Criminal Procedure and Motions during Criminal Trials

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During judicial proceedings, both sides may make requests of the judge, known as “motions”.  Motions may be made verbally or in written form, which will request anything from a simple change in the date of a trial to a motion to dismiss the entire case.  In any case, motions may be made before, during, or after a trial by either side’s legal counsel.

Basic Procedures for Filing a Motion

The average motion entails several stages, which include giving notice to the other side about the intention of filing a motion, the hearing of the motion, and the judge’s ruling on the motion.  During the filing of a motion, specific reasoning and legal precedent must be cited by the filing party for the review of the adversarial party.  During the hearing of a motion, either side may make oral arguments to persuade a judge to rule in their favor.  In lieu of filing motions if both sides agree, both sides may enter into a stipulation, which probably has to be approved by a judge before taking affect.  Also, defendants may not exercise complete control over the motions that their attorney may make during the course of a trial, especially regarding those motions filed in the middle of a trial that are usually resolved in front of the judge immediately. 

Pretrial Motions in a Criminal Case

Before a trial, a slew of motions may be filed by the defense, which may greatly alter the charges being faced by a defendant, or in some cases, have them dismissed outright.  Some of the commonly filed motions before a trial, include:

  • Motion to modify bail, which requests a judge modify a defendant’s bail status
  • Motion to dismiss complaint, which request the judge to dismiss a case on the basis of a insufficient criminal complaint against a defendant
  • Motion for bill of particulars, which if approved by a judge, will require the prosecutor to detail all charges, as well as the reason for filing these charges
  • Motion to reduce charges, which requests a judge reduce charges to accurately charge a defendant for an alleged criminal incident
  • Motion for change of venue, which defendants request their judicial proceedings be moved elsewhere to ensure a fair trial
  • Motion for to strike a prior conviction, which if approved by the judge, will potentially prevent a defendant from facing the penalties and other sentencing guidelines associated with a repeat offender or person with a  criminal record
  • Motion for discovery, which is a formal request for the prosecution to turn over all evidence they possess regarding a defendant’s case
  • Motion to preserve evidence, which forces the prosecution to preserve all evidence until a defense investigator or expert can evaluate the evidence
  • Motion to disclose identity of an informant, which if approved, will allow the defense to attack the credibility of an informant’s motives and testimony
  • Motion to examine police  personnel file, which can be requested if a law enforcement officer’s past conduct and history is relevant to the defense’s existing criminal charges
  • Motion to suppress evidence, which if approved, will allow the defense to exclude certain pieces of evidence that were obtained illegally, coerced, or tainted in some manner
  • Motion for speedy trial, which can expedite the process of a trial to prevent government entities from refusing to release a defendant, but also, not brining the individual to trial for any actual crime

Trial Motions in a Criminal Case

During trial, both sides can make motions to the judge.  For example, the defense may file a motion in limine, which attempts to keep inadmissible evidence out of the court and from the knowledge of jurors before it is even introduced.  Another example, while much rarer, includes a motion to allow jury to view crime scene, which forces the judge to accompany the jury at the crime scene.  Typically, these motions must be strongly supported by the defense to be approved.  In the event the prosecution shouts out inadmissible evidence or testimony, the judge will order a motion to strike testimony, which essentially orders jurors to forget what they just heard.  Another common defense motion made during trial occurs following the prosecution’s presentation of evidence.  At this point, defendants may motion for dismissal because the prosecution failed to support a strong enough case against a defendant to proceed.

Post-Trial Motions in a Criminal Case

For starters, if a jury returns a not guilty verdict, prosecutors cannot retry the case at a new location, under an appeal, or at the request of the judge. If the jury returns a guilty verdict, the defense is at liberty to file a number of post-trial motions.  One of the more sweeping motions is the motion to a judge requesting them to overturn a jury’s verdict.  This motion is rarely granted.  Another option for defendants is to request another trial, which may or may not be granted by the presiding judge.  Additionally, defendants can make a motion to appeal to a higher court.


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