Pre-trial Hearing

At your Arraignment, a pre-trial hearing will be scheduled as the next phase of your case. There can be more than one pre-trial hearing, and many different things can happen at a pre-trial hearing, depending upon your case and your lawyer’s strategy.

Often at the first pre-trial hearing motions for “discovery” will be filed by your lawyer.

“Discovery” is the term for formal requests for information and evidence.  Discovery motions could ask the Judge to order the prosecutor to turn over additional police reports, video recordings, police training materials, witness statements, or other evidence in the prosecutor’s possession.

If your case is in District Court, at one of the Pre-trial Hearing dates your lawyer and the prosecutor will have a Pre-trial Conference.  This is a meeting between the prosecutor and your lawyer at which they try to agree, as far as they can, upon the details of the trial, should there be one. They discuss things like the number and identity of witnesses for each side, any special legal issues that have to be decided by the judge, and whether any substantive motions are going to be filed, such as motions to dismiss or suppress.

In Superior Court, the pre-trial conference is often scheduled by the court and can be more formal. In District Court, the pre-trial conference usually happens during another scheduled court date.

If your lawyer files a Motion to Dismiss the case, or a Motion to Suppress Evidence, or another motion that requires a substantive hearing before a Judge, then the motion will be scheduled for a pre-trial hearing date. Sometimes you will hear this referred to as a “Motion Date.”

Compliance and Election

If the judge orders the prosecutor to turn evidence over to the defense, usually after hearing a Motion for Discovery, he will establish a Compliance date by which the evidence must be supplied. Often the “discovery” is supplied on the compliance date itself.

The compliance date can be an in-court date, when the parties have to appear before the judge an confirm that the information was turned over, or out-of- court, where the defense has the burden of bringing the case back in front of the judge if the information is not received.

If your case continues long enough without being resolved, the court will schedule an Election date.  This is the court date on which you select a trial date. Even if you have no intention of going to trial, you may choose to have an election date scheduled.

In the District Court, the Compliance and Elections Dates are often combined, and the case is scheduled for Compliance and Election, or “C& E”, on the same day.

Resolutions before a Trial

At any point during this process, your case may get resolved.  A judge may grant your attorney’s Motion to Dismiss, or the prosecution may dismiss the case themselves if they feel they will not be able to prove the charges against you.

You may resolve the case with a change of plea.  This means that you decide, with the advice of your lawyer, that it is a better idea to accept some responsibility, and some form of punishment, rather than risk going to a trial and losing.  This is how the majority of cases are resolved.

A common disposition for cases when a person doesn’t have any prior record, or a very minor one, is a Continuance Without a Finding, or “CWOF”.  In a CWOF, you accept responsibility and some probation term, but you aren’t found guilty.  At the end of the probation term, the charge is dismissed.

There are other ways a case might be resolved without going to trial. You might plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence, or for probation.  You might be allowed to pay a fine in exchange for the case being dismissed.  The particular facts of your case will determine what, if any options for early resolution are available to you.

Most importantly, you should only make a decision about how to resolve your case after consulting closely with your criminal defense lawyer.

Additional Resources