Q:

What happens in a plea hearing?

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Quick Answer

At a plea hearing, a defendant responds to criminal charges levied against him with a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest, according to the Dane County District Attorney’s Office. It is at this point in the judicial process that a plea bargain normally occurs between a prosecutor and the defense.

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A plea hearing occurs before a judge with all parties present. It occurs after a criminal arraignment and follows a pretrial conference, notes the Dane County District Attorney’s Office. A plea hearing is the step right before the trial itself. Plea bargains may be heard at the pretrial conference ahead of a plea hearing in some jurisdictions.

In federal court, plea bargains occur at the plea hearing. Nearly 90 percent of federal criminal court cases end with the defendant pleading guilty, according to attorney Robert C. Reuland. Two documents are filed at a plea hearing when a plea bargain is reached. One document outlines the charges the defendant answers to and the charges which are dropped against the defendant in exchange for his guilty plea. In the other document, the defendant explains, in writing, precisely what he admits to doing with regards to the charges. These public documents are generally available after the plea hearing concludes.

An important aspect of the judicial process occurs at a plea hearing, notes the Tillamook County District Attorney's Office. If a defendant pleads not guilty, a trial date is set by the court. After the plea hearing, both sides can file motions, evidence and depositions of witnesses

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