A pre-trial conference is a critical step in any criminal case. It comes after a criminal defendant has been arraigned, but before the case goes to trial. The goal of the pre-trial conference is to bring the prosecutor and the defense attorney together to explore possibilities of resolving the case without going to trial.
Pre-trial Conferences Are Different in Misdemeanor or Felony Cases
There is a slight difference in process depending on whether a defendant has been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor.
Pre-trial Conference in a Felony Case
If a defendant has been charged with a felony, the case will first go to the Circuit Court where a judge will determine whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed a felony. The preliminary hearing is another crucial step because it allows the defense attorney to cross-examine key witnesses and challenge the evidence against the defendant. A defense attorney may even be able to have the case dismissed at this stage if the arrest was illegal.
If there is a finding that there was probable cause to believe the defendant committed a felony, the case will be scheduled for an arraignment where the defendant will enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. The pre-trial conference will be held after the arraignment.
Pre-trial Conference in a Misdemeanor Case
In a misdemeanor case, the defendant will enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest at the arraignment. There is no separate hearing on probable cause. A defendant who enters a plea of guilty or no contest this early in the proceedings will often receive a lighter sentence because the defendant will have made clear to the judge that they acknowledge their wrongdoing and do not wish to waste the court’s time.
If the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, the case will be scheduled for a pre-trial conference.
Reviewing the Evidence Against the Defendant
During the criminal pre-trial conference, the defense attorney will be given an opportunity to review the prosecutor’s file. This will include the police report, a list of the defendant’s prior offenses, if any, and any other evidence the prosecution intends to introduce.
Legally, the defense attorney is entitled to review and copy everything the prosecution has about his client. Depending on the nature of the case and the defendant’s criminal history, the file may be very small, or it may be quite large.
To realistically evaluate the possibilities of resolving the case without going to trial, both the prosecutor and the defense attorney need to have a good understanding of what the defendant is accused of and the evidence that the prosecutor will use to try to convict the defendant.
Armed with this information, the defense attorney can go to work identifying potential problems and inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case. This allows the defense attorney to start negotiating for a fair plea bargain.
Pre-trial Motion to Challenge the Prosecutor’s Evidence
A criminal case can have multiple pre-trial conferences. At the first pre-trial conference, the defense attorney will review the prosecutor’s file. The defense may wish to file pre-trial motions seeking to exclude some or all of the evidence on Constitutional grounds, or because the evidence is irrelevant or unfairly prejudicial to the defendant.
Once the judge addresses these pretrial motions, the prosecutor and the defense attorney will have a better understanding of the evidence that will be presented, and evidence that will be excluded, which can lead to more realistic negotiations.
Plea Negotiations at the Pre-trial Conference
A plea bargain generally involves the defendant agreeing to plead guilty or no contest to an offense that is less severe than what they were charged with. Most people see plea bargaining as benefiting everyone involved: the prosecutor gets a conviction, albeit for a lesser charge, and the defendant receives a charge and sentence that is less severe than what they were originally facing and will have less of an impact on their life and their future.
Of course, in some cases, the only result a defendant can accept is a not guilty verdict or a complete dismissal of all charges. In cases like these, there is little room for plea bargaining, and the pre-trial conference is used to discuss trial processes such as whether the trial will be a bench trial or a jury trial, any stipulations to evidence or the qualifications of expert witnesses, and more.
After the pre-trial hearing, the attorneys appear before the judge to advise the court on the status of the case. If there is a plea bargain, the lawyers will tell the court of the resolution and place the plea on the record by stating the terms of the resolution in open court. If a motion hearing is necessary, the lawyers will advise the court of the status of any pre-trial motions and request a date for a hearing on those and other issues. If the case is more complex, the lawyers may simply advise the judge of the status of the case and schedule a future pre-trial conference.
Elmen Legal: Your Defense Against Criminal Charges in Michigan
If you have been charged with a crime in Ann Arbor or anywhere in southern Michigan, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. You need experienced legal representation at the pre-trial conference, and at all phases of the criminal process.
Criminal defense attorney Robert Elmen proudly represents people who have been charged with a crime. He will review your case, challenge the evidence against you, and aggressively defend your rights in court.