Pre-trial conferences always before a trial, and sometimes before a preliminary hearing (only in felony cases, see previous section).
The purpose of a pre-trial conference is for the prosecutor, defense attorney and judge to meet and discuss a possible plea bargain. A plea bargain is also known as a "deal," a deal is usually made in the interest of justice. In other words the court, prosecutor and defense attorney come-up with a plea-bargain that is fair given the circumstances of the offense and the defendant (e.g., prior criminal history and seriousness of the offense). In these negotiations, the two sides present their opinions about what would be a fair resolution in the case, taking into account the defendant’s criminal history and the circumstances of the alleged crime.
An Experienced Criminal Lawyer is likely to create a “mitigation package” which shows the personal situation of the defendant, and attempts to convince the prosecutor that the defendant is a good, normal, everyday person who simply made a mistake. Generally the mitigation package contains letters from family members or well-regarded community leaders (e.g., politicians, religious leaders, teachers, etc).
To understand how plea bargaining works, it is important to know that the prosecutor has control over which charges are filed against the defendant, and the judge decides the sentence. Often the charges set the range of possible sentences, and it is ultimately up to the judge to decide whether to choose a harsher or softer penalty. After negotiating a plea bargain the defense attorney will present it to the defendant. It is completely up to the defendant to accept or reject the deal.