Pretrial Motions—How Your Lawyer Will Shape the Trial in Your Favor
After your arraignment, the process of arguing your DUI/DWI case will begin. After your attorney has thoroughly reviewed the facts, the next step is to file pretrial motions. A motion is a document that your attorney files on your behalf asking the Court (i.e. the judge) for a certain action. There are several different types of motions, each with a different goal. But filing successful motions, no matter what the specific type, will help you and your attorney to shape the trial process in a way that benefits your case.
• Motion to Suppress When the prosecutors begin preparing their case against you, they start by collecting all the evidence that supports their claim that you were breaking the law. However, just because they have collected it and want to present it at trial does not mean that it is automatically admissible. There are strict legal requirements that determine whether a piece of evidence can be presented at trial. An important part of making your case is arguing that the evidence that the prosecutors want to present at trial does not meet these requirements and therefore cannot be used against you.
A motion to suppress asks the court to “suppress” or exclude certain evidence from a trial because it was obtained improperly or illegally by the police officer. For example, a motion to suppress might argue that the officer did not have probable cause to pull you over. This motion would need to argue that the officer’s belief that you were committing a crime was not “reasonable.” This means that the officer’s justification for pulling you over must be something he actually saw. An anonymous tip, for example, would not be enough. If this motion were successful, all evidence that was made possible by pulling you over (which is nearly everything) might also be suppressed.
A motion to suppress might also question the results of the blood alcohol (BAC) tests that you took at the police station. Recall the discussion in chapter 6 about the various factors that can make the tests unreliable. Any of these reasons might be used as a basis to argue that the test results should be suppressed.
• Discovery Motion This type of motion asks the prosecutor to release additional evidence. Discovery is based on the idea that the defense is entitled to all the information that will be used by prosecutors in their attempt to convict. Most of the time the prosecution will simply give your lawyer the evidence, making a discovery motion unnecessary. There is an informal discovery process that happens between the prosecution and the defense, without the judge getting involved. Each side provides the other with a list of the information that they would like to be given. The kinds of evidence that your attorney will receive in this informal discovery process include things like the names and addresses of prosecution witnesses, statements made by you, relevant evidence seized or obtained as part of the investigation, results of scientific tests, and all written or recorded statements of witnesses whom the prosecutor intends to call at a prospective trial.
However, if either side refuses to provide a piece of evidence that the other side requested, then a formal discovery process begins. This process requires filing motions so that the judge can decide whether to order that the prosecution give your lawyer the evidence you want.
• Motion to strike prior DUI/DWI convictions This motion asks the Court to make it so that any prior convictions from the last ten years are not taken into account when deciding a sentence. As you might expect, the penalty goes up with each additional DUI/DWI you get.
• Pitchess motion This motion allows you to gain access to an arresting officer’s personnel file to determine if the officer has received any prior complaints regarding his conduct. Remember that police officers must follow very strict guidelines when obtaining evidence. The arresting officer’s personnel file may be used to show that, because the officer has a history of misconduct, it is likely that you were not properly treated. And, if so, then evidence against you should be suppressed. Complaints that you might look for in an officer’s personnel file include racial bias, excessive force, false arrest, planting evidence, discrimination, harassment, or criminal conduct.
However, there must be a reason to file the motion. Something must have happened that led you to and your attorney to believe that the officer’s past conduct should be called into question. The motion must provide a specific fact so the judge can decide if there is sufficient reason to look into the officer’s past.
The more of these motions that are successful—suppression, discovery, strike prior DUI convictions, pitchess—the more likely the case against you will simply be dismissed without a trial. If not, your case proceeds to a pre-trial conference.