In prior posts I’ve covered various early stages of a criminal case (summons or arrest, arraignment, and bail determination), and now I want to touch on the stage called the dispositional conference. This is the pretrial conference with a judge, usually held in chambers, between the prosecutor and defendant or defense counsel. This procedure is meant to help cases to be resolved with plea agreements through the assistance of a judge who can offer a detached opinion on whatever issues are standing in the way of resolution.
On relatively rare occasions the prosecutor dismisses all charges at this point — this may happen if the prosecutor realizes there is no realistic chance of a conviction — but a defendant should not appear for the dispositional conference with the expectation that the prosecutor will dismiss a complaint or indictment because the case is “stupid” or “a waste of time” or because he or she should cut the defendant a break. If the case has proceeded this far, it is unlikely that the State of Maine’s representative (whether from the Attorney General’s office or the local District Attorney’s office) can be convinced to simply let the matter go without a conviction. Although it may seem petty or unfair in an individual case, their job, in essence, is to enforce the law and hold people accountable when they break it.
In any event, a dispositional conference may result in a plea agreement; but for other cases it is designed to address discovery issues, schedule hearings for motions (such as a motion to compel discovery or to suppress evidence), or request mental health examinations (when a defendant seems incompetent to proceed to trial, for example). It serves an important function, moving matters forward and getting cases off the docket if they are not actually candidates for trial. Cases that aren’t resolved at this stage are scheduled for docket call.