Pretrial Hearing and Pretrial Conference: What Are They and Why Do They Matter?

California courts conduct a pretrial hearing when someone is arrested and charged with a crime. Learn everything you need to know here.

What Is the Purpose of the Pretrial Conference and Preliminary Hearing?


When someone in San Francisco, California, has been arrested and charged with a criminal offense, they have to appear at California court before a judge.

When it comes to a pretrial conference, different courts use different terms. They are specific to the area where the trial would take place and depend on a particular state’s procedures. Pretrial conferences are usually held in misdemeanor cases when the parties tell the judge about progress in the case. Pretrial conferences are also used to encourage settling cases, as well as review the evidence by the judge and lawyers and clarify the issues in dispute.

A preliminary hearing, also known as a pretrial hearing, is specific for felony cases. Preliminary hearings are a critical juncture of every felony criminal case and typically have uniformity in how they are conducted throughout the state. It’s like a mini-trial: the prosecutor presents the evidence or witnesses that defense attorneys can cross-examine as well as challenge the admissibility of.

Pretrial hearings don’t establish the guilt or innocence of the accused, although the whole process can significantly affect your case. Pretrial hearing judges have to decide if there is enough evidence that the defendant committed the crime with which she or he is charged, and that the case can be taken to trial.

When you or your loved one is facing criminal charges, it’s essential to retain the legal services of a skilled and knowledgeable lawyer. A criminal charge can be hard to combat and even harder to live with, whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony. Valery Nechay of The Law Office of Valery Nechay can defend your freedom when you go up against the powerful criminal justice system.

What Happens During a Pretrial Phase and at a Preliminary Hearing in a Criminal Case?


Pretrial conferences are usually scheduled at the arraignment, which is the first stage of a misdemeanor criminal court process. After the accused has entered a plea (which can be a guilty plea, not guilty, or no contest), the court sets a date for the pretrial conference. That doesn’t mean the case will go to trial; in fact, a trial date may not be set until later if the case doesn’t resolve in a pre-trial phase.


Discovery Process

The pre-trial phase includes discovery issues that ensure that the prosecutor and defense attorney exchange information and all relevant evidence, negotiations, or plea bargains that may occur before a trial. Discovery refers to the process of obtaining evidence. Each side has to provide information on physical evidence, witness information, and other important evidence they plan to use to prove their cases at trial.

Discovery occurs during the pretrial proceeding and its rules are regulated by the California Penal Code. The Discovery process is typically informal. But, if the opposing counsel doesn’t provide the requested information, the other party may seek a court order.

In addition, attorneys can file different motions during a pre-trial hearing phase — for example, a motion to reduce charges or to suppress evidence. Such preliminary matters are used to determine what legal arguments are going to be heard and what evidence will be permitted at trial.

Also, the judge may point out the weaknesses of the criminal case during the pre-trial hearing phase, which can persuade the prosecutor to reduce charges and offer a deal that would be acceptable to both parties. Actually, a large number of criminal cases in California do not result in a jury trial. They are often decided during pre-trial hearings with plea bargains.


Plea negotiations can begin even at the arraignment. Also, every time prosecution and defense parties meet after the arraignment can engage in a plea bargain discussion. Plea bargains allow the prosecutor to get a conviction, and at the same time, give the defendant a chance to face lesser charges and a less significant sentence than they would have faced.


Pretrial Hearings: The Judge’s Role

At a pretrial hearing, a judge meets a defense attorney, who represents the accused facing a jury trial, and the prosecution. The prosecution and the defense will have the opportunity to present and challenge evidence and cross-examine witnesses. Both the prosecutors as well as defense attorneys are responsible for showing the evidence they intend to use at trial to establish their case.

A judge has to decide if there is enough evidence that a particular criminal offense has been committed and that the defendant has committed it. In other words, the prosecution has to show probable cause. On the other hand, the defense has the right to cross-examine witnesses of the prosecution and may present their own case.


Hearsay Evidence

A defendant’s attorney also has to be able to deal with hearsay evidence and be skilled in blocking the prosecutors from getting hearsay statements against the client and getting around the hearsay rule. It’s also important to mention the Proposition 115 hearsay exception for law enforcement officers with specified training or experience for a preliminary or pretrial hearing. It means police officers who have more than five years of experience or have attended a certain training can qualify to testify at a pretrial hearing regarding a crime a defendant is accused of.

Most CA criminal cases are resolved during this pre-trial phase, and that is why you should have an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side. Valery Nechay believes that everyone is entitled to criminal defense, regardless of the crime they are accused of. Call her on the phone at 650-459-2693 and schedule a free consultation. She can evaluate your case and discuss your options.

California Pretrial Conference Criminal Case: How Can an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Help?


One of the primary goals of the pretrial conference is to resolve as many issues as possible before a trial. That is usually done through pretrial motions. A motion is a type of request for a judge to do something. Pretrial motions might include requests for dismissing charges, suppressing evidence, or clarifying legal points.

If the defense believes that one or more charges against the defendant have not been legally filed, the defense lawyer can file a motion to dismiss the charges. In case the judge agrees, they can dismiss some or all charges.

Motion to suppress evidence is also another popular California motion. It can be filed because the defendant’s attorney believes evidence was obtained in an illegal search or because the attorney wants to question police officers and try to find weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.

But, if this motion is granted, the evidence in question will be excluded, and the case against the accused will be weakened or dismissed.


Requesting a Writ

The accused also has a right to request a writ. If the defendant believes that the Superior Court has made an error regarding a crucial ruling during the case that would harm them in a way that can’t be fixed by using an appeal, the party can request a writ. A writ is not an appeal, and it’s not a new trial. Writs can only address some of the court’s mistakes, including the situation when the court refused to act on a legal duty or when the court has performed a judicial function in a way it has no legal power to act.

For example, some rulings have to be challenged by writs, such as Denial of a stay in an unlawful detainer procedure as well as Denial of a motion to dismiss a criminal matter. Although retaining defense attorneys for a writ proceeding is not necessary, it can be beneficial because of their knowledge of the law.

An individual who is facing criminal charges in California has numerous rights ensured by the Constitution, including the right to a lawyer and the right to remain silent. Invoke your rights and contact my San Francisco office as soon as possible. I can explain the process you have to go through and fight to obtain the best possible result. If you are still not sure whether you should hire me, take a look at my former clients’ reviews.

What to Expect at a Preliminary Hearing


A pretrial hearing in California allows for substantive issues to be addressed before a trial commences. Pretrial hearings can be crucial, even if the prosecution meets the burden of proof. For example, defense lawyers can cross-examine witnesses and discover weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.

They can meticulously analyze the prosecution’s evidence, prepare compelling arguments for suppressing any unlawfully obtained evidence, and negotiate plea deals that favor their clients. This proactive engagement can often lead to favorable charge adjustments or sentencing recommendations.

Defense and prosecution use this time to argue their positions, allowing the judge to make rulings that could significantly impact the outcome of the trial. Every witness has to testify under oath, and pretrial hearing transcripts’ can be used later during the case or a jury trial if the witness changes their testimony.

Potential outcomes of a pretrial hearing are varied and can have substantial implications. A judge may decide to dismiss certain charges if the evidence does not support the prosecution’s case or adjust bail conditions. These decisions are crucial as they can determine whether the case proceeds to trial or is resolved beforehand through plea bargains or dismissals.


When Will a Pretrial Hearing Take Place?

Federal law requires that preliminary hearings have to take place within ten days of the plea or the arraignment if the defendant is in custody. However, the defendant can waive the right to a timely preliminary hearing, giving their lawyer more time to get additional evidence and discovery material and prepare an adequate defense. In that case, if the defendant waives their right to a timely pretrial hearing, “the magistrate judge shall forthwith hold the defendant to answer in the district court.”

In case the defendant doesn’t waive their rights to a pretrial hearing, the judge will schedule it within a reasonable time, but no later than 10 days after the initial appearance if the defendant is in custody. If he or she is not in custody, the pretrial hearing will usually be scheduled within 20 days of the arraignment.

On the other hand, federal law states that pretrial hearings will not be held if a grand jury indicts defendants or if information against them is filed in district court before the date set for pretrial hearings.


The Burden of Proof

Sometimes, a successful pretrial hearing may result in reducing the charges to a misdemeanor or a less serious felony by the judge.

If the judge believes that the prosecutor has not met the burden of proof, the case against the defendant will be dismissed. But, if the judge finds that the prosecution met the probable cause standard of proof at the prelim hearing, then the defendant would be arraigned in the Superior Court within several weeks and a new court date will be set.

Defendants who are free on bail will remain free but are required to appear in court at the next scheduled court appearance. Also, at this point, the defendant may be arraigned for the second time before a judge of a higher-level court. The parties may also enter plea negotiations.

However, for a lawyer to obtain the best plea bargain, they have to be experienced with the pretrial proceedings and have good connections with the county prosecutors and judges. Valery Nechay’s experience and solid relationships with the district attorneys and judges allow her to get the best deal for a client.

How Many Pretrial Conferences Before a Trial Are There?


Pretrial conferences allow the accused party to address some of their rights and discuss a plea. Misdemeanor cases usually have several pretrial conferences, but the specific number depends on the circumstances of the criminal defense case. While some cases resolve after three or fewer pre-trial conferences, other cases may require more.

If an individual is accused of a misdemeanor, their lawyer can make court appearances in most pretrial conferences.

A criminal defendant accused of a felony must be present at every pre-trial or preliminary hearing and every court date. Pre-trial hearings are usually open to the public.

Get Trusted Help with the Pretrial Conference and Motions


Using pretrial motions, specifically, ones to exclude certain evidence, a case can often be decided before the actual trial. In addition to a motion to dismiss the charges and a motion to suppress evidence, pre-trial conference motions can also include:

  • Change of venues or courts
  • Discovery motions
  • Bail hearings
  • Speedy trial motions

Motion hearings usually address specific issues.

Choosing the right legal representative when accused of a crime is significant because there is so much at stake. As a California criminal defense lawyer, Valery Nechay believes that anyone implicated in a crime is innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.

Those individuals who do not have adequate legal representation when charged with a crime could face severe consequences. Other San Francisco lawyers may not have enough time to dedicate to your case. That is not the case with Valery Nechay Law. Experienced attorney Valery Nechay will personally invest the time necessary to investigate the facts and analyze which tools and strategies can help her fight her client’s charges and fight to represent your interests every step of the way.


If you are under investigation or charged with a crime, I will consult with you in person and at no charge to you.