When a person is charged with a crime, an effective defense attorney will do everything possible to get the best possible result. Different strategies must be employed at different stages of the criminal court process. One such strategy is litigating appropriate motions with the Court.
What is a motion?
A motion is a formal request made to the court to seek a specific kind of relief from the court. A pre-trial motion, as its name implies, is a motion that takes place before a case goes to trial. In Philadelphia Municipal Court criminal cases, the pre-trial motion will in most instances be used to “suppress” evidence that was obtained as part of the investigation and arrest of the defendant. Such evidence is generally unfavorable towards the defendant, and therefore, if not suppressed, would be used by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office in the prosecution of the criminal case against the defendant.
An effective defense attorney who practices in Philadelphia Municipal Court should understand the best strategies in utilizing pre-trial motions in an effort to get unfavorable prosecution evidence suppressed, a criminal case dismissed, and so forth.
What kind of strategies should be used when litigating a pre-trial motion?
Pre-trial motion strategies include:
- All pre-trial motions in Philadelphia Municipal Court can be made orally or in writing. Pre-trial motions in Municipal Court are heard on the day of trial immediately prior to the defendant's trial arraignment. Rules 1005(a) and (b) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure apply.
- Pre-trial motions in Municipal Court must be made “on the record” prior to trial arraignment or, absent a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel or after-discovered evidence, will be considered “waived” in the event of a de novo appeal for a new trial in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. All grounds for the motion, both federal and state, must be stated on the record, as well as the factual basis for the motion, and averment of the defendant's possessory interest and/or reasonable expectation of privacy in the place search in a case where the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office may contest standing.
- In many pre-trial motions, particularly suppression motions, it is advisable to request that Commonwealth witnesses be “sequestered” (ordered to leave the courtroom if present) while the defendant's attorney states the grounds for the motion and during litigation of the motion (the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office is known as the “Commonwealth” in criminal state court proceedings).
- Pre-trial motions for bail reduction and/or relief in a Philadelphia Municipal Court criminal case sought before the day of trial can be made in writing and litigated in “Motions Court” in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas (presently courtroom 805 of the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center).
- In many pre-trial motions, particularly motions to dismiss/dismissal motions under Rule 1013 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, it is necessary to use documents from the court file, and to have those documents marked and referred to as defense exhibits during the litigation of the motion.
- Testimony given at a pre-trial motion by either the defendant or a Commonwealth witness can be used to impeach that witness should the witness testify differently at a Philadelphia Municipal Court trial or a Court of Common Pleas trial on a de novo Testimony given by a defendant at a pre-trial motion cannot be used against the defendant at a Philadelphia Municipal Court or Common Pleas Court trial should the defendant elect not to testify at trial.
- If a defendant testifies on the motion or testimony/evidence is introduced on the motion that may be inadmissible at trial, then a judicial recusal request, made on the record, for trial should be considered.