Do Motions Win Cases?
What Does A Motion Accomplish?
What Does It Mean To File A Motion?
A Motion is a request where one advocate in a case is asking the court (the Judge) to keep certain evidence out of a trial or to include certain evidence in a trial. This is an extremely important area in the practice of law. Since our firm is a Criminal Defense Law Firm, located in Hackensack, NJ, I will limit my explanations regarding Motions to the criminal defense.
The best way to begin our discussion of motions is by comparing it to something many of us may be familiar with. Let’s take an example from the world of athletics to begin our explanation of Motion practice. In our illustration, we will choose the sport of tennis.
The court (judge) will be the tennis chair umpire (ultimate authority), The Prosecutor will be the “Serving” player (offense), and the Defense attorney will be the “Service Returner” (defense). In tennis, one player serves the ball (starting the point) and the opponent returns the ball (starting the rally). A prosecutor serves and a defense attorney returns. Controversy arises when one player believes that they hit a good shot (a shot that was in), but a line umpire calls it out. In our example, the line umpire is the arresting police officer.
One of the most important rules in tennis deals with when a player’s shot is IN or OUT.
The rule is simple: a player’s shot is IN if it touches any part of the opponent’s lines. If Player “A” hits a shot onto Player “B”‘s side of the court, and the ball touches the slightest fraction of the line on “B”‘s side, then the ball is in. The world of professional tennis has evolved to the point where high-powered cameras capture images of every shot and every bounce exchanged during a tennis match. This camera or eye-in-sky is known as “Hawk Eye”.
It has an incredibly powerful zoom lens that can show a still image of a high-speed shot and its corresponding ball bounce. When Player A hits a ball that is called out, he can challenge the call by asking the umpire to either overrule the lineman’s call, OR, the player can make a request (a motion) for an instant Hawk Eye replay. The chair umpire reviews Hawk Eye’s snap shot and determines whether the ball was in or out.
When practicing criminal defense law, it is usually defense attorneys that are asking the court (judge) for a review of a particular incident involved in a defendant’s case. For example, as a defense attorney, I will be provided with a video of police officer’s interrogation of my client. I may notice that the evidence in the video-taped interrogation contradicts the officer’s written police report.
The written report may state MULTIPLE times that my client waived his Miranda rights. waiving Miranda rights means that my client waived his right to remain silent and refused his right to be represented by counsel. After I’ve read through the all of the police reports, I again review the video-taped interrogation and observe that my client was never read his Miranda rights. If he was never read his Miranda rights, then logically, there is no way that he could’ve waived them.
Next, I interview my client and review every phase of his arrest in great detail. We CONSTRUCT a detailed, minute by minute, play by play, timeline. He appears sincere in his claim that he was never Mirandized. As I investigate his case and thoroughly review the Discovery (evidence produced by the State), I realize that our Motion to Suppress his incriminating statement is gaining strength.
I once again comb through all of the State’s police reports and cannot locate any forms signed by my client that indicate he waived his Miranda rights. I file a Motion to compel the State to forward any and all evidence they may have in their possession before I file my Motion to Suppress.
My Motion consists of asking the court (the judge) to force the Prosecutor to comply with the rules of evidence and produce any and all outstanding evidence. If the State has provided it all, then the Prosecutor’s representations are captured on the record (a taped recording in live court) and I proceed to file my motion to suppress. The first Motion was intended to make certain that the exchange of evidence phase is complete.
Moving on with our discussion of Motion practice, I now file a Motion asking the judge to rule on the admissibility of my client’s statements. I am basically asking the judge (as an umpire) to decide whether or not my opponent’s shot was in or out. We hold a hearing on this issue.
Once all of the facts are in (Hawk Eye has done its job), the judge decides whether or not my client’s statements were obtained legally or illegally. If my client’s incriminating statements were obtained in violation of his Constitutional Rights, then the statement is suppressed (cannot be used at trial) and the State’s case is greatly weakened. This does not mean that the State cannot prosecute my client. It just means that in succeeding with our Motion, there is less evidence to use against my client. My client’s statements to the police cannot be used at trial. (There are exceptions but not necessary for purposes of this article)