Pretrial Motions in Federal Criminal Cases
In most of federal criminal cases, the defendant will either reach a plea agreement with the prosecutor or the case will proceed to trial.
However, in certain cases before the trail, a federal criminal attorney might attempt to get charges dropped by using a motion to dismiss, which is just one of many pretrial motion options.
Before a federal criminal trial starts, both the criminal lawyer and prosecutor will submit make pretrial motions, which are requests for the judge to hear arguments made before a trial.
Most pretrial motions are submitted in writing, but there are some federal judges that will allow them to be made verbally.
Many pretrial motions are submitted to either admit or exclude specific evidence at trial. If successful, pretrial motions can help a defendant avoid potentially severe punishments.
After a preliminary hearing in a federal court, a defendant will typically remain in regular communication with their lawyer in order to prepare for trial.
This includes discussion over any pretrial motions that may have already been filed, or some they are planning to file.
Most defendants don't have an understanding of how pretrial motions work, when they should be filed, and how they can potentially affect the outcome of their case.
Obviously, if the judge grants a pretrial motion, it can greatly impact your case. If the federal judge denies your motions, then the defense lawyer will have gained some valuable knowledge in order to develop an effective strategy for trial.
To give readers a better understanding of pretrial motions, our federal criminal defense lawyers are providing a detailed review below.
Types of Pretrial Motions in Federal Criminal Courts
There is a wide range of pretrial motions in a federal criminal case. These can include:
- Motion to dismiss charges
- Motion to suppress evidence
- Constitutional challenge
- Motion for a bill of particulars
- Motion to change venue
- Motion to compel production of evidence
- Motion in limine
- Motion to strike
- Severance motions
For more information, see Rule 12 pleading and pretrial motions.
However, the most common federal pretrial motion is a suppression motion. With this type of motion, the federal criminal lawyer moves to suppress evidence, or prevent the prosecutor from using it at trial.
This motion normally includes suppression of evidence, such as a drugs or a weapon that were seized in a search, but also includes any statements made by a defendant, like a confession.
Motion to dismiss
A motion to dismiss a charge or case is asking a federal judge to dismiss some charges or entire case. A common reason for this type of motion is lengthy procedures that violated the defendant's right to a speedy trial.
Motions to compel production of evidence
A motions to compel production of evidence or testimony is used to request that the court order parties to provide evidence in the case. This type of motion can also apply to evidence that could help determine a defendant's innocence.
Motions in limine
A motions in limine is asking a federal judge to exclude certain pieces of evidence or a reference to a topic that could create unfair prejudice against a defendant.
The excluded evidence normally includes implications through hearsay, or a witness's opinion on intent. If the motion is granted, any such evidence can only be mentioned in court after a hearing to determine admissibility of the evidence.
A defendant's motion will outline the facts and law to support their claim for relief. The federal prosecutor typically has around ten days to respond to the motion, and the defense lawyer is given the right to a final written reply.
After a motion is filed, a magistrate will listen to arguments from both sides on the motion and even hear witness testimony if necessary. This is commonly known as an “evidentiary hearing” that is designed to resolve any disputed facts.
After the hearing has been concluded, the magistrate will file a report and recommendations with the federal district judge, who will give both sides ten days to file objections to the report. Next, the district judge will decide whether to accept or reject the findings of the magistrate.
Pretrial Motions Are Arguments Before a Trial Begins
Pretrial motions are filed by either the criminal defense lawyer or prosecutor requesting the federal judge to hear their before a trial begins.
Most federal cases have issues about the evidence that will be presented and witnesses who will testify.
These type of issues can take several days of arguments to resolve. Pretrial motions are a way to manage a trial efficiently by asking a judge to resolve issues beforehand.
Both the defense and prosecutor use pretrial motions in an effort to:
- Limit the evidence presented at trial
- Prevent some witnesses from providing testimony
The federal pretrial motion process begins when one side decides to challenge a particular part of the trial.
Typically, pretrial motions are filed in writing and includes relevant case law establishing the legal ground for the motion, and their argument in support of the specific motion.
After the defense files a motion, the prosecutor will provide a response in support of their position. In some cases, the prosecutor will claim the case law chosen by the defense lawyer is irrelevant and not properly used.
Federal prosecutors will always make an argument there are no sufficient grounds to grant the motion.
As stated, the judge will take into consideration the defense motion and the prosecutor's response and make a decision.
In some cases, a decision can't be made without more arguments or evidence. If the judge wants additional arguments, both sides will have to provide oral arguments.
The hearing has to be conducted without the presence of the jury. If a pretrial motion is denied, a record will be created on file of the motion and the decision of the judge.
If a defendant is convicted, their criminal defense lawyer can seek an appeal based on an error being made during the pretrial motion proceeding.
Pretrial motions determine what a jury is allowed to see and hear. Motion that the judge grants will limit the evidence that is to be evaluated by the jury.
Retain a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer
It's important to remember that pretrial motions can be filed by either the defense lawyer or prosecutor. If the prosecutor decides to file a motion, then your federal criminal lawyer must respond to the motion to convince the judge to deny it.
Any evidence that will be used at trial can become a prime target for a motion. Depending on the type of federal case, there can be only a few motions filed or several of them.
It's the defense attorney's job to monitor any documents filed with the court closely. Most experienced lawyers anticipate filing relevant motions and are skilled at responding to the prosecutor's motions.
Our federal criminal defense attorneys have significant experience in federal pretrial motions and criminal trials in a federal court. We need to review all the details of your case to determine an appropriate strategy.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a criminal defense law firm with a team of highly skilled lawyers who have decades of combined experience. We are located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Contact our office for an immediate consultation at 877-781-1570.