It may come as a surprise to most, including many criminal defense attorneys, that the federal system detains a greater percentage of people arrested than state systems. Since the Bail Reform Act (BRA), enacted in 1984, pretrial detention has significantly increased from 19% in 1985 to 75% in 2019, which is particularly astounding, considering violent crime accounts for only 2% of federal arrests.
Many federal, state, and municipal courts have limited the number and types of cases they will be handling in the near term. Some have adjourned jury trials for several weeks and in some cases even months to see what happens after a period of isolation. Courts have summarily waived Speedy Trial Act rights and ordered continuances for a period of time. State courts in particular are promoting the use of video and teleconferencing in lieu of appearing in court. Municipal courts have adjourned court appearances for motor vehicle summonses and code violations. Detention has been waived in certain cases depending on the type of crime, the age of the offender, and other relevant factors.
Whether you are in federal or state court, well-crafted pretrial motions are essential to a successful defense. Pretrial motions are requests by way of formal motion, which may ask for the court to compel the prosecutor to turn over evidence, to dismiss the indictment or certain counts, to exclude or limit certain evidence, or to prevent the prosecutor from making certain arguments to the jury, among other things. These types of motions may also raise discovery violations; challenge the admission of evidence from searches, electronic surveillance, identifications, and custodial interrogation; and/or challenge the sufficiency of grand jury proceedings.
On May 2, 2017, the New Jersey Supreme Court beat back an attempt by prosecutors and a lower court judge to require a defendant to create and turn over evidence prior to trial over the defendant’s objection that doing so violated his right to remain silent. In State v. Tier, the Supreme Court clarified an issue that often causes a great deal of argument in the days leading up to criminal trials: the extent to which and in what form a defendant must provide the State with statements by witnesses who are expected to testify for the defense. In ruling for the defense, the Supreme Court provided criminal defendants with a valuable precedential opinion by which to combat overly-aggressive attempts by the State to shift the burden onto the defendant to produce evidence before trial.
One of the most critical principles outlined in the United States Constitution is the idea that every person has certain rights that must be upheld and protected, even when that person is accused of or suspected of committing a crime. These protections benefit everyone, guilty and innocent alike, and one of the first things an experienced criminal defense attorney will do in preparing your case is determine whether any of your rights were violated in the course of the investigation conducted by law enforcement that led to your being charged with a crime. If any grounds exist on which to claim that your constitutional rights were violated, your attorney can rectify this by filing a pretrial suppression motion to exclude from consideration any evidence that law enforcement obtained by means of that violation.
The stages of a criminal case as it proceeds through the legal system can be confusing for individuals who find themselves on the wrong end of legal charges for the first time. Though popular media has no shortage of stories set within the criminal justice system, these fictional depictions often leave out important details. When a substantial portion of your personal and professional future hangs in the balance, it's critical to have a complete and accurate understanding of the steps through which your criminal case will proceed.