Motion Hearings - Motions to Suppress & Motions to Dismiss


An effective tool that criminal defense attorneys often use in criminal proceedings are motions to suppress and motions to dismiss.  A successful motion could mean the difference between a dropped or dismissed charges and jail or prison sentences.  Even if a motion to suppress or a motion to dismiss doesn't result in dropped or dismissed charges, they can drastically change the landscape of the case against you by excluding potentially damaging evidence or by dismissing higher charges.

What is a motion to suppress?

A motion to suppress is a motion filed by a criminal defense attorney when he or she has reason to believe that evidence was illegally obtained through an unlawful search or seizure.  The goal is to have the judge throw out evidence that the State plans to use against you.  Once a motion to suppress is granted, your criminal defense lawyer will have more leverage to negotiate with the prosecutor, which could lead to a more beneficial plea agreement.  A successful motion to suppress could also lead to the State dropping the charges or to a not guilty verdict at trial.  

For example, in a DUI case, if the officer did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop and/or to detain you, then any and all evidence that they obtained after the stop and/or detention could be thrown out, including the results of the field sobriety tests and breath, blood or urine results.  In a drug case, if the officer conducted an illegal search and found a controlled substance, the prosecutor could not use that controlled substance against you in court.  

Your criminal lawyer will file a motion to suppress.  The judge will then place it on the calendar for a motion hearing.  At the motion hearing, the prosecutor will call witnesses, which usually will include the police officer that had contact with you, and they will submit evidence, for example, a video of the officer's interaction with you.  Your criminal lawyer will cross examine the officers and can offer witnesses and/or evidence of his or her own.  Both sides will then make legal arguments relying on the facts elicited at the hearing and on the relevant case law.  The criminal trial judge will usually pass the case, review the facts and the legal cases and render either an oral or a written order granting or denying the motion to suppress.  

If the judge denies the motion to suppress, the State can use the evidence in question against you at trial.  You would be able to appeal the judges decision if you were convicted at trial.  If the judge grants the motion to suppress, the evidence could not be used against you at trial.  

What is a motion to dismiss?  

When there is a legal problem with the charges, a criminal defense attorney can often file a motion to dismiss the charges.  For example, if the statute of limitations has run, the defense attorney can file a motion to dismiss because the State waited to long to bring prosecution.  
A common type of motion to dismiss is called a C4 motion.  If the prosecutor and criminal defense attorney agree on all of the material facts, but they disagree on whether the person committed a crime, the criminal defense lawyer can file a motion to dismiss and have the judge determine whether a crime was committed, as a matter of law.  

For example, in a child abuse case, both sides may agree on the facts, but disagree that it was child abuse.  The State may believe that a parent used too much force on their child while disciplining the child.  The parent may disagree and argue that it was his or her right to use corporal punishment on their own child.  If both sides agree on what the parent did to the child and on what injuries, if any, resulted from the actions, then the criminal defense attorney could file a motion to dismiss arguing that both the State and the defense agree on the facts, but as a matter of law, those facts do not establish the crime of child abuse in the State of Florida.  

If the prosecutor disagrees with any material facts, he or she will file a "traverse." Once a traverse is filed, the just will usually not hear the motion to dismiss.  This is because as long as their are any material facts in dispute, it is the jury's job to determine which facts are true and which ones are not.  The judge can only decide a C4 motion to dismiss if both sides agree on the facts.  If the State does not file a traverse because they agree with the facts laid out by the defense, then the judge will decide whether the facts presented rise to the level of a crime based on the language in the statute and the case law.  
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