Pretrial Motions

Pretrial Motions in Federal Criminal Court

In federal law, the term "motion" is a written legal argument filed with the court. Your federal criminal defense lawyer or the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) can file a motion. It's asking the judge to make a ruling or decision important to their case.

Rule 47 of the Federal Criminal Procedure defines motions and affidavits. It says that when a party requests an order from the court, the request must be made by a written motion with a legal argument and include the requested relief. Some judges will allow them to be made verbally.

Pretrial Motions in Federal Criminal Court
Pretrial motions in federal court are written legal arguments that are requesting some type of relief.

The opposition is entitled to a seven-day notice. The motion could be supported, if appropriate, by affidavits requiring only a one-day notice. Before a federal trial begins, both sides will submit pretrial motions.

Under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 12 Pleadings and Pretrial Motions, it says,

“(1) In General. A party may raise by pretrial motion any defense, objection, or request that the court can determine without a trial on the merits. Rule 47 applies to a pretrial motion.

(2) Motions That May Be Made at Any Time. A motion that the court lacks jurisdiction may be made at any time while the case is pending.

(3) Motions That Must Be Made Before Trial.”

If the judge grants a pretrial motion, it can impact your case. If denied, your defense lawyer will have gained valuable knowledge to develop a trial strategy. Let's review this topic further below.

What are the Most Common Pretrial Motions in Federal Criminal Cases?

There are numerous reasons for pretrial motion in a federal criminal court, including the following:

  • Motions to dismiss is asking the federal judge to dismiss some charges or an entire case, such as a speedy trial rights violation.
  • Motion to suppress evidence is when the defense lawyer moves to stop evidence or prevent the prosecutor from using it at trial.
  • Motion to suppress testimony is to suppress statements made during pre-charging interviews of the defendant.
  • Motion to compel production of evidence is used to request that the court order the prosecution to provide evidence in the case.
  • Motion in limine asks a federal judge to exclude specific evidence or a reference to a topic creating unfair prejudice against a defendant.
  • A Daubert motion is an attempt to exclude the presentation of an expert's testimony in a trial.
  • Constitutional challenges,
  • Violation of the speedy trial rights,
  • Violation of the statute of limitations,
  • Double jeopardy,
  • Suppress prior convictions,
  • Motion for a bill of particulars,
  • Motion to change venue,
  • Motion to strike,
  • Motion to sever.
  • Challenge electronic surveillance order,
  • Challenge wiretap order.

The most commonly used federal pretrial motion is a suppression motion when the defense lawyer moves to suppress evidence or prevent the prosecutor from using it at trial.

It often includes crucial evidence, such as drugs or a weapon seized in a search.  Another example is any statements made by the defendant.

Once a motion is filed, the judge will listen to arguments from both sides and even hear witness testimony if necessary. This is called an “evidentiary hearing” designed to resolve disputed facts.

Once the hearing is concluded, the magistrate will file a report and recommendation with the federal district judge, who gives both sides ten days to file objections to the report. At this point, the district judge will determine whether to accept or reject the magistrate's findings.

Must Pretrial Motions Be Filed Before Trial?

Not always. Most federal judges prefer pretrial motions before trial, but some issues can be raised during the trial.

Pretrial Motions Filed Before Trial
Some motions must to be made before the federal trial, but often issues will arise during a trial.

However, some motions must be made before trial as listed under Rule 12, which says, “the following defenses, objections, and requests must be raised by pretrial motion if the basis for the motion is then reasonably available and the motion can be determined without a trial on the merits:

(A) a defect in instituting the prosecution, including: (i) improper venue; (ii) preindictment delay; (iii) a violation of the constitutional right to a speedy trial; (iv) selective or vindictive prosecution; and (v) an error in the grand-jury proceeding or preliminary hearing;

(B) a defect in the indictment or information, including (i) joining two or more offenses in the same count (duplicity); (ii) charging the same offense in more than one count (multiplicity); (iii) lack of specificity; (iv) improper joinder; and (v) failure to state an offense; (C) suppression of evidence; (D) severance of charges or defendants under Rule 14; and (E) discovery under Rule 16.”

Whether the timing of a motion is required by rule, a federal defense lawyer must evaluate the government's case and file as many written motions as possible before the trial starts. Filing motions in advance often ensures the best chance of success, but each motion will be based on its merits.

Federal Pretrial Motions – Quick Facts 

Let's review some of the most common facts about pretrial motions in federal criminal cases below, such as the following:

  • Most federal cases have issues with the evidence and the witnesses who will testify, which take time to resolve.
  • The pretrial motion process starts when one side decides to challenge a particular part of the trial.
  • Any evidence used at trial is a prime target for a motion.
  • Pretrial motions help manage a case before a trial begins.
  • Pretrial motions include relevant case law establishing the legal ground for the motion.
  • Once the defense lawyer files a motion, the federal prosecutor will respond to support their position.
  • Prosecutors will argue that no sufficient grounds exist to grant the motion.
  • Judges will consider the argument from both sides and make a decision.
  • Sometimes, judges can't decide without additional arguments or evidence, and parties must give oral arguments.
  • Pretrial motions determine what a jury is allowed to see and hear.
  • All motion hearings are conducted without the jury's presence.
  • If the judge denies a motion, a record of the decision will be created on file.
  • If a motion is granted, it will limit the evidence to be evaluated by the jury.
  • A successful motion can help a defendant avoid severe punishments.
  • If a defendant is convicted, their defense lawyer might file an appeal for an alleged error during the proceedings.

Depending on the type of federal case, just a few motions can be filed or several of them. The federal criminal defense attorney is responsible for closely monitoring any documents filed with the court.

Our law firm has extensive 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.

Most federal criminal cases are resolved through a plea agreement with the prosecutor, and the case never goes to trial. Contact us for a free case evaluation. We serve clients throughout the United States. The Hedding Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, California.

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