How Long After My Arrest Will I Have A Pre-Trial Conference?
A pre-trial conference goes by different names, depending on which court you’re in. Some call it a settlement conference while others use the change of plea setting; basically, a pre-trial conference is any court appearance between the arraignment and the first court appearance or a jury trial. There are other types of appearances that could be similar, such as for motions, but typically a pre-trial conference is something that happens about three to six weeks after the initial court appearance.
After the initial court appearance and arraignment, what the attorney will typically do is a discovery request for video or audio, such as police dash cam footage or 911 calls, as well as the records on the different testing machines, including the custody chain of the blood if that test was administered. There are a lot of different things that are requested in discovery, and typically, all of that information is not ready for the attorney by the first pre-trial conference, which is basically a date in court where the parties update the court and let them know what’s going on.
In some counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, the conferences will just be at the bench where the judge sits upfront. Another example is in Santa Clara County where the court will have the attorneys come up and conference in a sidebar and talks about the case to see where things are at, and sometimes the judge gets involved and says, “This is what the penalty would be.” In San Francisco, the judge will have the attorneys do most of the conferencing back in the judge’s chambers.
Then there is the case, where all that needs to be done is set a new date that doesn’t actually require a conference; in that instance, when the case is called or when the attorney gets to the podium, he will say to the judge, “We need a new court date for this or that reason,” and a new court date is decided. After a number of these conferences, the court in almost every county will start asking the defense attorney, “We need to get somewhere on this case,” whether it’s a resolution, a motion filed or a trial.
In some counties, this happens quicker than others, most notably Sonoma and Santa Clara counties, which tend to want to move things along. Other counties allow more time for the attorneys to actually do their investigations and do what needs to be done to properly defend the case. So, the offers are often made by the prosecution followed by counter offers, and a lot of this happens through phone calls, emails, face-to-face meetings or at the pre-trial conference. Does the client need to be there? No. Should they be there? It depends.
Every attorney is different on that question. Some clients want to be there at every court appearance; although they’re not required to be, sometimes it helps. What I always say is be a telephone standby, be ready in case the attorney needs to call and ask you some questions, or maybe get you down to the courthouse later that morning. But again, every attorney is different, and that’s basically what happens with pre-trial conferences.
If I Am Not Notified Of A Pre-Trial Date, Does That Mean I Don’t Have One?
A lot of times someone will get a citation to appear in court, and they show up on that date without an attorney. They haven’t hired one, or maybe they want to get a public defender or are thinking about getting an attorney but want to go and see what’s going on. I would advise people to get an attorney before they ever go to court because there are decisions that need to be made on deadlines. But say you show up to court, and your case is not on the calendar: there is not going to be a pre-trial conference until there’s been a first court appearance, an arraignment and a plea is entered.
You should get a letter from the DA’s office or the Police Department, depending on what county you’re in, or the Clerk’s office, and they’ll tell you when you need to go to court. If you have an attorney who goes to court for you at the arraignment, they will let you know whether or not the case was filed and when the pre-trial conference is; or if it was not filed, they will usually say your case is not on the calendar, and you should be getting notified by the court, which means that you or your attorney can check back later. Usually the attorney’s office will see when the case is filed.
Different counties do these things different ways, and a lot of people, especially in Contra Costa County, often have questions like these because there it takes most cases anywhere from two to 11 months for the DA’s office to file charges because they are so backed up. A lot of people wonder, “What’s going on with my case; when will I go to court?” If you don’t have an attorney, you can keep checking with the court or with the DA’s office to see if and when your case is filed. If you’ve had an arraignment and a plea of not guilty has been entered, your attorney should be telling you when your next court date is, or you can just give them a call and find out when it is.
If an arraignment has happened and a not guilty plea has been entered, there will be a next court date, whether it’s called a pre-trial conference, a settlement conference or a change of plea date, depending on the county you’re in.
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