After the preliminary hearing and before a criminal case goes to trial, the prosecutor and the defense team usually appear before a criminal court judge and make pre-trial motions -- arguments that certain evidence should be kept out of the trial, that certain persons must or cannot testify, or that the case should be dismissed altogether.
Pre-trial motions are tools used by the government and the defense in an effort to set the boundaries for trial, should one take place: What physical evidence and testimony can be used? What legal arguments can and cannot be made? Is there any reason that the defendant should not be forced to stand trial?
What Arguments are Made During Pre-Trial Motions?
While specific possibilities are endless, following are some examples of pre-trial motions that might be made in a criminal case:
- In a drug possession case, the defense asks the judge to "exclude," or keep out of the case, drug paraphernalia that the defense argues was obtained through an illegal search of the defendant's apartment.
- The defense argues that the defendant's confession should be excluded, because it was made in response to questions from a police officer who failed to first read the defendant his Miranda rights.
- The prosecutor argues that one of the defendant's key witnesses, an elderly neighbor with Alzheimer's disease, is not legally competent to testify and should be excluded as a witness at trial.
- The defense asks the judge to dismiss the case against the defendant altogether, arguing that the police did not have "probable cause" to arrest the defendant in the first place, or that insufficient evidence exists for any reasonable jury to find the defendant guilty.