What is a Section 991 Motion?

Once you’ve been arrested for a crime, California law requires the state to hold an arraignment. The arraignment is the first formal hearing in your criminal case. In many cases, the arraignment must be held within 48 hours of your arrest. At the arraignment, a judge will explain your rights and read a list of criminal charges that have been filed against you. You will also have the opportunity to enter a preliminary plea (i.e., not guilty, guilty) and file certain legal motions. If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor and believe that state lacks evidence to support its case, you can file a Section 991 Motion.

What is a Section 991 Motion?

Section 991 of the California Penal Code can be used to challenge a criminal case in its early stages. You may only file a Section 991 Motion if you:

  • Are in custody at the time of your arraignment
  • Have been charged with a misdemeanor, and
  • Have entered a plea of “not guilty.”

Filing a Section 991 Motion asks the court to determine whether or not “there is probable cause to believe that a public offense has been committed and that the defendant is guilty thereof.” In other words, you’re asking the court to determine if there is enough evidence to support a criminal case against you.

Determining Probable Cause

When you file a Section 991 Motion you’re asking the court to determine if probable cause exists. Probable cause means that there is “sufficient reason based on known facts” and evidence to “believe a crime has been committed.”

The judge presiding over your arraignment hearing will review all evidence and information relevant to your case to determine (a) if probable cause exists and (b) if the evidence in your case was obtained illegally. This can include:

  • Arrest warrants and supporting affidavits
  • Sworn complaints with supporting documents or reports, and
  • Other reliable information that may be available.

Probable cause will exist if the judge develops an “honest and strong suspicion” that you are guilty of the crime.

The Timing of a Section 991 Motion

Section 991 Motions must be filed during your arraignment hearing. Once the motion is filed, the court must typically make a determination of probable cause immediately. However, the court does have the power to grant a continuation for “good cause.” The 991 Motion must still be heard within three days.

Section 991 Motion Resolutions

There are two possible outcomes when you file a Section 991 Motion.

Finding of Probable Cause: If the judge determines that there is probable cause to support a finding of guilt, he or she will set a date for trial. The criminal proceedings will continue uninterrupted.

Losing a 991 Motion doesn’t mean that you’ll be found guilty or convicted of a crime. It simply means that the judge believes there is enough evidence to continue the criminal proceedings.

Finding of No Probable Cause: If the judge determines that the state lacks probable cause the charges against you will be dismissed. You’ll be released from custody and free to go.


Have you or someone you love been arrested for a misdemeanor offense in San Diego? Do you want help understanding your legal rights and options? Contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys for assistance today.