Pre-Trial Motions and Hearings

A motion is a request by either the prosecutor or the defense attorney to have the court take a specific action in a case. The following are pre-trial motions often requested by the defense.

Motion for Inspection of Grand Jury Minutes

The defendant may request that the judge review the grand jury proceedings to determine if the prosecutor presented enough evidence to support the filing of an indictment on the charges and that the integrity of the grand jury was not impaired by the prosecution's presentation of evidence. If the judge determines that there was insufficient evidence, the charges may be dismissed or reduced. Under certain circumstances, the prosecutor may represent the charges again.

Motion to Dismiss

The defendant may move to dismiss the complaint or indictment as being technically defective, for not being supported by sufficient evidence, in the interest of justice, or because he was denied a speedy trial.

Speedy Trial

The defendant in a criminal action has the right to a trial within a certain period of time. In felony cases (except some homicides) the prosecution must be ready for trial within six months of the filing of the felony complaint in Criminal Court. The prosecution must be ready within ninety days of the filing of a misdemeanor complaint for class A misdemeanors; within 60 days for class B misdemeanors; and within 30 days for a violation. If the prosecution does not adhere to these time limitations, the defense may file a motion to dismiss the case. However, in calculating these time limitations, certain periods of time are excluded by statute which means that the case will usually be tried at a date beyond these time limits. There are also statutory time limits regarding the length of time that a defendant may be held in custody awaiting trial.

Motions to Suppress Evidence

The defendant can move to prohibit the introduction of evidence at trial on the grounds that it was unlawfully or improperly obtained. Such suppression motions most commonly seek to prohibit the introduction of the defendant's statements, identifications of the defendant, and physical evidence taken from the defendant. If the defendant's motion is granted and evidence is suppressed, the prosecutor will not be able to introduce the evidence during trial. The court will hold a hearing before trial in order to decide whether to grant the defendant's motion to suppress evidence. A hearing is a court proceeding where testimony is given, to help a judge decide a specific issue in a case. During the suppression hearing testimony is taken from police officers and witnesses, exhibits are reviewed, and legal arguments are made. The following are pre-trial suppression hearings often requested by the defense.

Statements Made by the Defendant

A hearing to determine whether a defendant's statement is admissible is called a Huntley Hearing. The issue in a Huntley hearing is whether the defendant was given his Miranda warnings, whether those warnings were complete, and whether his decision to make a statement to the police was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. For example, it is improper for the police to obtain a statement from the defendant involuntarily due to pressure, tricks, threats, or physical abuse. Moreover, the police are required to properly advise the defendant of his right to remain silent.

Identifications Made of the Defendant

A hearing to determine whether an identification made of the defendant is admissible is called a Wade Hearing. The issue in a Wade hearing is the reasonableness of police conduct and suggestiveness in conducting the identification. For example, it is improper for the police to conduct a lineup in a suggestive or unfair manner.

Physical Evidence Seized from the Defendant

A hearing to determine whether physical evidence taken seized from the defendant is admissible is called a Mapp Hearing. The issue in a Mapp hearing is whether the police had probable cause to arrest the defendant, and whether the stop or frisk of the defendant was proper. For example, it is improper for the police to stop and search a defendant to gather evidence without probable cause.

Evidence Obtained from an Unreasonable Search and Seizure

A hearing to determine whether any evidence obtained from an unreasonable search and seizure of the defendant is admissible is called a Dunaway Hearing. For example, it is improper for the police to hold a defendant without probable cause; therefore, any evidence that is obtained as a result of the improper police conduct should not be allowed at the trial.

The Defendant's Prior Convictions or Bad Acts

A hearing to determine whether the prosecutor will be allowed to ask the defendant about his prior convictions or bad acts at trial is called a Sandoval hearing.