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What is a Motion for a New Trial?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 17, 2024

A motion for a new trial is a formal legal request that asks a judge to set aside a decision in a case so that a new trial can be held. This type of legal motion is filed only in cases in which people feel that gross procedural or legal errors compromised the trial to the point that the outcome cannot be viewed as valid. It is unusual for a judge to grant this motion, and when a judge does so, it indicates that the original trial was so flawed that the outcome was unjust.

The rules about when people may file a motion for a new trial vary. As a general rule, the motion must be filed within seven to 30 days of the conclusion of a trial. This gives legal experts time to review a trial to determine whether or not it was conducted properly, but does not set up such an open-ended deadline that a motion can be filed months or years later. The general idea is that if people identify profound errors with a trial, they should be able to do so quickly.

When the motion is filed, an attorney usually goes before the judge who heard the case in the first place. The lawyer provides supporting evidence to show that there were problems with the trial that compromise the outcome. Known as key errors, such problems are significant in nature and had the effect of skewing the trial result. Some things which might lead a judge to grant a new trial include violations of the rules of evidence, jury tampering, and not following courtroom procedure.

While weighing the legal motion, a judge will consider the facts provided by the lawyer who made the motion to determine whether or not they are compelling enough. The judge may agree, for example, that errors were made, but believe that the errors did not functionally alter the outcome of the trial and that they were minor in nature. For instance, if someone failed to word a statement properly when introducing evidence, this is an error, but it might not be a key error.

If a motion for a new trial is denied, this is not the end of the road. The attorney can write an appeal and bring it to an appellate court. These higher courts have the ability to review lower court proceedings. The appellate court may agree that the trial was categorically flawed and order the lower court to retry the matter.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By JimmyT — On May 29, 2012

I am really wondering if someone could list some hypotheticals as to what could constitue a successful motion for a new trial and what is something that could be denied, yet seeming to be legitimate to begin with.

I really feel that hypotheticals would allow people who are not as knowledgeable about the law to have a chance to understand how strict the legal system is as far a mistakes go, as well as show exactly how the process for a new trial occurs.

I hear way too much speculation about what can and cannot constitute a successful motion for a new trial and this keeps people from attaining valuable information in the legal process.

Although without proper training one cannot be an expert, it does help to know the basics in such matters so one can understand how the system works and if they ever fall into such a situation that they will know what to do and what process to take in the matter.

By Izzy78 — On May 28, 2012

@Emilski - I think the reason why people believe that to be true is because the law is such a complicated thing and people not properly trained in the subject have very little idea and assume that there cannot be a single mistake in a trial.

Truth is mistakes happen all the time that do not result in motions for new trials and most of the time the motion is just a last ditch effort by the party to give them any hope to win the case.

I really feel like people need to leave the speculation of law to the experts and not just assume such matters. That is why the courts see people as being innocent until proven guilty and does not allow the court of public opinion to make the decision or have any bearing whatsoever on cases.

By Emilski — On May 27, 2012

@matthewc23 - That is true, but most people have a misconception about evidence and believe that if one thing is wrong with a trial a new one must begin. This however, cannot be any further from the truth.

It is too easy for something wrong to occur in a trial and that is why there is constantly evidence being thrown out or testimony disregarded that was deemed improper.

Even if after the trial something is found to be improper, it has to be proven that this could have led to a wrongful decision or hindered the court. If it is something say procedural, that had virtually no impact on the trial, then this will not warrant a new trial to be requested.

I really find this to be a major misconception and I am really wondering why this is always such the case?

By matthewc23 — On May 27, 2012

I do not know much about the law but one thing that I do know is that it is very easy to a mis- trial to occur, which would spawn a motion for a new trial.

I remember seeing a movie once, that although comedy based and not real accurate, the character refused to go along with the jury and render a guilty verdict, so he could stay sequestered in the hotel that was provided for the jurors.

Although this was done in a comedic tone, this is an example of something that could actually render a mis-trial, because the juror has an agenda to make the trial last longer.

That being said there are a lot of other things that can occur to render a mis-trial and render a motion for a new trial and these can come from the prosecution, defense, judge, jury, witnesses, and even the evidence itself if something is deemed to be improper.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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