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Pretrial Conference

What is the purpose of the Pretrial Conference?

What is a pretrial conference in a Minnesota criminal case?  We use various terms for the second court appearance in the criminal court process (the one following the Arraignment). But it provides an opportunity for the defense attorney to meet with the prosecutor personally to discuss outcome, and explore settlement possibilities.  Some courts term this appearance a preliminary hearing, settlement conference, or a Rule 8 hearing.

Other purposes of a preliminary hearing

Criminal Attorney Thomas Gallagher explains the pretrial conference, Rule 8 hearing, and preliminary hearing
Criminal Attorney Thomas Gallagher explains the pretrial conference, Rule 8 hearing & preliminary hearing

The defense attorney and prosecuting attorney also discuss discovery and evidence.  And we may discuss:

  • defense pretrial motions and
  • contested pretrial hearings relating to probable cause for trial,
  • suppression of evidence, and
  • trial issues. 

The defense and prosecution lawyers may discuss these issues with the judge as well.

Sometimes we call this court appearance an “Uncontested Omnibus Hearing” (as opposed to the “Contested Omnibus Hearing” that may follow).  And some courts will schedule a “Pretrial Conference” a week or so before a scheduled jury trial date.

What is a Rule 8 hearing in a Minnesota criminal case?

Rule 8 of the Minnesota Court Rules of Criminal Procedure:  The stated purpose of the second court appearance in Rule 8, or pretrial conference, is:

“Rule 8.01. Purpose of Second Appearance
(a) The purpose of this hearing is to again advise defendants of their rights, to allow defendants to plead guilty, or if the defendant does not plead guilty, to request or waive an Omnibus Hearing under Rule 11.

(b) At this hearing, the court must again inform the defendant of the:

(1) charge(s);

(2) defendant’s rights, including the right to counsel, and to have counsel appointed under Rule 5.04 if eligible; and

(3) opportunity to enter a guilty plea as permitted by Rule 8.02.

(c) The court must ensure the defendant has a copy of the complaint or indictment.

(d) The court may continue or modify the defendant’s bail or other conditions of release previously ordered.”

Rule 8 says that the defendant can plead guilty; or no plea shall be entered.  But, the defendant should not plead guilty unless under a favorable plea agreement. 

A not-guilty plea is unnecessary because of the presumption of innocence.

The rule talks about the defense demand for a Contested Omnibus Hearing and the 28 day time limit.  But in most cases, defendants waive the 28 day time limit.  We prefer more time to prepare, to win.  And if the prosecution has not given discovery to the defense; then the court may schedule a continued Rule 8 hearing – a repeat.

Rule 8 applies to felony and gross misdemeanor cases. 

And criminal procedure in misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor cases is less formal, but similar.

Can the court dismiss a case at a pretrial conference?

Some cases include multiple charges in the same Complaint.  When the court dismisses charges at a pretrial conference, this is normally part of a plea agreement with the prosecutor.  But the court rarely dismisses all charges in the Complaint at a pretrial conference.  And when the the court does dismiss the entire case, that happens at a later appearance in the court process.

Can you go to jail at a pretrial conference?

Not likely.  A defendant almost never goes to jail at a preliminary hearing; unless already in jail in pretrial detention.  And for cases where defendant pleads guilty under a plea agreement, they rarely go to jail that day, if ever.

Do you need to say anything at a pretrial conference?

You need a defense attorney to represent you in any criminal case.  So, your attorney protects you by speaking for you.  And you don’t need to say anything. 

The exceptions to that rule are guilty pleas, sentencing hearings, and jury trials.  And on those occasions the defendant speaks directly to the judge or to the jury.

What happens after the pretrial conference court appearance?

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After the pretrial conference, future appearances could include one or more continued Rule 8 hearing, Contested Omnibus Hearing, and Jury Trial dates.

Question about the pretrial conference or the criminal court process?

Call Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer Thomas Gallagher at 612 333-1500.