Articles on South Carolina Law

What is a Pretrial Conference in SC?

by | Feb 3, 2016 | Criminal Defense, Pretrial Conference

If you are facing criminal charges you may suddenly find yourself in a world filled with strange terminology that you don’t understand. You may be hearing terms like indictment, grand jury, pretrial conference, and jury trial. One of the first terms that is important for you to understand is pretrial conference.

A pretrial conference is a court hearing that happens before a trial. Pretrials are the step before a jury trial that can help solve some jury trial issues before the trial starts to save time. Some issues can be decided at this hearing including questions about evidence that will be presented at trial and the admissibility of a confession given by the defendant, among many other things.

If you already have an attorney by the time of the pretrial conference, your attorney may appear at this hearing in your place. If you don’t have an attorney, you should attend your pretrial conference yourself. However, many important things can be decided at a pretrial conference, so it would be wise to find representation before this date.

Common Questions About SC PreTrial Conferences

You probably have several questions concerning your criminal case and about pretrial conferences. Here are some of the questions I answer the most about pretrial conferences.

1. What is the purpose of a pretrial conference?

The goal is to eliminate and/or resolve some or many issues that can be resolved prior to a jury trial. Some examples of these types of issues are:

  • Evidence/ Discovery – Has the accused person requested this information from the State? If so, does the accused have all evidence available from the State (this can be documents, evidence, police reports, witness verbal or oral statements, video or audio recordings, photographs, etc.). If the accused does not have all evidence available, the Court may set a deadline date for the prosecution to get the accused person the requested information. If the accused person’s lawyer makes the appropriate pretrial motions, the judge may rule on what evidence will be admissible at trial.
  • Procedural Issues – The judge may determine if a defendant’s confession will be admissible (if this issue is brought up by the defense attorney)
  • Accused’s Attorney – If the accused person does not have an attorney, the Judge may ask some questions to make sure everything was done to ensure the Defendant’s right to an attorney has been covered.
  • Motions – the Judge may rule on any pretrial motions raised by the accused person or their attorney, including whether certain procedures were followed by law enforcement, whether certain evidence is admissible (tainted evidence)
  • Plea – the accused person may accept, reject, or enter into a guilty plea if the plea offer has not expired at the pretrial hearing.

2. When does a pretrial conference occur?

The pretrial conference is usually set by the Court or prosecutor, so the timing of it can vary. Typically, the pretrial is a month or more before the accused’s jury trial. There should be enough time between the pretrial conference and the trial to resolve certain issues, such as the accused receiving the State’s evidence after it has been requested.

3. Does the defendant attend a pretrial conference?

If the accused person does not have an attorney, he/she should attend the pretrial hearing. If the accused person has an attorney, he/she should follow the advice of his/her attorney. I advise my clients to be present at pretrial hearings. If the accused person wishes to not attend the pretrial hearing, he/she should first obtain permission from the appropriate authorities. An attorney can help you with this.

4. Will there be a pretrial conference for my case?

Pretrial hearings are not mandatory, so there is no guarantee there will be one in your case. Your attorney will know when to request a pretrial conference.

Different courts have, as a matter of custom, pretrial hearings. For example, the Dorchester County Magistrate Court typically has pretrial hearings several weeks prior to a jury trial. Municipal and Magistrate Courts (for example, cases such as DUI 1st, Domestic Violence 3rd, Simple Possession of Marijuana, etc.) vary on this… it just depends.

If you have a General Sessions case, your attorney or the Solicitor/ Prosecutor can request a pretrial hearing. They are not automatic in General Sessions Court.

5. What happens after a pretrial conference?

The Judge typically will make a ruling/ order of whatever motions the State and/or defense attorney had. For example, if the defense attorney makes a pretrial motion to not admit a piece of evidence, such as drugs that were unconstitutionally seized, the court will issue an order that says those drugs will not be admissible at the jury trial.

6. Do I need an attorney at my pretrial conference?

An attorney may be beneficial at your pretrial conference. An attorney may have some additional knowledge of pretrial procedure, criminal procedure, your constitutional rights, whether evidence or confessions should be admitted, etc.

If you are facing criminal charges and have questions about your case, consider contacting a criminal defense attorney. Having a defense attorney by your side through this process could make all the difference.

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