Before and during criminal trials in New York and around the country, prosecutors ask judges to make rulings, issue orders or provide directions. These requests are called motions and they can be made orally during the course of a criminal trial or in writing before the case goes to court. Oral motions usually ask the judge to rule on something basic like whether or not a question or piece of evidence should be allowed. Written motions tend to deal with more substantive issues.
Common motions in criminal cases
The most important motions are usually made before criminal trials begin. The most common pretrial motions made by criminal law attorneys are:
- Motion to exclude evidence. This kind of motion is common in cases where the most important evidence was discovered during police searches. Defense attorneys could seek to have this evidence excluded if rights protected by the Fourth Amendment may have been violated.
- Motion to exclude witness testimony. Attorneys may request that witnesses be excluded if they lack competence, are unreliable or have a conflict of interest.
- Motion to dismiss. This kind of motion may be granted when prosecutors do not have enough evidence to make a prima facie case or even prove that a crime was committed.
- Motion to move venue. Attorneys may ask judges to move trials when finding an impartial jury is likely to be difficult or impossible.
- Motion to compel discovery. Prosecutors are required to turn over all exculpatory evidence to the defense. This kind of motion is made to ensure that they do.
Judges consider motions and the documents and case law supporting them carefully, but they still may ask to hear from prosecutors and defense attorneys before ruling. These hearings can be held before trials begin or after they have started.
Preparing for trial
If you are charged with committing a crime in New York, an experienced criminal defense attorney may study police reports and witness statements carefully to determine what kind of motions are warranted. In some cases, attorneys may ask the judge to overrule the jury by issuing a directed verdict. This motion may be granted when a jury’s vote to convict cannot be supported by the evidence they were presented with.