According to the Law dictionary,” a pretrial hearing is “a session with the judge that occurs before trial.” There are any number of reasons for a pretrial hearing. The pretrial hearing is an accused person’s last court appearance for a criminal charge before the case goes to trial. At this hearing, the various participants, mainly the district attorney and the defense lawyer, generally have acquired whatever information they believe that they need to fully negotiate and navigate the case, including information from the crime victim and witnesses.
Most cases resolve far short of trial, either through settlement or pretrial court rulings, or summary judgment.
Rule 16 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure says, “the court may direct the attorneys and the parties to appear for a pretrial conference to discuss settlement and trial management”. The defendant or the plaintiff may also request a pretrial conference. Sam Jones, the defendant in a reckless driving case, did not attend the pretrial conference nor file an answer after being served with the complaint and summons. As a result of this, the plaintiff may ask the court to enter a default judgment. A default judgment is the order entered in favor of the party who filed the complaint.
Other Important Information
Purpose of a Pretrial
The purpose of a pretrial is to make the trial run smoothly and efficiently. This is also the time that both parties provide updates to the court regarding the status of the case by submitting evidences and pertinent documents. Sometimes, both parties will come to an agreement regarding the compensation that will be paid by the defendant. We call these situations “out- of-court settlements.” If not, the judge will schedule the trial. Lawyers from both sides can still negotiate even during the trial. See the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule 16) for the complete list of pre-trial purpose.
Information that can be had during a Pretrial
During the pre-trial, the lawyers can exchange information. Some of the important information that the prosecuting lawyer must have are the following:
- the seriousness of the offense and its impact to the victim and community;
- Background and criminal history of the accused / defendant;
- Demographics of the accused; the defendant’s age and physical and/or mental health
- Defendant’s willingness to admit guilt; and express genuine remorse;
- Defendant’s willingness to make reasonable restitution;
- Victim’s feelings in how the case should be handled;
- The likelihood of conviction at trial.
What Percentage of Lawsuits Settle Before Trial?
According to an article written by James Hirby in the Law Dictionary, 95 % of the pending lawsuits (product liability and personal injury) are settled during pretrial. This means that only one in every 20 cases will end up resolved in a court of law by the judge and jury. This is the reason why a good preparation on the part of the plaintiff can speed up the resolution of the case. When evidence is well prepared and the case is well researched, the defendant may be encouraged to pay a reasonable settlement. If you are the defendant and you feel that your evidence to prove the charges otherwise is too thin or non-existent, it is wise to inform your lawyer on time that you will opt for an out-of-court settlement. This can be done during the pretrial conference.
Sanctions in Pre-trial Conference
Appearance to a pre-trial conference is important to both parties. See Rule 16 for the sanctions that the court can give for non-attendance and lack of preparation for a pre-trial hearing. The accused can waive his right to appear according to Rule 13 but his attorney must attend the pre-trial hearing.