Criminal Defense in Orange County

O.C. Judge Finds Sufficient Evidence to Try Bustamante on 5 Felonies

A Superior Court Judge dismissed eight sex-related felonies against former Orange County executive Carlos Bustamante, but found sufficient evidence to try him on five remaining felony charges as well as four misdemeanors. Bustamante is facing accusations from a number his former female employees who say he groped them and exposed himself to them over an eight-year period.

Bustamante's defense attorney argued during the weeklong preliminary hearing that 13 felony charges was excessive, and that prosecutors were wrongfully accusing Bustamante of persistent impropriety rather than isolated instances.

Standard of Proof for Preliminary Hearings

There is a much lower standard of proof for preliminary hearings than for the actual criminal hearing. Preliminary hearings, or "prelims," take place only in cases in which a defendant pleads "not guilty" at his or her arraignment.

With prelims, the only thing the prosecutor is responsible for doing is supplying enough evidence to the judge to convince them that there is sufficient probable cause to take the defendant to trial. Contrast this with the criminal trial hearing, where the prosecutor must supply enough evidence to convince the judge and jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

What the judge found in the Bustamante preliminary hearing is that the prosecution failed to meet "even the low standard of proof on eight out of 13 felonies," according to Bustamante's defense attorney.

Bustamante's Next Arraignment

Bustamante is still awaiting arraignment for his remaining two counts of false imprisonment, one count of stalking, one count of attempted sexual battery, one count of grand theft, and the four misdemeanors. The arraignment for these charges will be held on June 10.

Potential Penalties

Had the judge not dismissed eight of the sex-related felony charges, Bustamante would have faced a maximum 26 years and two months in state prison as well as one year and nine months in county jail. Since those charges were dropped, the maximum penalty he faces is six years and eight months in prison. Bustamante's attorney seemed happy with the outcome of the prelim.