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Pretrial Motion Practice in California Criminal Cases

Posted by Sam Israels | Dec 23, 2019

In California State criminal cases, pretrial motion practice is a crucial factor in an effective defense strategy. Clearly, any appropriate pretrial motions to be heard by the criminal court will always depend on the facts, circumstances, and allegations in the case.

There are specific categories of motions often litigated in criminal cases. After the preliminary hearing, but before a case proceeds to trial, your criminal defense lawyer and prosecutor assigned to the case will appear in front of the judge and make their pre-trial motions.

These are essentially legal arguments that certain evidence should be excluded from the trial, some people should not testify, or even that the criminal case should be dismissed.

Pre-trial motions are a valuable asset for a criminal lawyer in an effort to set up barriers for a trail, if the case proceeds that far.

For example, the motions can address crucial topics, such as what physical evidence and testimony can be used, and what legal arguments can and can't be made.

While there are numerous possibilities – there are some common pre-trail motions that can be made before the court.

For example, if you are charged with drug possession, we might be able to file motion asking the court to “exclude” the drug paraphernalia, if we have a reasonable belief if was seized through an illegal search

We might be able to make a reasonable argument that your confession should be excluded due to the fact your answers were in response to questioning by police who didn't properly read Miranda rights.

Additionally, we might be able to ask the court to dismiss your case because police officers lacked sufficient probable cause to arrest you, or due to insufficient evidence to find you guilty.

Pitchess Motion

Another common California motion is a Pitchess request for confidential police records. By law, there are significant privacy protections for law enforcement that includes that the information in their personnel files will remain confidential.

However, in certain cases like allegations of racial bias, excessive force, or a false police report, some information like prior disciplinary incidents could be relevant to your Los Angeles criminal case.

Judges have to attempt to maintain a balance between the police officer's right to privacy and your right to crucial discovery by holding a Pitchess hearing. Your attorney will first ask for a motion to the court that lays out details for the basis for the request to disclose law enforcement personnel records.

If there is an adequate showing, the judge will review the records in camera – which means there are private – and then the judge will decide if the records are relevant to your case. If they determine they are relevant, the police officer's records will be disclosed.

Motion to Suppress – Penal Code 1538.5

A common motion in Los Angeles criminal cases is a motion to suppress described under California Penal Code 1538.5. The State constitution guarantees you certain rights when charged with a crime.

Many of these infamous rights are familiar “Miranda” warnings, such as the right to a lawyer, the right to remain silent, and the right to have a lawyer present for any questioning.

In the United States, everyone has to abide by the rule of law, including law enforcement. In other words, police are limited on exactly what they can do during a criminal investigation, such as they are prohibited from engaging in unreasonable searches and seizures.

This applies to searching and seizing individuals, homes, vehicles, and other places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. If law enforcement doesn't follow the rules, it might be possible to exclude the seized evidence from being used against you in court by filing a motion to suppress evidence.

In situations where police violate your constitutional rights, the remedy for the criminal court is to exclude the evidence that was seized because it was in violation of your rights. In legal circles, this is commonly known as the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine.

Any violations of constitutional rights can be alleged in a motion to suppress.  For instance, the Fourth Amendment provides a guarantee to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. What exactly is an unreasonable search without a warrant is often a complicated topic.

If we have reason to believe a search was in fact unreasonable, and harmful evidence was seized, then we will file in court a motion to suppress evidence.  Next, the criminal court will normally schedule an evidentiary hearing, which will normally include testimony from the arresting police officers.

Our criminal lawyers will make arguments before the judge alleging violations of rights. A solid suppression motion could result in a case being dropped even in situations where the prosecutor has solid evidence against you.

Motion to Compel Discovery

Yet another common California pretrial motion in criminal cases is a motion to compel discovery.  Los Angeles County prosecutors have a legal obligation to hand over some pieces of information.

There was a Brady case which established that material and exculpatory evidence has to be given to a defendant prior to trial to make sure there is a fair process.

The Brady case and others defined a prosecutor's discovery obligations, but there are some disagreements that can come up in the discovery and investigation process where a prosecutor will refuse to turn over the material.

This refusal is not always an attempt to prejudice a defendant. In some cases, a prosecutor will have the belief they aren't obligated to hand over some types of evidence.  In a situation where the criminal defense lawyers disagree with the prosecutor's decision, the solution is a motion to compel discovery. This motion is asking the judge to order the prosecutor to disclose the information.

Contact Cron, Israels & Stark to Review Your Case

Pretrial motion practice is often crucial to giving a defendant the best chance at a favorable outcome. In fact, well-written motions have the potential to determine the outcome of the entire case.

If you were accused of committing a crime in Los Angeles, our criminal defense lawyers will closely examine all the details in order to determine if law enforcement violated your rights. We are dedicated in protecting your rights and to holding police officer's accountable.

Cron, Israels & Stark serves clients who have been charged with a crime throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Our office is located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025. Contact our firm for a free case evaluation at (424) 372-3112.

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About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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