A motion is a document that 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. After the preliminary hearings, 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.
The purpose of the Pretrial Motion is to have the prosecutor and the criminal defense team appear before a criminal court judge and present arguments and certain evidence that should be kept out of the actual trial. They can also present witnesses to be used during trial and whether the case should be dismissed altogether.
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.
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
In a criminal case, suppression of evidence is used in most pretrial motions. Suppression of evidence in pretrial motions is used to throw out or bar certain evidence from coming into trial because that type of evidence was gathered illegally. The defense attorney will then file a motion asking the judge to prevent the use of that evidence and trial. This type of evidence can be physical evidence, a confession, or even a statement. One of the strongest arguments that are used by the criminal defense attorney is that the police illegally obtained the evidence or that police improperly took the statement.
In a criminal case, a motion to compel is used when the defense team is asking the judge to make the prosecution turn over all the evidence it has obtained of the defendant so they can properly prepare for trial. Many times the prosecution has evidence that it has not shared or turned over to the defendant. In this case, the defense will file a motion to compel the evidence to get all the evidence to prepare for trial.
For example, if a case involves issues of police brutality, an attorney may make a motion to compel a police agency to turn over copies of prior complaints against officers. The complaints may be used to show the officers’ violent character.
In a criminal case, most pretrial motions have to do with the suppression of physical evidence or witness testimony. For example, in a drug trafficking case, the defense may file a motion to exclude drugs that were illegally seized by the police.
Another example is when a defendant’s confession was obtained in violation of their Miranda rights (example, their Miranda rights were not read before custody and interrogation). 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.
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. A criminal defense lawyer will be able to inform you of your options regarding pretrial motions.