What are Motions?
A "Motion" is a formal request for the Court to do something, and exactly what the Court is asked to do is set forth in each individual motion. Motions are the primary tool of defense attorneys to fight a criminal case in the courtroom prior to trial.
How Are Motions Made?
Motions are most often submitted as written documents, called "pleadings," which are filed with the court. Motions can also be made orally before the Court, although the Court will prefer to have written briefs, unless circumstances making briefing unnecessary or impractical.
Once a motion is filed, the Court will generally set the motion for a hearing. Prior to the hearing, the opposing party will usually file an Opposition, which is a pleading asking the Court to deny the Motion.
Depending on the nature of the Motion, the Court's hearing will either include a presentation of evidence (usually witness testimony), arguments from the attorney, or both. In some instances, the Court will decide to rule upon a motion without holding a hearing.
What kinds of Motions can be filed?
It would be impossible to list every single type of motion that can be filed, but there are a handful of motions which make up most motions filed in a criminal case. Think of it like Motions being different tools on the defense attorney tool belt. Common motions might include:
1. Motions to Suppress Evidence: This motion is filed to exclude evidence that was obtained illegally or in violation of a defendant's rights.
Example: A defense attorney files a motion to suppress evidence of drugs found in a defendant's car because the police did not have a valid search warrant or probable cause to search the vehicle.
2. Motions for Discovery: This motion asks the court to compel the opposing party to provide specific information or evidence that hasn't been shared.
Example: The defense requests that the prosecution provides any surveillance footage they have of the scene of the alleged crime.
3. Motions to Exclude Witnesses: This motion is made to prevent certain witnesses from testifying, usually because their testimony is irrelevant, biased, or would prejudice the jury.
Example: If a witness has a personal vendetta against the defendant and their testimony doesn't pertain to the actual events of the case, the defense might motion to exclude this witness.
4. Motions to Dismiss: This motion asks the court to throw out the case entirely. It can be based on various reasons, such as insufficient evidence or procedural errors.
Example: The defense argues that the charges should be dismissed because the statute of limitations has expired.
5. Motions to Exclude Evidence: Similar to a motion to suppress, this motion aims to prevent certain pieces of evidence from being shown to the jury. The grounds might include irrelevance or potential to mislead or unduly influence the jury.
Example: A defense attorney might move to exclude a bloody shirt from evidence if it has no direct link to the crime and only serves to evoke an emotional response from the jury.
6. Motions in Limine: These are pre-trial motions designed to prevent certain pieces of evidence or testimony from being presented to the jury, often because they're prejudicial or irrelevant.
Example: The defense may file a motion in limine to prevent the prosecution from mentioning a defendant's prior unrelated criminal convictions during the trial.
7. Motions for a New Trial: After a conviction, a defense attorney might file this motion if they believe certain errors occurred during the trial that affected its outcome.
Example: If new evidence surfaces that could exonerate the defendant, the defense might request a new trial.
8. Motions for Directed Verdict: This motion is made after the prosecution rests its case, arguing that no reasonable jury could convict the defendant based on the evidence presented.
Example: In a theft case, if the prosecution fails to produce any evidence that the defendant was near the scene of the crime, the defense might move for a directed verdict.
9. Motions for a Mistrial: This motion is made when an attorney believes that something has occurred during the trial that prevents an impartial verdict from being reached.
Example: If a juror was found to have been communicating with a witness, the defense might request a mistrial due to potential bias.
It's important to note that the decision to grant or deny these motions is at the discretion of the judge, and the outcomes can significantly impact the direction of a trial.
What does the Court do next?
After the above process has been completed, the Court will issue a ruling either granting the motion, denying the motion, or granting the motion in part and denying it in part. The Court will then file an Order, which is a written pleading which formally declares the Court's ruling. However, a written Order is not always filed; many motions made during trial are ruled upon and stated in the record and the court minutes.
Can an Order be Appealed?
Unfortunately, most orders made by the Court cannot be appealed right away. Ordinarily, only motions which produce a final judgment can be immediately appealed. In rare circumstances, an interlocutory appeal (that means an immediate peal) is permitted.
Where an immediate appeal is not allowed, the case goes forward until a final judgment, such as after a jury verdict and judgment of conviction. After final judgment, the party aggrieved by the earlier orders can file an appeal raising those issues to a higher court, but only where the issues sought to be appealed were preserved.
There is one method for immediate recourse to a higher court: the "extraordinary writ." An extraordinary writ, either being a Petition for Writ of Mandamus or a Petition for Writ of Prohibition, can be submitted to the Supreme Court of Nevada, challenging any ruling made by the lower court, even where those rulings are not subject to immediate appeal.
The problem is that these Petitions for "extraordinary" relief are almost never granted. The standard for obtaining relief is very high. The Petitioner must establish that the district court's Order is manifestly wrong and contrary to clearly established law. In other words, the Petition for Extraordinary relief will only be granted in exceptional circumstances where the district court's decision is well outside the bounds of its discretion.
What Motions Will Help Your Case?
Each case is different. A motion that might win a case for one defendant by getting the case dismissed, might not be a practical option in a different case. The only way you can be sure that the proper motions are filed in your case is by hiring a criminal defense attorney to help you through the process. Contact Liberators Criminal Defense today to set up a free consultation about the motions your case needs.