Between Your Preliminary Hearing And Your Trial: What To Expect During Your Defense

The criminal justice system involves a number of complex processes with lots of different steps. If you've never been a criminal defendant before, the number of times you find yourself in court before an actual trial even begins can be very confusing.

After you've been charged, you'll have a preliminary hearing where the judge will decide if the prosecution has enough evidence to at least make a case for the charges. Assuming the prosecution is successful, you'll eventually be scheduled for a trial. In between, however, you can expect your criminal defense lawyer to make any number of pretrial motions. Here are the most common.

A Motion for the Release of Evidence

Generally speaking, the prosecution has a legal duty to turn over to the defense any evidence that's exculpatory—meaning that it tends to show the defendant is innocent of the charges. However, the prosecution and the defense don't always agree on what counts as exculpatory evidence. Your attorney may have to ask the judge to order the defense to turn over additional evidence that might be useful in your case, like videos, a detective's notes, or a witness's statement.

A Motion to Exclude Physical Evidence or Witness Testimony

If successful, these kinds of motions can greatly weaken or even end the prosecution's case against a defendant. Your defense attorney will likely look for any way possible to challenge the validity of the evidence against you. Evidence might have been obtained during a search that was really illegal, for example, or while using a warrant that was somehow defective. 

Witness testimony can be similarly challenged. A witness could be challenged for incompetency based on his or her mental health or due to an addiction, for example. Another witness might be challenged because he or she has an obvious conflict of interest that would be best served by offering up false statements against you.

A Motion to Change the Trial's Venue

Finally, another common defense motion is a request for a change of venue—which means changing the location of the trial. This is particularly common in high-profile cases where news coverage of the crime may have made it difficult to find enough jury members who are truly unbiased or whenever the defense thinks that a judge may be unable to remain impartial due to local public pressure.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the pretrial motions that may go on in your case. Every criminal case is unique and develops around the circumstances—and people—involved. For more information, talk to a criminal defense lawyer near you.