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Name: Peterson v. California
Case #: 09-15633
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 05/17/2010

The use of hearsay evidence at a preliminary hearing does not violate a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation or his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. Peterson was charged with two felonies and several misdemeanors. At the Proposition 115 preliminary hearing, the prosecution called the investigating officer as the sole witness and he testified to the hearsay statements of other witnesses. The magistrate found probable cause to hold Peterson to answer for trial, but at a subsequent pre-trial hearing excluded certain evidence and the felony charges were dismissed. Peterson was later convicted by jury trial of the misdemeanor offenses. In this federal action, Peterson claimed that the hearsay at the preliminary hearing violated his constitutional rights of confrontation and due process. The claim failed. First, the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that the right to confrontation is a trial right. And, since there is no constitutional requirement for a preliminary hearing, there are no constitutionally required procedures governing the admissibility of hearsay evidence at a preliminary hearing. As to the due process claim, a preliminary hearing substitutes for a grand jury indictment. Since there is no due process right prohibiting the use of hearsay in a grand jury indictment, the substitute for the grand jury is not entitled to any greater constitutional protections.