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What is a Pretrial in a Criminal Case?

by | Mar 14, 2023 | Criminal Defense

In most criminal cases, regardless of if they are a misdemeanor or felony, the court date after arraignment (initial appearance in front of the judge) is a called a “pretrial.”  Some courts call this a “plea or trial setting.”  Regardless of what the court calls it, it is essentially the same thing.  The “pretrials” and initial “plea and trial settings” are used to exchange discovery, discuss possible resolution, and argue pretrial motions.  They are not trials.  The defendant does not testify and is rarely asked to speak.

Do I need to appear at the pretrial?

Always ask your attorney whether you need to appear.  The general answer is it that it depends.  Courts handle these hearings differently, so it depends on the court and purpose of the pretrial.

Some courts schedule pretrials during open court. Meaning the judge hears other cases and conducts other business while your attorney and prosecutor discuss your case.  Hamilton County is an example of this type of court. Often after the defense attorney and prosecutor speak, the case is called on the record and the defendant is asked to stand with his/her lawyer to discuss the next appearance and schedule. In this type of pretrial, most courts want the defendant to be present.

In other courts, like Warren County Court and some of the Butler County Area Courts, pretrials are scheduled on non-court days.  This means the judge is often not present when the defense attorney and prosecutor discuss your case. In this type of pretrial, clients typically do not come to court.

Regardless of the type of pretrial, it is common for there to be multiple pretrial settings in the same case. It takes time for the attorneys to exchange information and make sure all of the pretrial issues are resolved before the case is settles or goes to trial.

What if I am on pretrial supervision?

Pretrial supervision is similar to probation but occurs before a finding of guilty.  People on pretrial supervision are required to follow a set of rules while their case is pending. Many courts use the pretrial date as a “check-in” for pretrial supervision.  The pretrial date is often a time used for random drug testing. It is very important to comply with all of the terms of pretrial supervision and make all scheduled meetings. A failure to do so, can cause the judge to revoke bail and force the defendant to sit in jail while the case is pending.

What else may happen at a pretrial?

Sometimes, especially in Hamilton County, it is common for prosecutors to have police officers or alleged victims appear at the pretrial.  These individuals do not participate in the pretrial, just like a defendant does not.  This is done, though, so that the prosecutor can get additional input to try to help advance potential plea negotiations.

Other times, pretrials can turn into plea hearings.  For pretrials conducted in open court, it is not uncommon for a defendant to enter a plea the same day of the pretrial when a plea deal is reached.

The bottom line is that you should always check with your attorney about whether you need to appear for any court setting. In a number of pretrial scenarios it is possible for your lawyer to go to court with you.