Friday, October 11, 2013

What is a "Pre-Hearing" Conference in A Criminal Case?

What is a pre-hearing conference. According to the CA Judge's Benchguide, most Judges conduct a prehearing conference and generally schedule it two days before the preliminary hearing in a criminal case. This conference may be referred to as a “pre preliminary hearing conference,” a “setting conference,” or a “preliminary hearing conference.” One of its purposes is the early disposition of cases by plea or application of diversion or deferred entry of judgment in drug cases when feasible. The prehearing conference is also used for taking waivers of time and waiver of the preliminary hearing when the attorneys want to stipulate to the charges in the criminal complaint, and for resolving pleading and other problems.

In high profile cases these conferences are used quite frequently. In a high profile criminal case, some judges set the prehearing conference several days before the preliminary hearing. Among the matters considered is whether the defendant will make a motion to close the hearing under California law when the facts warrant such a matter. If so, the court determines what and how advance notice should be given to the press and various news reporters that cover such cases in Court.

At the conference, many judges ask if defense counsel intends to make a motion to suppress under Pen C §1538.5 at the preliminary hearing which is a request that the Judge dismiss the case due to a violation of a client's 4th Amendment Rights. This information helps the judge to calendar the preliminary hearing realistically and to explore the range of evidence to be introduced, including the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution and defense cases. In many cases, this information also permits the prosecutor to call witnesses necessary to litigate the motion, thereby avoiding a continuance.  Many judges also ask whether defense counsel intends to make a motion at the preliminary hearing to reduce a “wobbler” charged as a felony to a misdemeanor under applicable statutes that allow charges such as DUI and other non-violent offenses to be made a misdemeanor,  or whether the defense counsel or prosecutor intends to move to close the hearing.  Attendance at conference. The prosecutor, defense counsel, and the defendant must be present at the conference, as essential parties for effective plea negotiation.

Matthew Ruff is a Torrance Criminal Defense Attorney who focuses his practice on serious cases in the Courts of Southern California.