What Is the Difference Between a Pre-Trial and a Trial?

Pre-trial proceedings occur before a criminal trial and differ depending on whether the offense is categorized as a misdemeanor or a felony, reports the American Bar Association. The proceedings vary by state.

For misdemeanor offenses, an initial appearance is scheduled wherein the defendant appears in court before a judge who advises him of his rights and reads the charges against him, notes Lawyers.com. Some states allow the defendant to enter a plea at this time. If the defendant pleads innocent or not guilty, the case proceeds to trial. If he pleads guilty or no contest, a sentencing date is set, or the judge can impose the penalty immediately.

For felony cases, the defendant makes his initial appearance in court, followed by a preliminary hearing in front of a judge. During the preliminary hearing, the prosecution must demonstrate probable cause that the accused committed the crime(s), according to Nolo.com. Both the defense and the prosecution can use the preliminary hearing as an opportunity to see each others' evidence before the case goes to trial. At the preliminary hearing, the defendant can agree to a plea bargain, which is a punishment offered by the prosecution in lieu of a trial.