A pretrial conference can be defined as a meeting between both parties to a case, orchestrated by a judge or another court official and that is held before the commencement of a trial. A court may order a pretrial conference or the parties to a case may request it. A pretrial conference serves several purposes.
Purpose of a Pretrial Conference
One of the main reasons for holding a pretrial conference is to help expedite a case. An example of a pretrial conference is the status conference. This conference is held after initial pleadings have been filed. Judges use the status conference to set a time frame for the conclusion of all pretrial activities. They also use this conference to set a date for the trial of the case. Some jurisdictions require that certain types of disputes be referred to a neutral third party for arbitration or mediation. Such cases include child custody disputes, where the mediator tries to assist the parties to the case to reach a negotiated settlement. This type of settlement is less expensive, less public, and less time consuming than a full-fledged trial. Another type of conference is the issue conference, where the judge reviews the issues of the case with the lawyers.
Pretrial Conference in Criminal Cases
The pretrial conference in a criminal case is generally used to weed out the matters that have nothing to do with the defendant's innocence or guilt. Rule 17.1 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure asserts that pretrial conferences maybe held to promote a fair and timely criminal trial. The types of issues examined in a pretrial conference involving a criminal case include the establishment of the types of witnesses that will be allowed to testify and the type of evidence that will not be allowed in the trial.
Pretrial Conference in Civil Cases
The pretrial conference in civil cases is used by the judge to identify the issues in the case, identify documents and witnesses, and to remove frivolous claims. Other things which may be considered during a civil pretrial conference include the possibility of an out-of-court settlement, creation of schedules for the submission of motions and briefs, and rulings on the submitted motions. If the case is a large or complex one, the pretrial conference will help the judge and the lawyers organize it into a more manageable case.
Criminal defendants have certain rights that they must exercise before the commencement of a trial. This is usually during the pretrial conference. If they fail to act before the trial begins, they will not be able to invoke those rights again. Examples of such rights include requests pertaining to discovery or disclosure of evidence, requests for the dismissal of the case and requests to exclude potential testimony from trial.