In this article:
- What is a Pretrial Conference?
- When can I review police reports and/or plea offers in my misdemeanor case?
- What is Discovery?
- When do I Enter my Change of Plea?
What is a Pretrial Conference?
A pretrial conference is a hearing set after an initial appearance has been conducted. If you are charged with a misdemeanor offense in Arizona, including DUI, Domestic Violence, Drug Violation etc., your criminal case will be handled in a municipal or justice court.
In Mohave County, these courts include the Lake Havasu City Consolidated Court (both Justice and Municipal Court), Kingman/Cerbat Justice Court, Kingman Municipal Court, Bullhead City Municipal Court, Bullhead City Justice Court, and North Canyon Justice Court. After an initial appearance these courts will set your next criminal hearing for what is called a “Pre-Trial Conference”.
Most pretrial conferences in Mohave County limited jurisdiction courts are conducted at the courthouse, but no judge is actually involved in the proceedings. A pretrial conference is simply a meeting with the defendant and the prosecutor.
If you have a pretrial conference you would be ordered to personally attend and sign in at the courthouse. An attorney appointed to you will greet you and explain the status of the pretrial conference. If you represent yourself, then the prosecutor will meet and speak with you directly.
North Canyon Justice Court pretrial conferences are conducted telephonically so that it is not necessary to travel directly to the remote courthouse located in Colorado City, Arizona.
Often times, a private attorney (one hired by you directly) can waive your presence from having to attend the pretrial conference at all.
When Can I Review the Police Reports and/or Plea Offers in My Misdemeanor Case?
The pretrial conference is the first opportunity to receive police reports and information about what possible sentence could result in your case. The Court and the Defendant have little to no information about what the police investigation consists of when a criminal defendant is first arrested or summoned to an Initial Appearance.
By the time a pretrial conference is held a few weeks later, the prosecutor will have had an opportunity to review the entire case and police reports to determine what possible sentence recommendations to make in the case. This information is then given to the defendant and their attorney.
The prosecutor for the State is obligated under Rule 15 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure to provide to you or your attorney a copy of all police reports and disclosure in your case. Disclosure is basically all the information, reports, and a list of witnesses that the prosecutor has in their possession and intends to present at trial.
What is Discovery?
Discovery rules are an inherent part of due process. Real life court trials are not like the courtroom dramas portrayed on television and in the movies.
The discovery process in criminal proceedings allows both parties to know well ahead of time what the anticipated evidence and testimony is going to be at trial. As a result, there are no dramatic surprises, twists and turns that play themselves out in trial.
When you and your attorney have the initial information about what the State's evidence is going to be, then the process of evaluating the strength or weakness of the criminal case can begin.
This is important because it enables your attorney to start to giving you advice about possible defenses, strengths and weaknesses of the State's case, and possible sentencing factors that could be presented.
When do I Enter My Change of Plea?
The pretrial conference is the first time that a formal plea offer is made. After having an opportunity to evaluate the case and analyzing what evidence can or won't be used at trial, an attorney can give legal advice whether or not accepting the plea offer is in the client's best interest.
With that advice and information the client must then decide whether to accept or reject the plea offer, whether to make a counteroffer to the prosecutor, or whether to set the case for trial. Theft and DUI cases have a right to a Jury Trial in Arizona, but a request has to be made in a timely manner.
Sometimes an attorney will need to gather more information for the defense, interview a key witness, or conduct further legal research about an issue in the case. It is not uncommon for a continuance to be requested of the pretrial conference to follow up on these issues. If another court hearing has not been scheduled in the case, a continuance is often granted, otherwise the next hearing will proceed as scheduled.
After the pretrial conference is conducted, the parties report the results of the pretrial conference to the court. The court case will often be set for a change of plea hearing, a trial, or sometimes another pretrial conference to continue the proceedings.