield," has waived his right to a preliminary hearing in a case where he may stand trial for murder after his wife's May 2014 shooting.
In felony cases such as this, preliminary hearings are held to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the defendant to stand trial. After Jace waived his right to a hearing on Friday, a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge found that there was sufficient evidence for him to stand trial.
Jace has been charged with murder in relation to his wife's death. He has been accused of shooting his wife, April, at about 8:30pm on May 19 in their shared Hyde Park-area home. The actor called 911 shortly after the incident, and when emergency personnel arrived at the scene, they found his wife's body in a hallway inside the home, with multiple gunshot wounds. The couple's two children were reportedly at home at the time of the shooting, though it is unclear as to whether they witnessed what occurred.
Jace was arrested early the next morning by Los Angeles police. He is currently being held in jail in lieu of $2 million bail, and his arraignment is scheduled for August 15.
Jace entered a not guilty plea in mid-July, and one of his defense attorneys has said that they will present their defense at trial.
About Preliminary Hearings in California
Preliminary hearings, also referred to as probable cause hearings, are held for the court to determine whether there is enough evidence to justify felony charges being filed against a defendant. This is part of the pretrial court process and involves the prosecuting attorney presenting witnesses and evidence with the defense being given the opportunity to cross-examine. Such a hearing may last anywhere from just 30 minutes to several hours, depending on the amount of evidence and number of witnesses.
In reviewing and analyzing evidence and the examination and cross-examination of witnesses, the judge at a preliminary hearing will determine two key issues:
- Is there probable cause to show that a crime was committed?
- Is there probable cause to support the theory that the defendant committed said crime?
The burden of proof in preliminary hearings is far less than in criminal trials. In a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. In a preliminary hearing, the burden of proof is based on probable cause, which is described as "a state of facts as would lean a man of ordinary care and prudence to believe and conscientiously entertain an honest and strong suspicion that the person is guilty of a crime." (People v. Ingle, 53 Cal 2d 407, 412. 1960).
The fact that Jace waived his right to a preliminary hearing may mean that his attorneys have a plan they believe will be more effective at trial, where the burden of proof is far greater. Their exact strategy, however, may be known only to them. An attorney can offer guidance and representation at a preliminary hearing to help a defendant possibly avoid facing trial in the first place, depending on the evidence and witnesses presented by the prosecution and any credibility issues with witnesses or evidence that the defense attorney can bring up at the hearing. Perhaps Jace's attorneys saw a limited chance at success at the preliminary hearing but believe they have a fighting chance at trial.
To learn more about preliminary hearings and criminal trials in California, including your rights if you have been arrested or accused of a crime, call a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney at Lessem & Newstat. We are experienced, driven and ready to fight for our clients' rights to the fullest extent.