Pretrial Conference

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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A meeting of the parties to an action and their attorneys held before the court prior to the commencement of actual courtroom proceedings.

A pretrial conference is a meeting of the parties to a case conducted prior to trial. The conference is held before the trial judge or a magistrate, a judicial officer who possesses fewer judicial powers than a judge. A pretrial conference may be held prior to trial in both civil and criminal cases. A pretrial conference may be requested by a party to a case, or it may be ordered by the court. Generally, the term pretrial conference is used interchangeably with the term pretrial hearing.

A pretrial conference may be conducted for several reasons: (1) expedite disposition of the case, (2) help the court establish managerial control over the case, (3) discourage wasteful pretrial activities, (4) improve the quality of the trial with thorough preparation, and (5) facilitate a settlement of the case.

Pretrial conferences are conducted in criminal cases to decide matters that do not inquire into the defendant's guilt or innocence. Under rule 17.1 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, pretrial conferences for criminal cases may be conducted to promote a fair and expeditious trial. In practice, federal and state courts use the pretrial conference in criminal cases to decide such preliminary matters as what evidence will be excluded from trial and what witnesses will be allowed to testify.

In a civil pretrial conference, the judge or magistrate, with the help of the attorneys, may (1) formulate and simplify the issues in the case, (2) eliminate frivolous claims or defenses, (3) obtain admissions of fact and documents to avoid unnecessary proof, (4) identify witnesses and documents, (5) make schedules for the submission of pretrial briefs and motions, (6) make rulings on motions submitted before the conference, (7) set dates for further conferences, (8) discuss the possibility of a settlement, and (9) discuss the consolidation or management of large, complex cases. After the conference, the judge or magistrate issues an order reflecting the results of the conference, and the order controls the future course of the case.

Generally, the substance of a pretrial conference for a criminal case is the same as that for a civil case. At the conference the judge or magistrate may make rulings on motions, eliminate repetitive evidence, and set schedules. If a...

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