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Motion hearings provide a venue for defense attorneys to argue before a judge and obtain rulings on evidence or testimony before a trial begins. Lawyers typically file a motion in writing prior to the hearing and orally argue its merits during a motion hearing. The opposing counsel, who usually responds to the written motion prior to the court proceeding, typically offers reasons why it should not be granted. Judges determine whether the motion should be denied, or they issue an order upholding it.
One common type of motion hearing involves a request to delay the trial date. These motions can come from the defense or prosecution in a criminal case, or the plaintiff or defendant in a civil proceeding. During the hearing, each side explains why a continuance should be allowed under law, or reasons the delay should not be granted. The proceedings are recorded and sometimes used to appeal a case if an attorney believes the judge erred in his or her ruling.
Questions about evidence and witnesses are other common reasons for a hearing. A defendant might challenge evidence that will be used at trial, claiming the evidence was obtained illegally. He or she commonly asks the judge to suppress the evidence if the defendant’s rights were violated in the evidence collection process. An illegal search warrant and illegal confession are examples of arguments that might be presented to suppress evidence.
Some hearings occur shortly after a defendant has been arrested and charged with a crime. He or she might file a motion to reduce the amount of bail or to modify conditions linked to bail. For example, bail conditions might include the provision that the defendant not drive before trial on a drunken driving allegation. A defendant might argue that he or she will lose employment without the ability to drive to work.
As the trial date approaches, a defense attorney usually files a motion for discovery, which requests the timely disclosure of all evidence the prosecutor plans to use against the client. Discovery motions commonly include witness lists, an opportunity for the defense to examine physical evidence, and copies of reports from expert witnesses. These motions might ask the prosecutor to reveal any information favorable to the defendant that point to his or her innocence.
A motion hearing can also be requested in the middle of a trial. These are called motions in limine and may include written or oral arguments. If a witness’s testimony might be prejudicial to the defendant, a defense attorney can argue that the testimony be excluded. This can apply to all the witness's testimony or just the part that is not admissible. These hearings are routinely held outside the presence of a jury.