A pretrial conference in a criminal case is a meeting between the prosecuting attorney and defense attorney to discuss the status of the case, facilitate the exchange of information, and negotiate regarding a possible resolution.

Below are some common questions and answers regarding the pretrial conference. If you have specific questions regarding your case, you should always feel free to consult your Blanchard Law attorney.

When does a pretrial conference happen?

In most cases, a pretrial conference happens early on in the case. In misdemeanor cases, the pretrial conference is often the first hearing after the arraignment. In both felony and misdemeanor cases, some courts hold multiple pretrial conferences (sometimes also called settlement conferences, status conferences, final pretrial conferences) so that the parties can stay updated on the status of the case, and continue negotiations as they gather additional information. Often, courts will hold a final pretrial conference shortly before a trial date, as a final effort to resolve the case without holding a trial.

Who is present at a pretrial conference?

In criminal cases, the defendant is required to be present at the courthouse during the pretrial conference. However, it is common practice for the defendant not to be present in the room during the actual meeting that takes place between the prosecuting attorney and defense attorney. In most cases, the pretrial conference only involves the prosecuting attorney and defense attorney. However, sometimes, especially at final pretrial conferences, the judge might also be present.

Why won’t I be present in the room during the meeting with the prosecutor?

It can feel frustrating to remain in the hallway of a courthouse while your lawyer goes into a conference room or judge’s chambers to discuss your case without you. However, it’s for your protection that your lawyer doesn’t ask you to be present during this meeting. When you make statements to police, prosecutors, or judges, those things can have a negative impact on you later at a trial or at sentencing. Your lawyer’s statements during plea negotiations can’t be used against you in the same way.

Additionally, when your attorney meets privately with the prosecutor, it allows them to have a frank conversation about all the aspects of your case, and get unfiltered feedback from the prosecutor. There is sometimes important information that the prosecutor might say to your lawyer privately that he or she might never say in front of you.

What happens during the pretrial conference?

During the pretrial conference, your lawyer will sit down and have a discussion with the prosecutor who is in charge of prosecuting your case. They may talk about information that the prosecutor still needs to provide to you and your lawyer, such as police reports, dash-cam or body-cam videos, videos of witness interviews, electronic evidence, or laboratory reports, and discuss timelines and methods for turning over that evidence.

The pretrial conference is also an opportunity for your lawyer to begin negotiating a possible resolution. The resolution that your lawyer is seeking varies from case to case. In some cases, nothing short of a dismissal is acceptable. In other cases, clients are seeking a reduction of the criminal charges or a guarantee that the consequences of a plea will be limited in some way, such as with a sentencing agreement. Your lawyer’s goal in negotiating with the prosecutor will be to obtain the best possible offer possible, and then you will be given the opportunity to decide whether that offer is acceptable to you.

Occasionally, the judge becomes involved in the conversation between the prosecutor and your lawyer. The judge might give input on whether or not they would accept a particular plea offer or sentencing agreement, or make suggestions about resolving the case in a particular way. However, the judge can’t force the prosecutor to make any particular offer to resolve the case, just like the judge can’t force you to accept any particular offer.

After your lawyer meets with the prosecuting attorney, he or she will need to have a discussion with you about the results of the meeting. If any plea offers are made, you’ll need to consider whether or not to accept the offer. Your lawyer’s role is advise you about the possible consequences of the plea offer, and make recommendations for a course of action in the case. You make the ultimate decision about whether or not to accept any offer, or to move the case forward toward a jury trial.

Will I see the judge at my pretrial conference?

While it is not unusual for pretrial conferences to end without anyone stepping foot into the courtroom, it is possible that you will appear in front of the judge in the event that you decide to accept a plea offer, or in the event that a record needs to be made of some part of the discussion between your lawyer and the prosecutor. You should dress for court assuming that you may appear in front of the judge. For men, you should wear a suit and tie, or at a minimum, dress slacks, collared shirt, and a tie. For women, dress slacks, a skirt, or a dress is appropriate. You should not wear jeans, low-cut shirts, short skirts, shorts, or flip-flops.

In some cases, where no plea agreement is reached, you may leave the courthouse without ever appearing in front of the judge. Sometimes, you simply wait while your attorney engages in a discussion with the prosecutor, and then have a private discussion with your lawyer. After that, your lawyer may advise you that you are free to leave the courthouse, and will give you instructions regarding the next steps in the case.

Will my case be resolved at the pretrial conference?

Some cases are resolved at the pretrial conference. Some are not. Whether your case is resolved depends on a number of factors. It is likely that a plea offer will be made at the pretrial conference. You will make the ultimate decision about whether that plea offer is acceptable to you. If you decide that the plea offer made is acceptable to you, a plea can be entered on the date of the pretrial conference in most courts. Occasionally, in misdemeanor cases, sentencing can be completed on this date as well. However, in most misdemeanor cases, sentencing will be scheduled 4-6 weeks after the date of the plea. In felony cases, sentencing cannot be completed on the date of the pretrial conference, and if a plea is entered on that date, sentencing will be scheduled approximately 4-8 weeks later.

If your case isn’t resolved at the pretrial conference, that doesn’t mean that it can’t ultimately be favorably resolved at a later date. Especially at pretrial conferences that occur early on in the case, the parties simply don’t have enough information to successfully negotiate a resolution. Other cases simply shouldn’t be resolved with a plea, and require a jury trial. You’ll have the opportunity to decide the best path for your case with the assistance of your Blanchard Law attorney.

What do I need to do to be prepared for the pretrial conference?

A pretrial conference is not a trial. It’s not a time where witnesses will be presented by either you or the prosecutor. You won’t be required to testify, and you won’t be required to present any evidence to the court. There is generally a significant period of time between the pretrial conference and the trial, so you don’t need to be worried that your case isn’t ready yet to be heard by a jury. The pretrial conference is part of the process of getting ready for a trial, if that ultimately becomes necessary to resolve your case.

Your lawyer may need your assistance in gathering information ahead of the pretrial conference, and may want you to provide documentation that could be helpful in negotiating a favorable resolution. You should provide any documentation requested in advance of the pretrial conference, if possible.