Criminal Defense Procedure: What Is a Pretrial Conference?

A pretrial conference is the next court date in a criminal defense case after the arraignment. The pretrial conference is the first opportunity for the attorney to meet with the prosecutor to discuss the case, the evidence, the facts, the defenses, the issues, and any opportunities to resolve the case before trial. If the prosecutor offers a reasonable plea deal, then it is possible to conclude the case at the pretrial conference. If it is necessary to conduct more discovery (gather more evidence or interview witnesses), or if more time is needed to discuss settlement, the court will set another pretrial conference about 30 days in the future.

Sometimes another pretrial conference is required because the prosecution is not complying with the rules that require the prosecution to make certain disclosures. If this is the case, your attorney will also file a motion asking the judge to order the prosecution to turn over evidence.

If it is clear that no settlement can be reached, and both the prosecution and the defense feel that all discovery is concluded and there are no outstanding matters that need resolved before trial, then the court will set a trial date.

It is not always necessary for a defendant to attend a pretrial conference if he or she is represented by an attorney; often, the attorney can appear for the defendant. Either way, your attorney will let you know if your presence is required. No testimony or evidence is presented at a pretrial conference, and the defendant generally does not have to speak in court or do anything specific to prepare for the pretrial conference. The pretrial conference itself is usually pretty quick, often less than 30 minutes, but the total time at the courthouse can be longer depending on the court’s and the prosecutor’s schedules. If the defendant cannot attend the pretrial conference for some reason, it is not the end of the world, but the defendant should let his or her attorney know in advance.

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