Contested Omnibus

What is an Omnibus Hearing in Minnesota?

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 make sense only from a historical perspective.  Before the Minnesota Court Rules of Criminal Procedure in the early 1960s, criminal lawyers brought several pretrial motions for hearings before judges at different times in the court process.  The Rules encourage combining these 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.

We could have changed the court Rules to lengthen the short time limits between court appearances.  Instead, we developed a practice of first holding an “Omnibus Hearing” in name only, within the 28-day time limit.  And we developed a practice of later setting a 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.  The most important is the Contested Omnibus Hearing.

Preparation:  The defense attorney will review available evidence and 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.

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.  If a judge suppresses illegal evidence, the government can’t use it at trial.

The defense lawyer can challenge the admissibility of prosecution evidence in every level of criminal case, whether felony, gross misdemeanor, or misdemeanor charge.

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.  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.

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 that there is not enough evidence to support probable cause to put the accused on trial, after a Florence hearing.

Remedies differ

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

Inadmissible for any purpose:  For example, if police obtain an involuntary “confession,” that “confession” cannot be trusted to be accurate.  So the judge suppresses it for all purposes.  The prosecutor can’t even use it to impeach the credibility of the defendant should he or she exercise their right to testify.

Inadmissible in prosecution case-in-chief:  On the other hand, if a judge suppresses an illegal “confession” after an in-custody questioning without a Miranda rights warning, that would also result in suppression of that illegal confession.  But since the Miranda case focused on police misconduct more than unreliability, the prosecutor could use the suppressed “confession” or statement to impeach the accused should he or she testify.

Types of pre-trial motions at the Contested Omnibus Hearing

The types of defense motions for judicial relief that a defense lawyer might identify and 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 miscellaneous 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

The hearing is “contested” when lawyers question witnesses and present evidence.  The other side contests some evidence.  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.  There is no jury.

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

Or, after the hearing, the lawyers for the opposing parties may assist the judge by writing 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 – resulting in the dismissal of the criminal charges.

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

Preserving issues for appeal

Either party can often appeal the result of the Contested Omnibus Hearing.  An appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals claims that the judge made a legal error, and asks the appellate court to correct it.

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

The appellate court may not consider issues the defense raises on appeal unless the defense raised those issues either at the Contested Omnibus Hearing or at trial.  The defendant should “preserve issues for appeal.”

Preparation

A good defense attorney begins exploring potential pre-trial motions from the first meeting with the client.  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