Pre-trial Motions: How to Get the Case Dismissed Before Trial

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Pre-trial Motions

Pre-trial motions are used by parties to set the boundaries of trial.  In Georgia, pre-trial motions are governed by O.C.G.A. §§ 9-11-12 and 17-7-110, respectively.  Pre-trial motions also provide criminal defendants with the opportunity to hear legally admissible evidence.  In our judicial system, there is no “catch-all” motion to cover all pre-trial matters.  Because of this, attorneys utilize a variety of different motions to assist them in setting the boundaries of trial.

Some common pre-trial motions are:

Motion in Limine

A motion in limine (pronounced, lim-?-nee) is “a pretrial request that certain inadmissible evidence not be referred to or offered at trial.”[1]  Specifically, this motion prevents any party from discussing any evidence that may be irrelevant, inadmissible, or prejudicial to the requesting party at trial.  Motions in limine can be filed at any time before or during trial, however, once the trial begins, and once such evidence is presented in open court, the old saying, “The cat is out of the bag,” applies.  To illustrate, in an assault case, let’s say the State would like to introduce photographic evidence of the victim’s injuries.  If some of the injuries were caused by an event unrelated to the assault at present issue, it would be wise for the defendant to file a motion in limine to prevent the plaintiff from admitting the photographs that show injuries of the victim, not related to the assault in question.

Motion to Suppress

Motions to suppress, while similar to a motion in limine, are used to suppress—or keep secret—illegally obtained evidence.[2]  This motion is used in criminal trials when police officers obtain evidence to be used against a defendant in violation of statutory law or the defendant’s constitutional rights.  By utilizing a motion to suppress, defendants are afforded the opportunity to keep secret any physical evidence, confessions, or identifications that the State intends to use against them—if such evidence was obtained illegally.  A motion to suppress requires a hearing before a trial judge and its process is similar to a trial.  A motion to suppress hearing will also allow a defendant the opportunity to hear the State’s case and obtain legally admissible evidence in preparation for trial.  For example, in a drug possession case, let’s say the State intends to admit a total of 1.7 ounces of marijuana.  If the marijuana was found in two different locations and the entry by the officers into one location was illegal, a motion to suppress would give the defendant an opportunity to have the marijuana found in that location left out of the State’s case.

Demurrer

Demurrer’s are used, in Georgia, when an indictment, even when proven to be true, does not have a legally sound basis.[3]  In other words, a defendant is asking the court to dismiss the criminal complaint filed against him because the State’s case is not sufficient to proceed to trial.  For example, to prove murder, the State must show that a particular defendant, either with express or implied “malice aforethought” caused the death of another human being.  If the indictment charging a defendant with murder fails to show the above, eitehr in part or in whole, it would be wise for the defendant to move (motion) the court to demur the indictment.

Pre-trial matters can prove to be extremely complicated.  Take the motion to suppress example.  If 1.1 ounces of the marijuana intended to be used was found in the illegal location, a favorable motion to suppress would result in the State only being able to admit 0.6 ounces of marijuana as evidence against the defendant.  If you are in the City of Atlanta, there is a significant penalty difference between being accused of possessing 1.7 ounces of marijuana and 0.6 ounces of marijuana.  In addition to keeping out or limiting certain evidence from being admitted at trial, most pre-trial matters require a hearing before a judge.  During this hearing, structured similar to trial, both parties are, by default, given the opportunity to ascertain the opposing parties case.

There are a vast variety of pre-trial motions, too many to name and discuss in this article, that can be used to set forth the boundaries of any given trial.  However, like most aspects of our law, the judge has the final decision and discretion to grant or deny a party’s pre-trial request.  As pre-trial matters are governed by both statutory and common (or judge-made law), these motions can become extremely complex.  You should not handle pre-trial motions on your own.  Contact an attorney with experience in pre-trial matters today.

[1] Black’s Law Dictionary 1171 (Bryan A. Gardner ed., Deluxe 10th ed. 2014, 2009)

[2] O.C.G.A. § 17-5-30

[3] O.C.G.A. § 17-7-111; and Black’s Law Dictionary 526 (Bryan A. Garner ed., Deluxe 10th ed. 2014, 2009)


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