When you have been charged with committing a crime in Virginia, you need to do whatever you can to build a strong defense to avoid the harsh penalties you face. An important first step is to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney who can identify and raise your defenses. If successful, these defenses can lead to the charges against you being dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense. One tool that your attorney may use is the filing of pretrial motions.
What Is a Pretrial Motion?
After your arraignment, the prosecutor and defense attorneys have the opportunity to file pretrial motions. A pretrial motion is often a written pleading that asks the judge to take certain actions in relation to a criminal case. However, in some cases, such as during a trial, a lawyer may make some oral motions. These motions can affect many aspects of a case, such as whether evidence can be used at trial, where the trial occurs, and what charges will be prosecuted. The judge hearing the case decides pretrial motions after both sides have an opportunity to argue the motion in court.
What Are Common Pretrial Motions in Criminal Cases?
There are many pretrial motions that can be filed in a criminal case. Some can have dramatic effects in a criminal case, such as when a prosecutor is prohibited from using a key piece of evidence. In some cases, these motions can result in the charges being dismissed because the prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to prove the accused person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In other cases, the criminal defense attorney will be able to enter into a more favorable plea agreement due to the weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case. Common pretrial motions include:
- Motion to suppress. A motion to suppress evidence is a motion filed by a criminal defense attorney asking the judge to suppress a piece of evidence against the accused because it was illegally obtained. For example, evidence may be suppressed if the police obtained it without a valid search warrant or a person’s statement may be excluded if it was given when his Miranda warnings were not read to him.
- Discovery Motion. A motion for discovery asks the judge to order the prosecutor to turn over evidence that may help prove the accused’s innocence, or that is otherwise required by law. A prosecutor's decision to ignore such an order could lead to the exclusion of certain evidence or witnesses or even dismissal of the entire case in rare circumstances.
- Motion to change venue. A motion to change venue is a request to change the location of the trial. In some cases, pretrial publicity about a criminal case may make it impossible for a person to receive an impartial trial in the court where the case is being decided.
- Motion to dismiss. A motion to dismiss may be filed to dismiss all or some of the charges against the accused. This may be based on lack of sufficient evidence, violation of the right to a speedy trial, challenges to the constitutionality of a statue that is the basis of the charges, or other grounds.
- Motion to disclose identity of informant. If this motion is granted, the prosecutor may be forced to disclose the identity of an informant, which can help a criminal defense attorney attack this person’s credibility and motives for testifying. This is particularly important when the government relies on confidential informants with jaded pasts.
- Motion to modify bail. A motion to modify bail may be filed by a criminal defense attorney to ask the judge to lower the amount of bail that must be paid for the person to be released from jail. A prosecutor might file this motion to increase the amount of the bail or to revoke bail if the person has violated the terms set by the judge when he was released on bail.
Have you been charged with committing a crime in Virginia? Our experienced criminal defense law team is here to aggressively fight to get the charges you face dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense. Start an online chat today to schedule a free consultation to learn more about your possible defenses and pretrial motions that may be helpful in your case.