The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to determine only whether the defendant probably committed a felony. Wis. Stat. § 970.03(1). A magistrate may not choose between conflicting facts or weigh the evidence. The magistrate must determine only whether, under any plausible set of facts, the defendant probably committed a felony. This standard weights a preliminary hearing heavily in favor of the state, but is justified because the purpose of a preliminary hearing is to protect the accused from hasty, improvident, or malicious prosecution.
Defendant admitted that he threw some lighted matches into his roommate's bedroom closet and then left the building. The roommate's clothes and books, which had been on the closet floor, were burned as were the doorsill, closet walls, and bedroom ceiling and walls. The trial court dismissed the complaint for arson to a building.On review, the court reversed and remanded.
Were there inferences during preliminary examination leading to a conclusion of probably cause against defendant?
The court reversed and remanded. The court held that although the facts were not disputed, two inferences arose; the defendant intended to set the building on fire, or that he only intended to burn private property. The court held that based on the practical probabilities of everyday life that there was an expectation that a closet would burn if a lighted match were thrown into it, the trial court erred when it rejected the reasonable inference that defendant intended to burn the building.