Pretrial Hearings (Status Hearings)


PRETRIAL HEARINGS

Pretrial hearings, also known as status conferences, are court hearings where the judge, the prosecutor and the criminal defense attorney all get together to discuss how the case is progressing.  It is an opportunity for the judge to make sure that neither the prosecutor nor the defense attorney are dragging their feet on the case, but it is also an opportunity to deal with any issues within the case prior to trial.  Both sides, the prosecutor and the criminal lawyer, will typically update the judge on what has happened in the case since the last hearing.  Some typical updates to the judge will be: we are waiting on discovery, we have scheduled depositions, we are negotiating with the State, we are conducting legal research in preparation of filing a legal motion.  Typically, the more serious or complex a case, the longer the case will drag out.  

Why do they keep passing my case?

Our criminal defense lawyers get this question a lot.  Often times, people that don't have experience with the criminal justice system think that their case is going to be resolved at the first court date.  That couldn't be further from the truth.  Criminal cases generally take months to resolve.  The more serious the case and the longer the person's criminal history, the longer the case usually takes to resolve.  Also, the more complex the case is, the longer it generally takes to resolve.  Pretrials are a way for the judge to make sure that the prosecutor and the defense attorney are moving the case a long and not delaying in any way.  But it is what happens between the pretrial hearings that can answer the question why they keep passing the case.  For example, if the prosecutor was offering a client five (5) years in prison and the client, who admits committing the crime but does not want to go to prison, makes an offer of 12 months in jail, negotiations will take much longer than if a prosecutor offers thirty days in jail and the client wants probation.  The further apart the two sides are on negotiations, the longer it will take to negotiate.  

Also, if you are charged with a very serious and/or complex case, it will take time to schedule depositions, conduct an investigation, conduct legal research, file motions, get motions scheduled, have motions heard, and have motions ruled on.   You only get one chance to have a jury find you not guilty, so the more serious or complex the case, the more time, energy, effort and resources you and your attorney should be putting into defending the case.  

What happens at a pretrial?

Typically, its about what happens in between pretrial hearings that matters more than what happens at the pretrial hearings.  This is why judges typically don't require the client to be present.  Pretrials are generally an opportunity for both sides (the criminal defense attorney and the prosecutor) and the judge to get in one room and discuss how the case is moving along.  Whether depositions have been taken.  Whether both sides are close to negotiating a disposition.  Whether either side is researching a particular legal issue.  Most of the work is happening outside of court between pretrial hearings and pretrial hearings are just a way to make sure that the attorneys are not delaying the case and that the court is aware of and addressing all pretrial issues. 

Do I have to appear at the pretrial?  

It depends on the judge.  Most judges waive your appearance if you have an attorney who has filed a waiver of appearance.  However, a judge can require your appearance at each and every court date, if he or she wants to.  Some judges require your presence only at arraignment, change of plea, motion hearings, trial, and sentencing.  Some require your appearance at the final pretrial before the actual trial.  Make sure you and your attorney know when  you do and do not have to be at court.  Hiring an attorney who can appear at court dates on your behalf could save you money and save your job by not having to miss work and could save you valuable time.  You should keep in contact with your attorney and also keep in contact with your bondsman about when you need to be at court appearances.  
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