Suppressing Evidence in a Criminal Trial
If you are facing criminal charges, you already know that the prosecution has in its possession one or more pieces of evidence with which it hopes to convict you. This could consist of documents, witness testimony, public records or physical objects, and if you’re lucky, some of it may prove to be:
- Illegally acquired.
- Of a sort for which admission in court would violate public policy.
The exclusion of inadmissible evidence has nothing to do with whether you are guilty or innocent. It concerns itself only with the question of whether the evidence in question was collected and dealt with in accordance with the rules. To retain credibility and remain admissible, its chain of custody must also have been well documented and unbroken from the date of its collection until the date of trial.
However, the proper handling of the evidence against you is only part of the equation. When it comes to its admissibility, the U.S. Constitution has a few things to say.
When the Constitution Protects You
In accordance with the exclusionary rule, the prosecution can only present evidence that adheres to the dictates of the U.S. Constitution. In other words, it must not violate your rights as spelled out in:
- The Fourth Amendment. This protects a suspect against illegal search and seizure, meaning that before taking either action, a member of law enforcement must be able to produce an appropriate warrant for the search or arrest. Lacking either, he must alternatively have probable cause in the form of facts or evidence that would lead any reasonable human being to suspect that the suspect has a connection to a past, present or future crime.
- The Fifth Amendment. This one safeguards against self-incrimination. If the police fail to read a suspect his Miranda rights or prevent him from calling his lawyer, any incriminating statements he may subsequently make should be inadmissible.
- The Sixth Amendment. This one does more than simply give the suspect the right to a lawyer, a jury and a speedy trial. It also guarantees his right to know beforehand the identity of his accusers, the nature of the charges and the fine points of all evidence against him. This should prevent the prosecution from springing any surprises during trial, but it can pose a problem for witnesses who are victims of sexual assault or fear retaliation and therefore wish to remain anonymous.
A good criminal attorney will know right away which pieces of evidence could be worthy of a challenge.
When the Rules No Longer Count
Although mistakes on the part of law enforcement can render criminal evidence inadmissible, there are times when exceptions are sure to prevail. For example, the law has been known to forgive procedural mistakes when the officer who makes them honestly believes that his actions fit the letter of the law. If a search warrant that appeared to be valid contained some technical defects of which the officer was unaware, the illegally obtained evidence may still be admissible. On the other hand, if the defect was one that the officer should have noticed or about which he should have known, the judge may decide to exclude it.
Similarly, a piece of evidence originally obtained illegally may also be admissible if the judge should rule that its discovery was inevitable. This could be the case if a later police investigation turned it up or an independent source provided it.
The Motion to Suppress
To render a piece of evidence inadmissible, your criminal lawyer must file a motion to suppress it in the form of a formal written request. The motion must clearly delineate the grounds for which the defense believes the court should suppress the evidence. Valid reasons could include such things as confessions improperly obtained, evidence illegally seized or actions against the defendant performed without probable cause.
In a subsequent hearing, your lawyer will expand upon the reasons for which he believes the evidence in question to be subject to exclusion. It is then up to the judge to determine whether the evidence is or is not worthy of exclusion.
Although the motion to suppress will generally occur before the trial begins, it may also take place during the trial if the state failed to earlier produce the evidence in question or the defense had no prior opportunity to make the formal request.
The attorneys at Weiner Law Group are aware of the importance of excluding compromising evidence against their clients wherever possible. If you are faced with incriminating evidence against you, please contact Weiner Law Group at 702-202-0500 for assistance as soon as possible.