Understanding Common Pretrial Motions for California Criminal Cases

To help you get the best possible outcome in your case, your defense attorney can file pretrial motions to weaken the case against you or get your case dismissed altogether.

A lot goes on in your case prior to a trial. During the pretrial phase of court proceedings, the prosecutor and your criminal defense attorney can bring up issues related to discovery (the process whereby both sides exchange the evidence they intend to use in the case to the other party), pleas and other negotiations. 

A skilled defense attorney will make full use of this time to file pertinent motions, or requests to the judge to make a decision pertaining to some factor in the case. There are a variety of motions that a criminal defense attorney can make on behalf of their client that relate to evidence, witnesses or even the dismissal of the charges. The type of motion used by your attorney will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of the case. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know which motions apply and work diligently to get you in the best position possible should your case go to trial. 

Although not an exhaustive list, here are some of the most common pretrial motions that a San Diego criminal defense attorney can file for their clients: 

Motion to Dismiss (Penal Code 995 PC)

Depending on the circumstances of your case, a defense attorney can file a motion to dismiss one or more of the charges against their client. This motion should be filed with adequate evidence that the charges were filed illegally or that the evidence does not provide probable cause for the charges filed. If a judge rules in a defendant’s favor, some or all of the charges can be dismissed prior to trial.  

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Motion to Suppress (Penal Code 1538.5 Motion)

One of the basic rights under the 4th Amendment is to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that if during an investigation, law enforcement obtains evidence illegally, it is considered a violation of your rights. A defense attorney can file a motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the illegal or unreasonable search and seizure, making it more challenging on the prosecutor to prove your guilt. This can substantially weaken the case against you.  

Pitchess Motion 

In the state of California, a frequently filed motion is known as the Pitchess motion. A defense attorney files this motion in order to have access to a police officer’s personnel file in cases that involve officer bias, excessive use of force or cases in which there is a suspicion that reports were embellished or fabricated. Relevant information related to an officer’s previous record can be very beneficial to the defense. If a defense attorney can show that the officer in question has a history of similar behavior, the prosecution may dismiss the case or, at the very least, the credibility of the officer will be called into question during trial.  

Serna Motion 

Defendants have the right to a speedy trial. A Serna motion can be filed by your defense attorney if there was an unreasonable delay between your arrest or the filing of a complaint and your trial. This motion would be more highly considered by the judge if the delay was due to the purposeful or negligent actions of the prosecution. 

Brady Motion

The prosecution has the responsibility to disclose evidence to the defense so they can adequately prepare their case. Failure to do so can indicate an attempt by the prosecution to hinder the defense or hide evidence to support a conviction. A skilled defense attorney will file a motion to compel discovery which will order the prosecutor to release the evidence in question.  

Change of Venue Motion 

High-profile cases can mean that the potential jury pool is already well aware of the “facts” of the case because of frequent news coverage. The popularity of the case can taint the jury pool and make it harder for a defendant to have a fair trial. In these cases, a defense attorney can file a motion for a change of venue so that the trial takes place outside of the immediate area, where there is a higher likelihood of an unbiased jury. 

There are many other motions that your criminal defense attorney can file on your behalf depending on the nature of your case. As you can see, pretrial motions can significantly impact the outcome of your case and even lead to a dismissal of your trial. When you are hiring a criminal defense attorney in the San Diego area, make sure you choose someone with experience and knowledge of the available pretrial motions. The right attorney can prevent you from needing to go to trial, saving you time, money and stress. 

Contact San Diego criminal defense attorney Joni Eisenstein today for a free consultation at 760-721-3161. 

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