What Happens at a Pre-Trial Conference in Utah Criminal Court?
The criminal case process involves numerous different proceedings, and can be confusing to understand, especially for those who do not have previous experience with the criminal justice system. Of course, one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and your liberty is to retain an experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC as soon after you are cited or arrested as possible. We can fight to get you released from jail if necessary, and then we will begin working on the rest of your case. Below, our lawyers explain what happens at the pre-trial conference in particular and how it affects what comes after.
What is the Pre-Trial Conference in Utah Criminal Cases?
A pre-trial conference is a proceeding in both felony and misdemeanor cases where the prosecutor and your attorney meet out of court in an attempt to negotiate a deal to resolve the case without taking it all the way to trial. Typically, you will accompany your lawyer to the meeting, but sometimes your lawyer will go alone on your behalf. The meeting occurs outside of the presence of a judge, who will not be brought into the matter until it is clear that the parties cannot reach an agreement among themselves.
At the conference, each side will present any evidence that the other side has previously not seen. If there are outstanding requests for discovery, the conference can be postponed until each side has had a chance to review the evidence in full. If the prosecutor refuses to turn over evidence, an experienced motions lawyer like those at Overson Law, PLLC can file a motion to compel discovery, and argue in court that the judge should order the evidence turned over at once.
If everyone has received all discovery, the focus will turn to negotiations. The vast majority of cases in Utah do not go to trial but rather end at the plea bargaining stage where a deal is reached or the matter is dropped. For some serious crimes like homicide, the prosecutor may not be willing to budge much, but in most cases they have the incentive to offer you some sort of deal in exchange for saving the state the costs and effort of going through a full trial proceeding. How much bargaining power you have will largely depend on the strength of the evidence against you and how we believe it will play at trial based on our years of experience in Utah courtrooms.
Potential Outcomes of the Pre-Trial Conference in Utah
Generally speaking, the pre-trial conference and any further conferences scheduled will result in one of two outcomes: the matter will be resolved through a deal, or the matter will proceed to trial. We explore both possibilities below.
Deal Reached Through Plea Bargaining at the Pre-Trial Conference
There are a number of different types of deals that can be reached between the prosecutor and a skilled criminal defense lawyer representing your interests. If you are a first-time offender and do not have a serious criminal history, we may be able to get the prosecutor to agree to a pre-trial diversion program. This is especially likely for minor crimes and infractions such as underage drinking. If you complete the diversion program, which may include classes, drug and alcohol counseling, and community service, among other things, your charges will be dropped and you will not have a criminal record. Similarly, a deferred prosecution agreement means your charges will be dropped if you stay out of trouble for a period of time, usually a year, and complete any further conditions imposed by the judge.
If diversion is not a possibility in your case, our skilled criminal defense lawyers at Overson Law, PLLC can work to get your charges downgraded or dismissed. Dismissal is only possible in the rare case where the prosecutor agrees that their evidence is completely inadequate or when new evidence emerges at the conference that forces them to reconsider the charges. It is common, however, for the prosecutor to downgrade the charge to something less serious, for example from aggravated assault to simple assault, in exchange for a guilty plea. If the prosecutor will not downgrade the charge, they may offer a deal where they will recommend the judge give you a more lenient sentence if you plead guilty. The judge almost always accepts the prosecutor’s recommendations.
Matter Proceeds to Trial after Pre-Trial Conference
If you do not wish to take a deal or no deal to your satisfaction is offered, our skilled trial attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC are always ready and able to fight for your innocence at trial. If the pre-trial conference concludes without a deal being reached, the matter will be taken before the judge for a scheduling conference, where dates will be set for trial and to hear any motions, such as a motion to exclude evidence obtained through an illegal search and seizure.
In Utah, those charged with infractions, such as most traffic matters, are only entitled to a bench trial, where a single judge decides guilt or innocence. If you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, you have the right to choose between either a bench trial or a trial by a jury of your peers, who much deliver a unanimous not guilty verdict in order to convict you. Our attorneys can help you understand which type of trial might offer you the best chance at an acquittal based on our experience and the specifics of your case.
If You Are Facing a Pre-Trial Conference, Call Our Skilled Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys Today
While it is best to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC as early in the process as possible, you should certainly be sure to have one by your side by the time of the pre-trial conference, where pivotal negotiations will occur. We can work to get your charges downgraded or dismissed and bring your case to the most positive possible resolution for you. For a free consultation, call our firm at (801) 758-2287 today.