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Motions are written or oral appeals to the judge to take a certain action. These actions may include excluding certain evidence from trial, reconsidering a defendant's bail or dismissing a case altogether.

Motion to Suppress Evidence

A motion to suppress is a motion which argues that certain government evidence should not be admitted at trial because of illegal or improper government conduct in obtaining the evidence. In most American states and in the American federal system, motions to suppress must be heard before trial. The lynchpin of the notion of a motion to suppress evidence in the United States is the Exclusionary Rule[1] , a judicially created rule which states that evidence obtained in violation of a defendant's rights under certain provisions of the United States Constitution and/or Bill of Rights cannot be used at trial. The purpose of the Exclusionary Rule is to deter the Government from violating individual rights by depriving police of the evidentiary value of illegally obtained evidence. The following are the standard and most commonly known American motions to suppress, although individual cases can raise more unique issues.

Motion to Suppress Evidence Pursuant to the Fourth Amendment's Right Against Unreasonable Search and Seizure

This motion arises when a defendant alleges that police or other government agents conducted a search or a seizure without sufficient Constitutional cause. The term seizure applies to the seizure of a person, like with an arrest or a traffic stop, or to the seizure of tangible evidence. A defendant can challenge a search or a seizure if he or she had a "reasonable expectation of privacy" in the area searched or the item seized.[2] If a Court rules that such a violation has occurred, the seized evidence is suppressed, as well as any other evidence that would not have been obtained but for the violation.[3] The Fourth Amendment generally requires police to obtain a warrant before conducting a search or a seizure, but many judicially created exceptions to this general rule exist. If police obtained a warrant before conducting a search or a seizure, the burden is on the defendant to prove that the warrant was not valid.[4] If police conducted the search or a seizure without a warrant, the burden is on the government to establish that one of the exceptions applies. The exceptions include the Terry Stop (limited seizure of a person, short of an arrest, requires only reasonable suspicion and not a warrant)[5]; plain view (the police observed the evidence while standing in a lawful position before conducting a search), and exigent circumstances (police had to act quickly to prevent an immediate harm or the destruction of evidence). Illegal wiretaps, illegal traffic stops, illegal arrests, and illegal searches of homes or personal property are all addressed under the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Motion to Suppress Statements Pursuant to the Fifth Amendment's Right Against Self Incrimination.

This motion arises when a defendant alleges that he or she was subject to custodial interrogation without first being advised of (1) the right to remain silent, (2) the right to have a lawyer present during questioning, and (3) the right to have a lawyer provided if the defendant cannot afford a lawyer, and knowingly and voluntarily waives those rights.[6] Very often, such motions seek exclusion of a defendant's confession to a crime or other damaging statements. If a court grants such a motion, the Government may not admit the defendant's statements into evidence, except in rebuttal. Therefore even if the police violate a defendant's Miranda rights in obtaining a statement the Government may still use the evidence at trial if the defendants testifies inconsistently with the statement.

Motion to Suppress Statements Pursuant to the Sixth Amendment's Right to Counsel

This Motion arises when a defendant alleges that the Government questioned him after the person was entitled to counsel, or in fact already had counsel. Once a defendant is charged with a crime, he or she is entitled to counsel at every "critical stage" of the proceedings.[7] Critical stages of a proceeding include all court appearances, interrogations, and lineups. This motion sometimes arises when police encourage a third party, such as another inmate or an associate of the defendant, to elicit incriminating comments from the defendant when the defendant has been charged and has a lawyer. In such cases, the third party is acting as an agent of the police, and the questioning violates the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. If a Court finds a Sixth Amendment violation, the Government cannot admit the defendant's statements at trial.

Motion to Suppress Statements Pursuant to the Due Process Clause of the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendments

Use by the Government at trial of an "involuntary" defendant's statement violates the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause in a federal criminal case, and the same provision of the Fourteenth Amendment in state criminal case.[8] An involuntary statement is one which is obtained by police under duress such that the reliability of the statement is called into question. The stereotypical involuntary statement is one obtained through torture, though extensive questioning, deception, and false promises can lead to a statement being ruled involuntary. If a Court finds that a statement made by a defendant was involuntary, the Government may not admit the statement at trial, even in rebuttal.

Motion to Suppress Identifications Procedures Pursuant to the Due Process Clause of the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment

This motion arises when a defendant alleges that police conducted an identification procedure, such as a lineup, a show-up, or a photo-spread, that improperly suggested to a witness to identify the defendant as the perpetrator of a crime.[9] In such motions the government must prove that any identification procedures used were not "unduly suggestive". If a Court finds that an identification procedure was unduly suggestive, the Government may not admit evidence about the identification procedure at trial. If the circumstances also demonstrate that the witness' in-court identification of the defendant was tainted by the suggestive identification procedure, the Court may also forbid the witness from identifying the defendant at trial.

Motion in Limine

A Motion in Limine is a motion asking the Court to rule on the admissibility of evidence or other trial procedures prior to trial. A Motion in Limine is appropriate anytime waiting until midtrial to address the issue could defeat the purpose of the motion. Often, non-constitutional objections to certain evidence should be heard before trial, because waiting until mid-trial to object could result in the jury hearing about the prejudicial evidence regardless of the Court's ruling on the objection. Whether a matter is properly raised "in limine", as opposed to during trial, is in the discretion of the Court.

Motion to Dismiss

The American criminal justice system generally does not favor pre-trial motions to dismiss based on lack of evidence. If probable cause to believe a defendant committed a crime exists, the trial is the mechanism through which the process will determine if the evidence is sufficient for conviction. However, certain Constitutional issues can give rise to motions to dismiss.

Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to the Fifth Amendment's Double Jeopardy Clause

This motion arises when a defendant alleges that he has already been convicted, acquitted, or punished for an offense which is considered non-distinct from the pending charge, such that conviction or punishment for the pending charge would amount to double jeopardy.[10] In many cases this motion must be made before trial or it is deemed waived.

Motion to Dismiss for Violation of the Sixth Amendment's Right to a Speedy Trial

This motion arises when a defendant alleges that the Government has caused undue delay in putting him on trial such that the case should be dismissed. As a Constitutional issue under the Sixth Amendment, a defendant must show that he has been harmed by the delay such that he cannot receive a fair trial. Long delays can impair one's ability to prepare a defense because witnesses die, documents and other evidence are lost, and memories fade. Most states also have statutory speedy trial rights , and many of those set strict deadlines on the Government for bringing a defendant to trial such that dismissal is mandatory upon a speedy trial violation regardless of prejudice to a defendant.[11] In most cases, speedy trial motions must be made before are trial or are deemed waived.

Motion to Dismiss for Destruction of Evidence Pursuant to the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendments

This motion arises when a defendant alleges that the Government has destroyed evidence that would have exonerated him.[12] In such instances, the defendant must prove the Government destroyed evidence in "bad faith" in order to achieve the remedy of dismissal. However, if the exculpatory value of the evidence was obvious, bad faith may be presumed.

Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction or Venue

This motion arises when a defendant alleges that the Court before which his case is pending does not have jurisdiction over him (or his alleged crime) Generally, criminal trials must take place in the judicial district where a crime allegedly occurred. In addition, certain courts, such as federal courts, domestic courts, or juvenile courts, only have authority to hear certain kinds of cases.

Motion to Dismiss for Invalid Indictment or Other Charging Document

This motion arises when a defendant alleges that the process by which a charge was initiated against him was improper or invalid. For example, defendant has a right to be indicted by a Grand Jury pursuant to the Fifth Amendment if he is to be tried in an American federal court. A possible allegation could be that the Grand Jury did not contain a sufficient number of persons, or that the Government used false evidence during the Grand Jury proceeding. This motion must generally be made before trial, or is deemed waived. If an indictment or other charging document is deemed invalid, the Government can normally re-charge the defendant without violating the Double Jeopardy clause.

See Defenses


  1. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961)
  2. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967)
  3. See Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471 (1963)
  4. Franks v. Deleware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978); Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983)
  5. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968); Berkemer v. McCarty 468 U.S. 420 (1984)
  6. Miranda v. Arizona, 386 U.S. 486 (1966)
  7. Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201 (1964)
  8. Brown v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278 (1936)
  9. Neil v. Biggers, 409 U.S. 188 (1972).
  10. Blockburger v. United States,284 U.S. 299 (1932)
  11. See Virginia Code 19.2-243
  12. Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51 (1988)