What is a Pre-Trial Conference in Massachusetts?

What is a pre-trial conference in a Massachusetts Criminal Case?

You’ve been arrested and charged with a crime. It’s all you can think about. It’s affecting everything including your job and your family. You’re walking into court for a pretrial conference facing the District Attorney who’s trying to convict you. You need help, but don’t think you can afford an experienced criminal defense attorney. That’s where we come in. At Afford Law, we’ll use our decades of experience to protect your rights without costing you a fortune. We’ll guide you through this journey to come out safely on the other side. We’ll fight for you so you can get back to your life. 

What is a Pretrial in a Criminal Case?

A pretrial conference, also called a pretrial hearing, is an extremely important step in the criminal justice process. It takes place after you’ve been arraigned and before a plea bargain or trial. During the pre-trial stage, the government is building their case against you. They talk to your accuser, witnesses, and the police as they try to convict you of the crime. They have tremendous resources at their disposal. You’re in for an uphill battle. 

What Happens at a Pretrial Conference?

The purpose of a pretrial conference is to bring the prosecutor and us together to discuss the case. This is the discovery phase. Discovery is information that is exchanged between the parties. Discovery is very important because we need to know what evidence the Commonwealth has to use against you. We need to see such things as:

  • Witness statements;
  • Video surveillance; and,
  • Forensic test results.

In addition to receiving discovery, a criminal pretrial conference is where negotiations to resolve your case begins. Very often, the purpose of the pretrial conference is to end your case prior to trial. We will explore the possibility of getting an offer on your case that will not involve jail time. By meeting with the prosecutor before trial, we may come to an agreement that you would accept. 

Can You go to Jail at a Pretrial Conference?

Generally, you won’t be sent to jail at a pre-trial conference. As stated above, the purpose of a pretrial hearing is to receive discovery and negotiate a plea agreement, if possible. There are circumstances that could land you in jail at this stage, however. Those circumstances happen outside of the pretrial conference setting. Reasons for ending up in jail at this phase include:

  • Getting re-arrested;
  • Violating conditions of release; and,
  • Having bail returned to the surety. – If someone else posted money for your bail, they are the surety. If they ask for their money back while your case is open, you’ll be taken into custody if you can’t replace the bail money.

Learn more

What to Say at a Pretrial Conference

You shouldn’t say anything at a pretrial conference. Let us do the talking for you. This is true for every step of the criminal justice process. Anything you say can and will be used against you. The most innocent-sounding statement can be twisted creating more trouble for you. Remain silent. 

Who Can attend a Pretrial Conference?

Anyone can attend a pretrial conference. It’s a public forum. Your accuser does not have to attend. They are not required to show up for anything except the trial and perhaps a motion hearing. They may be present if they choose to be, but they don’t have to be. Merely because someone isn’t at your pretrial hearing doesn’t mean they’re not interested in pursuing the case. The District Attorney’s Office is in contact with them and will bring them in when necessary. The only people that need to be at your pretrial hearing are the prosecutor and us.

Can a Case be Dismissed at a Pretrial Conference?

Cases can be dismissed at a pretrial hearing, but that’s rare. A dismissal at this point is only at the prosecution’s request. That means it’s completely up to the government to make that decision. A judge can’t dismiss a case over the Commonwealth’s objection. Your case can get dismissed further down the road, but that must be based on some issue of law. 

What Happens After a Pretrial Conference?

Several things can happen after a pretrial conference. Depending on where your case is in the criminal justice process, the next event can be one of the following:

  • Another pretrial hearing date;
  • A motion hearing date;
  • A compliance and election date; or
  • A trial date

Further pretrial 

There are usually more than one pretrials in a criminal case. It’s a process to get and request discovery and to negotiate with the prosecution. This will take a number of court dates to get everything we need. We have to make sure everything is in order before we can proceed. 

Motion hearing

Your case might be appropriate for a motion. In a motion, we are requesting the court take an action. We file a written document then have an oral argument where we try to convince the judge to give us what we want. There are two basic types of motions:

  • Motion to Suppress – In a motion to suppress we’re asking the court to rule that certain pieces of information can’t be introduced as evidence in your trial. Many criminal cases are won and lost on the outcome of a Motion to Suppress. Without critical pieces of evidence, the Commonwealth can’t prove their case against you. Such motions commonly seek to suppress:
      • Items – such as drugs and guns;
      • Statements – such as damaging statements you allegedly made to the police; and,
      • Identification – in cases where an eyewitness identified you as the perpetrator.
  • Motion to Dismiss – here, we’re asking the court to dismiss one or all of the charges against you. Hearings on Motions to Dismiss can be evidentiary, where live testimony is taken from witnesses. Or they can be non-evidentiary. These types of hearings are called DiBennedetto, or four-corners hearings. In such a motion, we’re saying that there isn’t sufficient probable cause in the police report for your case to proceed.

Compliance and Election

A compliance and election date serves two purposes:

  • Compliance – Sometimes the Commonwealth doesn’t have the discovery we’re seeking. They need to get it from someone else. If appropriate, the Court will order them to do so. At the next court date, they must comply with the Court’s Order and provide it to us. If they don’t they could face sanctions such as not being able to use that information at time of trial.
  • Election – Here we’re deciding, or electing, whether to go to trial. It’s time to decide if you wan’t to plea out to your case or take it to trial. 

Learn more


After the final pretrial conference, your case may be ready for trial. All discovery is complete. Any motions have been heard. All witnesses have been interviewed. If you don’t want to plead, it’s time for trial. It could be a jury trial where six people from the community decide your fate or it could be a bench trial where the judge sitting alone decides. 

How Long Between Pre Trial and Trial?

The length of time between the final pretrial conference and your trial varies. It’s mostly dependent on the court’s schedule. Typically, it will be scheduled in six to ten weeks. Other factors play into the time frame as well, such as the availability of witnesses. Even if your case is scheduled for trial on a certain day doesn’t mean that it will go forward that day. Many courts schedule several cases for trial on any one day. A court is limited to how many trials it can accommodate on that day. They have to prioritize by:

  • If someone is in custody;
  • The age of the case; 
  • Witness availability; and
  • The severity of the charges.


A pretrial conference is an extremely important step in a Massachusetts criminal case. The purpose of a pretrial hearing is bring both sides together to exchange discovery and discuss your case. It’s at this stage that many cases settle. Based on the facts, we may want to schedule a motion to suppress or dismiss. If those are successful, your criminal charges may be dropped. 

At Afford Law we have experienced, affordable criminal lawyers ready to help you. Call us today for a free, virtual consultation. 508-453-1250. At Afford Law, we’re making justice affordable. 

Can You Go to Jail at a Criminal Pretrial Hearing in Massachusetts?

What is compliance and election?

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.