Many people ask us “what is a pretrial motion?”. If you have been arrested for a crime in California and have entered a “not guilty” plea you will proceed to the pretrial conference phase of the court process.  The “pretrial” process refers to

  • court appearances (which includes a California preliminary hearing in felony cases),
  • pretrial motions (such as a Penal Code 995 PC “motion to set aside the complaint” or a Penal Code 1538.5 PC “motion to suppress evidence”),
  • discovery issues (ensuring that your criminal defense attorney and the prosecution are exchanging all relevant evidence and witness information), and
  • entering any plea bargains or negotiations that take place before a criminal trial.

Back the truck up…did you just say pretrial motion?  What is a pretrial motion anyway?

A motion is an application to the court made by the prosecutor or defense attorney, requesting that the court make a decision on a certain issue before the trial begins. The motion can affect the trial, courtroom, defendants, evidence, or testimony.  Only judges decide the outcome of motions.

Pretrial motions are motions that are made after the preliminary hearing and before the actual trial.  These motions can be made for varied reasons including to keep specific evidence out, exclude testimony, or to dismiss the case altogether.  Some common pretrial motions include:

  • Motion to Dismiss – an attempt to get the judge to dismiss a charge or the case. This may be done if there is not enough evidence, if the alleged facts do not amount to a crime.
  • Motion to Suppress – an attempt to keep certain statements or evidence from being introduced as evidence. For example, if police conducted a search without probable cause (in violation of the Fourth Amendment), it may be possible to suppress the evidence found as a result of that search.
  • Motion to Strike Prior Conviction- may be made when there is a need to protect a repeat offender from facing enhanced penalties under California’s Three Strikes Law and other rules. This motion can make the difference between a regular sentence and the potential of life imprisonment.
  • Motion for Change of Venue – may be made for various reasons including pre-trial publicity. If the local news has covered the case a great deal, it may be necessary to move the trial to another venue to protect the defendant’s right to an impartial jury.

Pretrial motions are extremely important.  Your criminal defense attorney is responsible for a lot more than arguing your case skillfully in front of a jury. Before the case ever gets to that point, they have many opportunities to take actions that can help set the stage for a successful outcome to your case.  Pretrial motions are some of the most powerful actions a defense attorney can take. Pretrial motions in particular can be very important for making sure you get every possible advantage you are entitled to under the law from the very start of the courtroom process.  A seasoned criminal defense attorney will certainly not overlook any opportunities to use these or other motions to help build a strong defense in your case.

If you or someone you love have been arrested and you have questions or concerns about the process, our team can help.  Contact us at (209) 661-7585 or visit our website at