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Pre-Trial Motions to Overturn a Conviction on Appeal

Renown California Criminal Appeals Lawyer Discusses How to Reverse a Criminal Conviction

Appellate courts have the power to reverse, or overturn, a criminal conviction. However, an appellate court’s power to do so is not unlimited—courts are bound by rules of procedure requiring an inmate to show that the trial judge committed some type of legal error. One of the ways to establish the grounds for a successful appeal is to review the trial court’s handling of all pre-trial motions that were litigated.

If a trial court denies a pretrial motion, and the appellate court later determines that the lower court should have granted the motion, the appellate court may then reverse the defendant’s conviction. However, this is not automatic. Before overturning a conviction, the appellate court must also assess whether the lower court’s error deprived the defendant of a fair trial or otherwise infected the proceedings to such a degree that a reversal is required.

Below is a description of pre-trial motions that are most often relied on by Southern California criminal appeals lawyers to overturn convictions.

Motion to Suppress

A motion to suppress is perhaps the most common and well-known of all pretrial motions. In a motion to suppress, the defendant argues that certain evidence should be excluded from consideration because it was obtained in violation of their constitutional rights.

There are several types of motions to suppress, most of which implicate the Fourth or Sixth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens against illegal searches and seizures. Thus, motions to suppress physical evidence based on a search that was unsupported by probable cause are typically filed under the Fourth Amendment. The Sixth Amendment provides all citizens with the right to counsel when they are under investigation for a crime. Thus, motions to suppress potentially incriminating statements made to police or detectives typically fall under the Sixth Amendment.

When a court grants a motion to suppress, it doesn’t automatically mean the prosecution’s case is over; it will depend on the charges and what other evidence is available. For example, if you were charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, and the court finds that the firearm was recovered as a result of an illegal search, there may be nothing left of the prosecution’s case. On the other hand, if you are facing homicide charges, the fact that police recovered a firearm from you may be just one small piece of evidence against you, and the prosecution may still be able to proceed with the charges based on the other evidence in its possession.

While an appeal is not a chance to relitigate a motion to suppress, if you can establish that the judge committed a legal error in denying a meritorious motion to suppress, it may require the court to overturn the conviction.

Motion for Discovery

In any criminal prosecution, the government must provide certain evidence to the defense. This rule, first announced in the U.S. Supreme Court case Maryland v. Brady, creates an affirmative duty on the part of the prosecution to hand over any evidence that is exculpatory. Put another way; the prosecution must provide the defense with all evidence that suggests that the defendant may not have committed the crime.

However, since the inception of the Brady duty, there has been a consistent problem in that prosecutors are often blinded by their view of the case and may not be in the best position to determine whether evidence is exculpatory. Thus, there have been countless times when a defendant learns after they’ve been convicted that the prosecution had evidence in its possession that could have aided in their defense.

This is where a discovery motion can be helpful. By filing a discovery motion, the defense can request specific evidence that may not otherwise have been turned over. For example, it is common for California criminal defense attorneys to request certain physical evidence, witness statements, and even internal police documents suggesting that someone else may have committed the crime.

There is also a specific type of discovery motion called a Pitchess Motion that seeks to determine if any of the officers, investigators or detectives assigned to the case have had complaints filed against them.

If the court denies a discovery motion that should have been granted, it can prompt the appellate court to overturn the inmate’s conviction if the appellate court determines that the inmate was deprived of a fair trial.

Motion to Dismiss

Motions to dismiss are rarely granted because they require the court to determine that the prosecution’s evidence is legally insufficient, that the court lacked jurisdiction over the defendant, that the applicable statute of limitations had run, or that the prosecution’s case suffered some other fatal defect. However, Los Angeles appeals lawyers advise trial attorneys to litigate these motions in any case where it seems they have arguable merit. This is because the denial of a motion to dismiss that should have been granted is very likely to result in an overturned conviction.

The reason for this is that anytime an appellate court determines that a trial court made a mistake, the appellate court must then determine if the defendant was prejudiced as a result. The prejudice here is obvious; had the court granted the motion to dismiss, the defendant would never have been tried in the first place (and couldn’t have been convicted).

Motion in Limine

A motion in limine is similar to a motion to suppress in that it usually seeks to keep certain evidence out of the jury’s consideration. However, some motions in limine are filed in hopes of obtaining the court’s permission to introduce certain evidence that may be challenged by the prosecution. But, unlike a motion to suppress that is based on unlawful police conduct, a motion in limine targets evidence or testimony that is overly prejudicial to the defendant. There are many different types of motions in limine; however, some of the most common include:

  • Motions to keep out a defendant’s prior convictions.
  • Motions to prevent the prosecution from mentioning that the defendant elected not to testify under the 5th Amendment.
  • Motions to prevent the prosecution from mentioning a co-defendant’s out-of-court statements that may be harmful to the defendant.
  • Motions to preclude the prosecution from mentioning, presenting, or relying on questionable “scientific” evidence.
  • Motions requiring the prosecution to disclose the names of any confidential informants.

A California criminal defense attorney may also file a motion in limine to admit certain evidence, for example, a witness’s prior conviction for a crime of dishonesty, as this may go to the witness’s credibility.

When a court denies a motion in limine that had merit and should have been granted, it denies the defense of a fair trial.

Motion for Change of Venue

Under the Sixth Amendment, anyone facing criminal charges has a right to a fair trial. A key component of a fair trial is an impartial jury. This is why judges ask prospective jurors questions before empaneling them; for example, a childhood survivor of sexual abuse would likely be prevented from sitting on a jury involving allegations of a child sex crime. However, more broadly, some crimes receive immense news coverage, which is usually presented in a one-sided manner. When this is the case, it can be difficult for a defendant to get an impartial jury because many of the jurors in the area have seen the news and have already developed an opinion about the defendant’s role in the crime.

Through a motion for change of venue, a defendant is able to ask the court to transfer the case to another jurisdiction, one where prospective jurors were not subject to the same level of news coverage.

Again, by denying a valid motion for a change of venue, a trial court may deprive the defendant of a fair trial, necessitating an appellate court to reverse the defendant’s conviction.

Overturning a Conviction Based on a Pre-Trial Error Requires an Experienced Los Angeles Appeal Lawyer

If you or a loved one was convicted of a serious crime after a trial court denied a pre-trial motion, you may have a valid ground for an appeal. However, establishing that a trial court committed a legal error can be challenging, and even then, you’ll need to show that you were prejudiced as a result of the ruling. For this reason, working with an experienced Los Angeles criminal appeals lawyer is highly recommended. A highly skilled lawyer will be able to highlight errors involving a trial court’s resolution of pre-trial motions and create a compelling case for why your conviction should be overturned based on the prejudice you experienced as a result of the judge’s legal error.

Were You Denied a Fair Trial Due to Trial Court’s Erroneous Pre-Trial Ruling

At Power Trial Lawyers, we’ve assembled a dedicated team of respected Southern California appeal lawyers who are committed to diligently reviewing the record to identify convictions that should be overturned. Over the past several years, Power Trial Lawyers has single-handedly secured the release of multiple inmates, each one of whom was serving a lengthy prison sentence. We not only command an impressive understanding of the laws that may require reversal of your conviction but also of how the California criminal justice system operates, the players involved, and what it takes to convince the justice system that a conviction was unfair and should no longer stand. To learn more, contact Power Trial Lawyers at 213-800-7664. You can also connect with us through our secure online contact form.

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