Maine attorney for workers' compensation, criminal defense, civil litigation, and small business matters.

Maine criminal law blog

A humble collection of pieces about issues in Maine criminal law and procedure by Maine attorney Zachary J. Smith.

Motion Hearings

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.