Motion for a New Trial Cases in California

In People v. Fosselman (1983) 33 Cal.3d 572, the court held that criminal defendants may raise claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in a motion for new trial even though the statute authorizing such a motion, section 1181, "expressly limits the grant of a new trial to only the listed grounds, and ineffective assistance is not among them." (People v. Fosselman, supra, 33 Cal.3d at p. 582.) The court stated, "the statute should not be read to limit the constitutional duty of trial courts to ensure that defendants be accorded due process," and noted further, "it is undeniable that trial judges are particularly well suited to observe courtroom performance and to rule on the adequacy of counsel in criminal cases tried before them. Thus, in appropriate circumstances justice will be expedited by avoiding appellate review, or habeas corpus proceedings, in favor of presenting the issue of counsel's effectiveness to the trial court as the basis of a motion for new trial." (Ibid.) People v. Oliver (1975) 46 Cal.App.3d 747 arose in the context of a motion for new trial. There, in rejecting the People's contention that the trial court erred in ordering a new trial because, inter alia, the court based its order on nonstatutory grounds, the court stated: "Although it has been stated that motions for new trial must be made on one or more of the grounds enumerated in Penal Code section 1181 , new trials are frequently granted on nonstatutory grounds 'where the failure to do so would result in a denial of a fair trial to a defendant in a criminal case.' ... The inherent power of the court to correct matters by granting a new trial transcends statutory limitations ." (People v. Oliver, supra, 46 Cal.App.3d at p. 751.) In Murgia v. Municipal Court (1975) 15 Cal.3d 286, the defendants, charged with various crimes, moved to dismiss the charges on the ground that prosecutions violated their constitutional right to the equal protection of the laws. In approving of the use of a pretrial motion to raise this issue, the court stated "because a claim of discriminatory prosecution generally rests upon evidence completely extraneous to the specific facts of the charged offense, we believe the issue should not be resolved upon evidence submitted at trial, but instead should be raised, as defendants have done here, through a pretrial motion to dismiss. Although no clear California statutory authority provides for such a pretrial motion to dismiss, we have no doubt in light of the constitutional nature of the issue as to the trial court's authority to entertain such a claim." (Murgia v. Superior Court, supra, 15 Cal.3d at fn. 4, pp. 293-294.) Thus, Murgia dealt with a pretrial motion and Oliver and Fosselman dealt with timely post-trial motions.