A pretrial hearing is a meeting that occurs before a trial action begins. These are generally attended by the plaintiff, the defendant, the judge, the lawyers, and sometimes other parties. Pretrial hearings aim to resolve some of the legal issues before the trial begins. That way, the court can focus on the more pressing legal issues when the trial actually gets underway.

Is a Pretrial Hearing the Same Thing as a Pretrial Conference?

Some states make a distinction between the terms "pretrial hearing" and "pretrial conference." A pretrial conference usually refers to the first initial pretrial meeting before trial begins. This is the major pretrial discussion of various issues such as pretrial motions, evidence, settlement offers, and other major issues.

In comparison, a "pretrial hearing" can refer to any other meeting that happens after the initial pretrial conference. These are often specialized meetings that are called in order to address very specific legal issues, questions, or complaints. For instance, a pretrial hearing may be called in order to resolve a pretrial motion that was brought up during the first conference. Thus, pretrial hearings may often be responses to specific issues from previous meetings.

Some jurisdictions use the terms "hearing" and "conference" interchangeably when referring to pre-trial procedures. Also, the terms may be used differently when referring to criminal pretrial procedures.

How Are Pretrial Hearing Issues Resolved?

In most cases, the judge will issue an immediate response to an issue that was raised during a pretrial hearing. For instance, the judge will either grant or deny a pretrial motion according to their judgment. If an issue still needs resolution, another pretrial hearing can be scheduled in some cases. Or, the court can decide to take on the issue during the actual trial itself. Decisions from a pretrial hearing are generally incorporated into the trial itself later on.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Pretrial Hearing?

Pretrial hearings usually involve complex legal and procedural details. It’s in your best interests to hire a lawyer as soon as possible if you have a legal issue. That way, your attorney can represent you during any pretrial hearings, and during the actual trial itself. Pretrial procedure laws may differ from state to state.