What Happens at a Criminal Pre-trial?

A pre-trial hearing is a formal appointment at court that takes place after a criminal defendant has had his initial appearance. The purpose of a pre-trial hearing is to address and simplify any issues before trial so that the trial, if one is held, will proceed as smoothly as possible. In practice, pre-trial hearings are also an opportunity to exchange information and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the case. In any criminal case, multiple pre-trial hearings are often held.

What Is the Purpose of a Criminal Pre-trial?

Pre-trial hearings assist the judge in understanding the issues in the case. At the first pre-trial the judge will often establish basic expectations about how the case will proceed, and will set a schedule for the trial and other pre-trial matters.

Judges also use pre-trial hearings to narrow the issues that will be presented at trial, such as whether certain evidence will or will not be admitted. During pre-trial negotiations the prosecutor may agree to dismiss certain charges, especially if a criminal defense lawyer is successful in having evidence suppressed or if the prosecutor determines that the evidence will not support a conviction on a certain charge.

Pre-trial hearings give the defendant and his attorney the opportunity to address pre-trial issues like:

  • Illegal searches
  • Speedy trial rights
  • Exchanging pre-trial discovery
  • Obtaining evidence for evaluation and testing
  • Engage in plea bargaining

A pre-trial is also an opportunity for the judge to hear and rule on pre-trial motions, such as:

  • Bail hearings
  • Motions to suppress evidence
  • Motions to change venue
  • Discovery motions

What Happens at a Criminal Pre-trial Hearing?

During a pre-trial, the defense attorney meets with the prosecutor and the judge. The attorneys discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their cases, explore plea bargain possibilities, and discuss evidence that needs to be exchanged before it can be presented at trial.

Hearings on Motions to Suppress Evidence

If the defense attorney files any pre-trial motions, such as motions to suppress evidence, they are heard at a pre-trial hearing. If evidence was obtained illegally, a defense lawyer may file a motion to suppress evidence. If a criminal defense attorney is successful, evidence that is suppressed is prohibited from being introduced at trial.

Motions to suppress evidence can be a key part of a defense lawyer’s strategy. By having certain evidence excluded, it becomes increasingly difficult for the prosecution to secure a conviction. If a defense lawyer can exclude key evidence, the prosecutor may have no choice but to agree to a favorable plea or dismiss the case entirely.

Evaluate the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Case

Pre-trial hearings give both sides the opportunity to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their respective cases. If a defense attorney can show the prosecution that they have a weak case, or weaken the prosecution’s case by having evidence excluded, the prosecution is more likely to agree to a favorable plea bargain.

Hearings on Speedy Trial Rights

Criminal defendants have the right to a speedy trial. This means that their case must go to trial within a certain amount of time after they have been arrested. For strategic reasons, a criminal defense attorney may agree to waive a defendant’s speedy trial rights. In certain cases, this can create an opportunity to negotiate for a more favorable plea bargain. In other cases, it is a better strategy to keep the pressure on the prosecutor by not waiving speedy trial rights.

Exchange Pre-trial Discovery

Pre-trial hearings are also an opportunity to engage in pre-trial discovery. The prosecutor must provide the defense lawyer with relevant discovery, including:

  • The names and addresses of witnesses
  • Evidence that has been seized or obtained
  • Exculpatory evidence (evidence that helps the defendant)
  • Witness statements or reports
  • Reports and information about expert witnesses

In the same way, the defendant is required to provide discovery information to the prosecutor.

When the parties cannot agree about whether evidence must be exchanged, they will file a motion explaining their reasons. The matter will be set for a hearing at a pre-trial conference.

Plea Bargaining

Plea bargaining can involve negotiating the charges, and negotiating the sentence. In charge plea bargaining, the parties negotiate the charges to which the defendant would agree to plead guilty. In sentence plea bargaining the parties negotiate about the sentence that the prosecutor will recommend to the judge. Sentence plea bargaining can involve negotiations about whether there will be any jail time, the length of any jail time, and other issues such as conditions of probation, license suspension, mandatory treatment programs, etc.

Charged with a Crime in Wyoming? Just Criminal Law Is Here to Help

If you are facing criminal charges in Wyoming, it is critical that you have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. At Just Criminal Law, our team of criminal defense professionals is here to assist you from the time you were arrested, at any criminal pre-trial hearings, and at trial.

We invite you to learn more about the cases we handle, to read about why people choose us if they’re facing criminal charges in Wyoming, and to contact us today to schedule a personalized case review and strategy session.

You only have one shot at justice. Don’t leave it to chance. Work with Just Criminal Law and the Legal Team of Christina Williams.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is offered for educational purposes only. This information is not offered as legal advice. A person accused of a crime should always consult with an attorney before making decisions that have legal consequences.