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Criminal Cases

Dispositional Conferences

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The following is not legal advice but is for information only. Legal advice is when an attorney applies the law to a person's individual circumstances and advises them on their legal options or potential exposure to legal harm, which a web page clearly does not.


After a person has been arraigned (when they formally entered a plea for either a misdemeanor or a felony), things go quiet for a while in terms of court appearances. Then, often months later, a hearing called a dispositional conference is held.


Court rules require that a defendant normally appear in court when dispositional conferences are scheduled and not doing so risks an arrest warrant. Because of the pandemic, these can sometimes also be held remotely by Zoom even now (particularly in counties where there is a shortage of defense attorneys), and in some courts a defendant is not even required to appear remotely either.


While a defendant is normally expected to attend (remotely or in person), in fact these are informal conversations between the judge and both the prosecutor and defense attorney about how to 'resolve' a case and the defendant is out of the loop - only informed of any new offers (if they come) by their attorney. These are off the record and are very problematic for several reasons. At this point there has been no ability by your defense attorney to file any motions getting discovery that may be missing. That bakes in ineffective assistance of counsel by potentially encouraging a Guilty plea with what might appear to be a reasonable offer without knowing the full extent of the case against a defendant, not knowing a person's criminal history, and not having an ability to obtain any favorable evidence that might enable a client to make a different decision about whether to go to trial or make other legal arguments. The same rules also mean a defense attorney has been unable to even file a motion protecting a potential claim about an unconstitutional search or seizure or other violation. Worse still, defendants - via their attorney - have ONE DAY in which to file those motions by court rule and no such deadline exists for any government motion. These events are also, in effect, enforced plea negotiations which the American Bar Association regards as unethical for judges. However, they are routine in Maine.

So, a defendant is in the court (physically or on video remotely) only for the purpose of potentially accepting any plea offer made as a result of these off-the-record conversations. That's it. The whole process is part of a conveyor belt to conviction, designed to encourage Guilty pleas and not bother the court with pesky things like motions. Anyone charged with an offense should resist this pressure, even though it is immense.

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