A motion is a document which is filed with the court by one of the parties requesting the court to do something, such as exclude or admit a particular piece of evidence. A pretrial motion is brought before the trial formally begins, and must be specifically requested in order to take effect. They usually have a strict filing deadline and will be considered waived if not raised within the proper time frame.

What is the Purpose of a Pretrial Motion?

Pretrial motions may be brought by either party in order to set the boundaries for the upcoming trial. For example, the accepted use of certain items of evidence, witness testimonies, and factual and legal arguments are all affected by the successful filing of a pretrial motion. In some instances the case may be entirely dismissed through the use of a pretrial motion. Pretrial motions sometimes have the effect of shortening a trial, which can save valuable resources such as time and money.

What are Some Examples of Pretrial Motions?

There are a variety of pretrial motions available for each party. Some of the more common types of criminal pretrial motions will request to the court to:

  • Exclude or admit specific items of evidence (“Motions in Limine”)
  • Change the venue (location) of the trial
  • Allow or prevent witnesses from testifying
  • Exclude or suppress a defendant’s confession or statement
  • Compel the opposing party to release evidence
  • Dismiss the case altogether

How are specific Pretrial Motions used in a criminal case?

In a criminal case, most pretrial motions have to do with the suppression of physical evidence or with witness testimony. For example, in a drug trafficking case, the defense may file a motion to exclude drug paraphernalia that was illegally seized by the police.

Another example is when a defendant’s confession was obtained in violation of their Miranda rights (i.e., their Miranda rights were not read upon arrest). Confessions that have been obtained through a violation of Miranda rights may also be excluded using a pretrial motion.

Finally, a motion to dismiss a criminal case can be filed under some circumstances. An example of this is where the police lacked probable cause to make an arrest.

Do I need a Lawyer for a Pretrial Motion?

Pretrial motions can often be very complex and involve strict deadlines for filing. For these reasons, it is best to work with an attorney if you feel that your case will benefit through the use of a pretrial motion. The filing guidelines vary from state to state and between state and federal courts. An experienced criminal attorney will be able to inform you of your options regarding pretrial motions.