This post, the latest in my series of occasional pieces about the basic stages in a Maine criminal case, concerns motion hearings and is short. To recap: a defendant is charged with a crime and then makes a first appearance; if the first appearance doesn’t resolve the case — i.e., if the defendant doesn’t plead guilty that day and the State doesn’t issue a (rare) dismissal — the case is scheduled for a dispositional conference; and if the conference doesn’t resolve the case the prosecution or defense may file a motion of one sort or another.
This may be a motion to suppress evidence, a motion to compel production of evidence, or a motion of a different (less common) nature. The party who is filing the motion generally will include a legal brief to argue his or her side, and the opposing party may or may not file a written response. The motion is scheduled for a hearing, which may be a few weeks after the filing, and the hearing may involve witness testimony or just oral arguments by counsel. The court may issue a decision from the bench or “take it under advisement” and issue a decision days or weeks later.
The outcome of a motion to suppress evidence, which a defendant’s lawyer may bring because of, for instance, a professional assessment that statements from the defendant were obtained in violation of Miranda rights or a search of the defendant’s residence exceeded the terms of a court-issued warrant, can be critical. I once watched a jury-waived OUI trial while I waited my turn in court: the defense attorney had succeeded in suppressing most of the evidence against his client, and that included the breath-alcohol testing results; it was a short trial that ended with an acquittal.
A motion to compel production of evidence can help a prosecuting attorney to obtain incriminating evidence or a defense attorney to obtain exculpatory evidence. Therefore, these also can be pivotal decisions.
Other matters that may trigger motions and subsequent hearings include a motion for a bill of particulars, a court-ordered subpoena for medical records, or recording of grand jury proceedings.
Few criminal convictions are reversed on appeal, and thus the low-level battles like motion hearings and jury selections can prove critical for a defendant.