In some jurisdictions, an Early Resolution conference may be scheduled after the Arraignment
of criminal cases. At the Early Resolution conference, attorneys
and unrepresented parties meet with the judge and report on the progress of negotiations, discovery, and pretrial motions, attempt to resolve the case, and advise whether a criminal Trial
is needed. Without good cause, the Early Resolution conference is the deadline for negotiated pleas.
The case may reach a final disposition at this point without going to trial. This can be arrived at in two ways:
- The defendant decides to plead guilty to the indictment and admit he committed all the crimes he is charged with in the indictment. He may decide to do this due to the strength of the evidence against him. He would enter this acknowledgment of his guilt before a judge and then later be sentenced for the crimes. This is a "conviction."
- More frequently, the defendant, District Attorney, and judge agree that the defendant may plead guilty to a single charge in the indictment that holds muliple charges, or the defendant may plead guilty to a less serious felony. This process is known as plea negotiation.
Negotiated pleas are also referred to as plea bargains, plea agreements, or the defendant "copping a plea." A plea bargain is an agreement in a criminal case in which the prosecutor and a defendant arrange to settle the case against the defendant. The defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest in exchange for some agreement from the prosecutor regarding the punishment or sanction meted by the court. A plea bargain may also include the prosecutor agreeing to a lesser crime, known as reducing the charges, and dismissing some of the charges against the defendant.
Plea bargaining is a significant part of the criminal justice system in the United States. The vast majority of cases in the United States end in negotiated agreements between prosecutors and defense attorneys, not in courtrooms. Plea bargains are subject to the approval of the court, and different states and jurisdictions have different rules. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are followed in federal cases and have been created to ensure a standard of uniformity in all cases decided in federal courts.
The practice of plea bargaining allows defendants to get lower sentences. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges agree that the practice of plea bargaining helps in the justice process without putting undue strain on the court system. The number of case which can be tried by a court system is a fraction of the number of cases filed.
The court may hold a Final Resolution conference if the defendant is out of custody and the case does not settle at the Early Resolution conference. The Final Resolution conference is the deadline for negotiated pleas unless a party can show good cause for a later date.
It usually takes some months for a case to be scheduled for trial. The Early Resolution conference and other pre-trial motions occur during this time. If victims are required to be present at any of the pre-trial hearings, the District Attorney willl notify them.