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Contested Omnibus

What is an Omnibus Hearing in Minnesota?

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Most professions have special languages.  Criminal law does too.  But you can learn some basic legal jargon.  And learning a few legal terms will help you get a better result.  In criminal law, we have two related phrases that refer to two different things: (1) the Omnibus Hearing; and (2) the Contested Omnibus Hearing.  Why?

Why Omnibus?

Many things in the law only make sense from a historical perspective.  Until the early 1960s, criminal lawyers brought several pretrial motions before judges at different hearings in the court process

Then Minnesota Supreme Court adopted our Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure. The Rules encourage combining these many hearings into one, “Omnibus” hearing.  Omnibus means combining many into one.

Why the two different kinds?

Thomas Gallagher, Defense Lawyer in Minneapolis, explains the Contested Omnibus Hearing
Thomas Gallagher, Defense Lawyer in Minneapolis, explains the Contested Omnibus Hearing

The Rules built-in short deadlines for the Omnibus Hearing.  These time limits turned out to be too short for almost everyone. 

Defendants almost always desire to win, more than losing quickly. Fairness trumps speed.

We could have changed the court Rules to lengthen the time limits between court appearances.  But instead, courts began to first hold an “Omnibus Hearing” in name only, within the rule’s 28-day time limit. 

And we developed a practice of later setting real “Contested” Omnibus Hearing.”

What is a Contested Omnibus Hearing?

At a Contested Omnibus Hearing in Minnesota, a judge decides defense pretrial motions after a contested evidentiary hearing.

Context:  A jury trial will decide a criminal charge, unless the parties resolve it first.  Several court appearances will happen before any trial.  But the most important is the Contested Omnibus Hearing.

Preparation:  The defense attorney will review available evidence. And he’ll identify legal issues that could help the defendant at a pretrial hearing.

Available evidence could include:

  • evidence identified by the client,
  • work product of a defense investigator and the defense lawyer, and
  • discovery from the prosecutor and police investigators.

Defense motions:  Is the prosecution’s evidence “the fruit of the poisonous tree?” When police get evidence by violating the law, a judge won’t allow it.  A judge can order the prosecution evidence suppressed.  And if a judge suppresses illegal evidence, the government can’t use it at trial.

The defense lawyer can challenge the admissibility of prosecution evidence. And he can in every level of criminal case, whether

Probable cause standards

Is there enough evidence to justify a jury trial?

The meaning of the term “probable cause” differs depending upon context:

  • A police officer’s probable cause to arrest,
  • a prosecutor’s probable cause to charge in a Complaint, and
  • a judge’s probable cause to hold over for trial

are all different.  And as the case gets closer to trial, the government must have more evidence to justify it.

The defense attorney may make a motion to dismiss for lack of probable cause at the contested omnibus hearing.

And sometimes after suppressing evidence, a judge will dismiss a charge for lack of evidence to support probable cause.

Florence hearing:  A contested probable cause hearing can be part of a Contested Omnibus Hearing

The purpose of the probable cause hearing is to “screen[ ] out cases which, for one reason or another, ought not to be prosecuted” because the record as a whole contains an insufficient factual basis to support the offense charged.

State v. Florence, 239 N.W.2d 892, 896-97 n.4, 900 (1976).

A police officer may have probable cause to arrest.  A prosecutor may have probable cause to charge in a Complaint.  And yet a judge may find evidence lacking tor probable cause for a trial, after a Florence hearing. Some but not all Contested Omnibus Hearings are also Florence hearings.

Remedies differ

If a judge suppresses illegal evidence, the order may preclude its use completely; or only under some circumstances.  But what does that mean?

Inadmissible for any purpose:  For example, if police obtain an involuntary “confession,” we cannot trust that “confession” to be accurate.  So the judge suppresses it for all purposes.  And if the defendant should exercise her right to testify, the prosecutor can’t even use it to impeach her credibility.

Inadmissible in prosecution case-in-chief:  A judge may suppress a “confession” after an in-custody questioning without a Miranda rights warning. And then the prosecutor cannot use the illegal statement in his initial case-in-chief. But, the Miranda case focused on police misconduct. So the prosecutor can still impeach the defendant with the suppressed statement should she testify. And this destroys the defendant’s Fifth Amendment Right to Testify.

Types of pre-trial motions at the Contested Omnibus Hearing

The types of motions for judicial relief that a defense lawyer might make include motions to suppress evidence:

And motions to suppress statements and confessions:

Where the facts support them, we can make motions to dismiss:

  • improperly enhanced charges
  • improper mandatory minimum sentencing requests

And other pretrial defense motions for help from a judge that may be necessary:

  • an Order compelling disclosure and discovery of evidence

Contested

Confirmation bias
Confirmation bias

In a “contested” hearing, lawyers question witnesses, present evidence and argue the law. 

The other side contests some evidence.  But other evidence may come into the hearing record uncontested.

The Contested Omnibus Hearing is like a trial to a judge.  The legal issues raised, along with facts and testimony, are the focus.  But there is no jury.

The lawyers will identify the key legal issues before the hearing begins.  And they may argue the law at the end.

Or, after the hearing, the lawyers may help the judge by writing opposing legal briefs or Memoranda of Law.  The judge will then rule, and order or deny the requested relief.

Result

Depending upon the legal issues raised by the defense attorney, the judge’s decision to suppress evidence may be dispositive. That means it results in the dismissal of the criminal charges. So it disposes of the case.

Other times, an Order to Suppress Evidence may not result in dismissal of charges. But it may still take away some of the prosecution’s evidence at trial.  And this improves the defense case for trial.

Preserving issues for appeal

Often, either party can appeal the result of the Contested Omnibus Hearing.  An appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals may claim that the judge made a legal error. And the appeal asks the appellate court to correct it.

If the defendant loses an issue raised at the Contested Omnibus Hearing, she can appeal it after the trial.  But if the defendant wins the trial, no appeal may be needed.  If convicted, the defendant may appeal within the appeal deadline.

The appellate courts might not consider issues raised on appeal unless raised at the Contested Omnibus Hearing or at trial.  So, the defense should “preserve issues for appeal” by bringing them up with the trial judge. Otherwise, they may be waived (lost) on appeal.

Preparation

A good defense attorney begins exploring potential pre-trial motions from the first meeting with the client.  And this work continues throughout the defense case.

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There will not be viable pre-trial motions in every case.  But defense attorneys are always looking for them.  These are powerful tools for the defense.

Question?

You can call Minnesota Defense Attorney Thomas C. Gallagher at 612 333-1500