When the time comes to face a trial, you and your attorney will have some time to get your case in order. One of the things your attorney will likely want to focus on is getting any pre-trial motions and preparations taken care of. Pre-trial preparations can help you change or reduce charges, strike evidence from what can be used in court, and let you in on what the prosecution will be leveraging against you. In any court case, especially one that is headed to a trial, preparation is the key to success.
The arraignment is the preliminary hearing where the prosecutor and judge notify you of your charges and you make a plea of either "guilty" or "not guilty" on those charges. This is a key point in your criminal charges because this is your first opportunity to seek legal counsel. The judge MUST inform you of you right to counsel, and offer a court assigned representative if you are unable to obtain a private lawyer. If you choose to waive your right to counsel, the judge MUST also determine whether this waiver is valid. A valid waiver is made voluntarily, competently and with proper knowledge of the consequences. Choosing to waive your right to counsel does not mean you cannot hire a lawyer later on. Once the matter of the attorney has been settled, the court will then read you the charges you are facing.
If your arrest landed you in jail awaiting your hearing, because you have a right to a speedy trial, your date of arraignment will be no later than 14 days after the incident is filed. You also have a right to object to the date of arraignment. Once your arraignment and legal representation are settled, your preparation for trial begins. At the arraignment, you may find that your case has been joined with another due to offenses that are similar in nature, revolve around the same event, or if they were committed in conspiracy on conjunction with another defendant.
Motions to suppress evidence are most commonly written from your lawyer to the court, where the judge will make the determination on whether or not that evidence should be left out of the courtroom. There are any number of causes as to why certain pieces of evidence should be dismissed. Some common ones may include:
- The evidence was obtained without a warrant
- There was not sufficient reasonable cause to obtain the evidence without the warrant
- The evidence obtained was outside of the warrant's terms
- Statements were made before you were made aware of your right to an attorney
- Statements were made before you were made aware of your right to remain silent
- Statements were made involuntarily
Motions to suppress evidence that cannot be resolved through written notice will be carried out in a suppression hearing in court, and settled by the judge. You may or may not have to be in attendance as well, depending on the situation.
You may also see you lawyers make motions to dismiss certain charges if their suppression motions go through. If certain evidence is suppressed, it may end up making certain charges either invalid or extremely difficult for the prosecutor to pursue. Motions to dismiss that succeed can result in the charges being dropped, or the prosecutor may end up pursuing reduced charges.
Discovery is the action of the defense and prosecutor revealing the cases that they have against one another to each other. Discovery is meant to be handled before or at the omnibus hearing. The prosecutor must provide the defense with or with knowledge of:
- The names and addresses of witnesses, along with any written or recorded statements from them
- Any notes on the defendant's testimony
- Any reports or statements connected to the case, this include police reports
- Any expert reports or statements that may include medical or psychiatric evaluations of the defendant
- Any records of the defendant's prior convictions known to the prosecutor, as well as any convictions of the prosecutor's witnesses
- Any and all books, papers, documents, or tangible objects to be used in trial, or that belong to the defendant
- Any electronic surveillance
- Any expert witnesses that will called to the stand by the prosecution
- Any information that might suggest entrapment of the defendant
The defense must provide the prosecution with:
- The names and addresses of witnesses
- Any recorded or written testimony of those witnesses
The defendant his or her self may be required to perform some of the following actions, provided that they are constitutional:
- appear in a lineup
- get fingerprinted
- have samples taken (hair, blood, etc.)
- have handwriting samples taken
- undergo medical or psychological examination
The defense may also need to reveal the nature of the defense, or whether or not there will be a claim of insanity as defense. Your attorney can also request for specific searches and seizures and specific documents as well.
The omnibus hearing is meant to be the final step in pre-trial preparations. Court rules state that the omnibus hearing will be scheduled with a far enough time that allows for the completion of discovery, the further investigation of the case, as needed, and plea discussions to continue. Essentially the omnibus hearing verifies that both parties are ready to proceed with trial. There is a checklist that the court utilizes to ensure this. The checklist verifies that:
- standards regarding provision of counsel are in compliance
- both parties have completed discovery, and if not are taking appropriate steps for completion
- there are no outstanding rulings on motions, if there are, they will be resolved or scheduled for other hearings
- there are no constitutional or procedural issues
- the defendant does not wish to change his or her plea
Once these items are taken care of, and the court believes both parties are sufficiently ready for trial, a trial date is determined, provided that there are no hearing to be taken care of in the meantime. If there are more outstanding hearings that must be held, there will be another omnibus hearing to confirm trial readiness. This process will continue until the trial is held.
If you have entered a "not guilty" plea and need an attorney on your side, contact Steve Karimi for consultation and advice on what to do next.