The term “pretrial hearing” refers to a meeting between the parties involved in a legal dispute. This meeting occurs prior to the beginning of the trial, after being served with a lawsuit. The parties involved in the meeting may include:
- The plaintiff and their attorney;
- The defendant and their attorney; and
- The judge or the magistrate presiding over the case.
Other parties may be included in pretrial hearings, due to the fact that these meetings are intended to help clear up any issues and administrative details that can be handled prior to the actual trial. This allows the parties to focus on the most important legal issues of the case without being distracted by smaller matters. Because of this, pretrial hearings benefit all parties involved.
Some issues that a pretrial hearing may address include but are not limited to:
- Filing and obtaining necessary pretrial motions;
- Settling undisputed facts;
- Presenting settlement offers; and/or
- Agreeing to or denying various accusations or claims.
Pretrial hearings may be used in criminal cases as well as civil cases. Although often required by court, either party involved in the case may request that a pretrial hearing is set in order to ensure that such a meeting occurs. Importantly, some jurisdictions may also refer to pretrial hearings as pretrial conferences.
What Is the Purpose of a Pretrial Hearing?
As previously discussed, the purpose of a pretrial hearing is to resolve any simple issues before the court case actually begins in order to allow the trial itself to proceed more effectively. The parties are allowed to exchange information which aids in the trial preparation, should the case still need to go to trial after a pretrial hearing. In some cases, a pretrial hearing allows to reach a settlement and avoid the time and expense of a trial altogether. Additionally, pre-trial hearings help the judge fully understand the issues and parties to the case, as well as establish their authority.
Several things may happen at a pretrial hearing. First, the judge may establish some basic rules regarding how the case is to proceed, as well as set a schedule for the trial and any other pretrial matters. Second, the parties may argue over what evidence should or should not be included at trial, as well as whether specific witnesses should be used at the trial. The parties may also request a change of venue.
Either party’s attorney may make a motion for dismissal, or a summary judgment. That is, they may ask the presiding judge to dismiss the trial entirely or rule on specific points of law that are especially favorable to their client.
The issues that are to be decided at trial may be identified and then narrowed. Specific issues may vary somewhat, and is dependent upon whether the case is criminal or civil. The parties may attempt to settle the matter in a civil case, or work out a plea bargain in a criminal case. However, during a criminal matter, the issues decided upon do not resolve the defendant’s guilt or innocence.
Do You Need to Attend a Pretrial Hearing?
If a pretrial hearing has been scheduled in your civil case it is important that all parties attend, as the pretrial hearing’s purpose is to narrow the issues before trial on the matters. Narrowing the issues in a civil case will allow the matter to be handled in a more efficient manner.
In a criminal pretrial hearing, if the state requires pretrial hearings, the criminal defendant shall be at the hearing. However, some states do not require there to be a pretrial hearing, unless the defense requests one. Importantly, preliminary hearings are only held when the defendant pleads not guilty initially at their arraignment. As a defendant it is important to be present at the pretrial hearing in order to cross examine the prosecution’s witnesses and help develop defenses and put yourself in a better position for plea negotiations.
Can a Case Be Dismissed at a Pretrial Hearing?
It is important to note that during a pretrial hearing judges will rule on any motions or matters brought up during a pretrial conference. This means that pretrial motions to dismiss will be ruled upon during the pretrial hearing.
Although most pretrial motions deal with the defense seeking that certain evidence be excluded or admitted for trial, sometimes the defense may successfully stop the prosecution’s case altogether with a successful pretrial motion to dismiss.
Do Criminal Cases Have Pretrial Hearings?
Once again, pretrial hearings can occur in both civil and criminal matters. Further, as mentioned above, some states make pretrial hearings in criminal cases mandatory, while other states make pretrial hearings optional for the defense. Therefore, it is important to consult your local and state laws in order to determine whether your criminal case will have a pretrial hearing.
As stated above, criminal pretrial hearings will consist of the prosecution presenting their case and evidence, while the defense will cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses. Additionally, all pretrial motions will be heard by the Court, which typically includes motions to exclude or admit to evidence. Further, the defense may also file a pretrial motion to dismiss the entirety of the prosecution’s case against the defendant. Defendants will need to be present.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I Have a Pretrial Hearing?
If you have an upcoming pretrial hearing, having a knowledgeable and well qualified criminal defense attorney or civil attorney is invaluable. Although it is possible to represent yourself at a pretrial hearing, due to the amount of complex legal matters discussed and ruled upon at the pretrial hearing, it is important to have an attorney familiar with the pretrial proceeding. If you do not have an attorney present, you may worsen your position for the trial of your case.
An experienced attorney will not only be able to ensure that your interests are protected at the pretrial hearing, but they will also be able to represent you during trial, if your matter proceeds to trial. Further, in criminal matters, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to have the prosecution’s case against you dismissed. Finally, in civil matters, a successful pretrial hearing will position you for a better overall outcome in your case.