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Many of the processes for navigating a court can be found online in the state or federal code and rules that govern the court. But not all of them.

I tried the following test: Imagine I'm involved in a federal criminal trial and I think the court made a mistake of law in a ruling. I want to get the court to consider my observation. So first I tried to find an enumeration of filings that can be made before a court in criminal cases. The closest I came was this list of motions that must be made before trial. Is there a more broad list of all types of motions and petitions that can be made before a federal criminal court?

Now, I happen to know that there is a process for requesting a reconsideration based on mistakes of law. But is it a Petition or a Motion? And what rules apply? Again: both a general web search and a search of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure came up empty. So am I missing something or is this sort of process information actually obscured?


(Except in fringe cases these things are likely well known by judges and lawyers practicing in the venue, but in principle the courts and their process are supposed to be accessible by any citizen.)

(Also, thinking that perhaps the criminal side presumes that every involved party has counsel I did a similar search on the federal civil side and had no more luck in this example.)

Clarification: Both answers so far focused on the substance of my hypothetical example. But the example was just given to inform the question, which is: Does there exist a list of all types of motions and petitions that can be made before a court, ideally that clarifies which are allowed at each stage of process?

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Well, first one must determine if the ruling is a final judgment. If it is a final judgment, one can appeal the judgment.

A motion is a request to a court for a desired ruling. It is either in writing or oral.

The list of motions is as long as the number of actions a court can take. (btw, you 'move' a court, not 'motion' it. 'motion' is the noun. 'move' is the verb)

A petition is a formal application in writing made to a court or other official body requesting judicial action of some character.

Now, if one is wanting to appeal a judgment, one must file a notice of appeal.

Appeals are very different from trials. An appeal is not a second chance to argue your case. This is one area that many inexperienced persons make irreversible mistakes. At appeal, there is no more finding of facts. If you did not preserve the record for appeal, you have a very uphill / insurmountable battle that you will likely lose.

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Just to add a few kinds of acts that commonly occur during a trial (there is no real comprehensive list anywhere except perhaps in law student notes and attorneys' private checklists) here are some more. In criminal cases, the vast majority of motion practice is oral and on the record.

  1. Before trial begins on the day of trial, any procedural objections to the conduct of the trial, or requests related to the conduct of the trial, will be made by oral motion. For example, it would be common to move to sequester witnesses until they have testified, and to sequester jurors as well in media circus trials. There also might be motions concerning the visibility of restraints on the defendant to the eyes of the jury, regarding the name or pronoun by which the defendant or a victim should be addressed (e.g. in the case of a transgender woman who does not use the name fond on the transgender woman's birth certificate in day to day life), and objections regarding the language of the initial charge to the jury, prior to hearing the case, if any. Sometimes a party will also move the court to reconsider a pre-trial ruling at this point.

  2. When jurors are considered, a party may ask to "voir dire" a particular juror to learn about that juror's biases. If a juror is biased or not qualified, a party will orally move to dismiss the juror for cause. Once both sides have made all the dismissals for cause that they are allowed, each side will make pre-emptory challenges to jurors up to the number allowed by law in the case (if there is a dispute regarding the number of available challenges, for example, in a complex case with co-defendants, how that is handled would also be resolved by oral motion).

  3. During opening argument, one can object to the other side's statement if it is in some respect impermissible (e.g. claiming that the lawyer personally knows that someone is lying, or revealing evidence that is not admissible at trial such as a prior conviction of a defendant, or making a statement regarding a legal issue that the court has reserved for a latter resolution after all evidence is received).

  4. During the presentation of evidence objections can be made pursuant to the rules of evidence and a party can request that the court take judicial notice of certain kinds of facts (e.g. that December 25, 2016 was a Sunday). Often a party will move for permission to approach a witness, to voir dire a potential expert witness, or to take a witness whose availability is limited out of order, or to adjourn the trial temporarily (e.g. due to an avalanche that has made it impossible for several key witnesses to arrive on time by blocking a road to the courthouse (yes, I practice in Colorado)).

  5. At the close of evidence the Defense will frequently make a motion to dismiss the case as a matter of law because insufficient evidence to support a conviction has been presented (usually, these are denied, but it preserves the right to argue that point on appeal).

  6. At any point during a trial when there are event that could give rise to a mistrial, a party may move to have a mistrial declared (e.g. due to evidence presented by the bailiff that he discovered jurors taking bribes, or due to a prosecutor's blatant disregard of an instruction not to reveal a non-testifying defendant's criminal record).

  7. Once evidence is complete and sometimes earlier, jury instructions will be proposed and orally objecting on the record to objectionable jury instructions while articulating why is necessary to preserve the argument that the law given to the jury was incorrect on appeal.

  8. Once evidence is complete, the defense will usually move to dismiss the case as a matter of law without sending it to the jury on the ground that no reasonable jury could convict in these circumstances.

  9. Once the jury returns from deliberation, either party may orally move to have each individual juror personally affirm or deny his verdict.

  10. If the jury verdict seems ambiguous, one moves the judge to address the issue before the jury is dismissed and the issue can not be corrected by the jury.

  11. If the jury votes to convict, the defense will usually move to have the court dismiss notwithstanding the verdict on the ground that the jury verdict that was actually reached of conviction is not supportable (e.g. because it is an inconsistent verdict).

  12. Following a conviction, where there will be an appeal or an incarceration sentence is unlikely, there may be a motion to allow the defendant to post bond and remain at liberty pending sentencing and appeal.

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In some circumstances you could use an interlocutory appeal; there need not be a final judgement in this instance, as the very purpose is urgency and irrevocable prejudice if the mistake of law is not corrected.

The Supreme Court set forth the test for the availability of interlocutory appeals generally, called the collateral order doctrine, for United States federal courts in the case of Lauro Lines s.r.l. v. Chasser, 490 U.S. 495 (1989), holding that under the relevant statute (28 U.S.C. § 1291) such an appeal would be permitted only if:

  • the outcome of the case would be conclusively determined by the issue;
  • the matter appealed was collateral to the merits; and
  • the matter was effectively unreviewable if immediate appeal were not allowed.

There are also certain statutes that directly grant/confer the right to the appeal.

  • 1
    Never assume it's too late to answer a question! This one was constructed out of curiosity. In general Stack Exchange questions and answers aim (to the extent possible) to be timeless references (which is why questions that could be of no interest to anyone else are usually considered off-topic, and why answers that will quickly become obsolete are less desirable). – feetwet Aug 17 '15 at 15:21

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