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What role do criminal defence lawyers play in pretrial hearings?

After an arrest, a criminal case progresses through a series of pretrial hearings before reaching the trial itself. These hearings address vital issues impacting the defendant’s rights and the case strategies for both prosecutors and defence counsel. As advocates for the accused, criminal defence lawyers take an active role in multiple types of pretrial hearings. Understanding their involvement provides insight into this important phase as both sides prepare for trial.

Bail hearings 

Following an arrest, prosecutors will recommend bail terms to a judge. Those unable to afford bail face extended pretrial detention. Defence lawyers intervene here, arguing for reasonable bail and highlighting factors favoring the defendant’s release. These include their lack of criminal history, strong community ties through family or employment, and other considerations minimizing flight risk. Defence arguments counterbalance prosecutorial requests for excessive bail.

Preliminary hearings

In felony cases, preliminary hearings require prosecutors to outline key evidence and call witnesses. Defence lawyers cross-examine witnesses to pin down inconsistencies in early accounts. Their questions also seek to suppress damaging testimony by exposing constitutional violations. Prelims offer an early opportunity to gauge the prosecution’s approach and weak spots in their evidentiary framework. Defence counsel builds their case by gathering additional insights from adversary witnesses face-to-face.

Grand jury proceedings               

Grand juries decide whether to issue formal indictments triggering felony trials. Key witnesses testify regarding the allegations. While defence lawyers cannot directly participate in these closed-door sessions, they compile information on what transpires through post-hearing interviews and official transcripts. This reveals the prosecution’s core arguments and grants clues towards mounting an aggressive rebuttal with motions to dismiss.

Suppression hearings   

Defence attorneys routinely file motions to suppress and exclude illegally obtained evidence under the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. Suppression hearings put these constitutional arguments before a judge. Common targets involve questionable interrogations, identifications, searches lacking probable cause, insufficient Miranda warnings upon arrest, and poorly executed warrants. Grounds for suppression stem from various evidentiary rules and protections against self-incrimination. Defence lawyers must demonstrate improper conduct by law enforcement at these hearings.

Competency hearings  

When questions arise regarding a defendant’s mental fitness to participate in their legal defence, judges order psychiatric evaluations leading to competency hearings. Defence lawyers recruit expert witnesses conveying diagnoses of mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities that could impair trial competence. Successful showings result in hospitalization and treatment until competency improves. This delays further prosecution indefinitely. Lawyers must carefully balance assessments suggesting incompetency with the defendant’s opposition to such conclusions in some instances.

Plea bargain hearings   

Upwards of 90% of federal and state cases resolve plea bargains rather than trials. These agreements provide sentence reductions or lesser charges in exchange for a guilty plea. Negotiations begin shortly after the arrest. Defence counsel wrangles with prosecutors for weeks hammering out satisfactory bargains for their client. Once consensus emerges, a formal plea bargain hearing finalizes the resolution through the defendant’s admission of guilt after canvassing constitutional rights and voluntariness. Understanding exactly how toronto criminal defence lawyers leverage pretrial hearings delivers insight into this opaque but critical phase that prosecuting authorities prefer to occur beyond public scrutiny.

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