Evidence Suppression Strategies in Felony Trials

Evidence suppression is a common tactic criminal defense lawyers use to weaken the prosecution's case in a felony trial. In short, this process involves attempting to get a piece, or pieces, of evidence in your case thrown out so they can’t be presented to the jury in your trial.

Keep reading to learn more about how this process works and what types of evidence attorneys will attempt to suppress before a trial for felony charges.

Files and evidence bag in a crime lab, conceptual image

When an attorney believes that the presentation of certain evidence would violate their client’s constitutional right to a fair trial, they will motion to have the evidence suppressed.

The primary legal basis for suppressing evidence arises from the exclusionary rule. This doctrine prohibits using evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Common Grounds For Suppression Motions

When your attorney files a motion to suppress, they challenge the evidence's admissibility and ask the court to exclude it from trial. One way to successfully suppress evidence is to prove that it was obtained in a way that violated your rights.

There are several general grounds on which a motion to suppress may be based:

  • Unauthorized searches and seizures: The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Evidence obtained during an unlawful search or seizure, such as a search without a valid warrant or probable cause, may be suppressed.
  • Violation of the Fifth Amendment's Self-Incrimination Clause: The Fifth Amendment protects individuals from being compelled to incriminate themselves. A confession or statement obtained in violation of this right, such as through coercion or without proper Miranda warnings, can be suppressed.
  • Violation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel: the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel during a criminal trial. It can be suppressed if the evidence was obtained during custodial interrogation where the defendant was not provided or denied access to an attorney.

Strategies For Challenging Evidence

Once you’ve retained an attorney, one of the first things they will do is begin reviewing the evidence against you and formulating a defense strategy. During this review of the evidence, we may be able to identify whether law enforcement may have violated your rights or used questionable tactics during your arrest. Key areas to investigate include:

  • Probable cause: determine whether the police had probable cause to conduct a search or arrest. If probable cause did not exist, we can argue that any evidence obtained during the search or arrest should be suppressed.
  • Search and seizure: We’ll investigate the circumstances of the search and seizure, mainly whether it was conducted without a warrant. We’ll look for constitutional violations, such as unreasonable searches and seizures or violations of your privacy rights.
  • Search Warrant: If there is a search warrant, we’ll review it for accuracy, proper issuance, and execution. Errors, lack of specificity, or unconstitutional methods in obtaining the warrant may render the evidence inadmissible.

Filing And Arguing Motions To Suppress

If we are able to identify any evidence that we feel should be suppressed in your trial, the next step is to file a motion to suppress that evidence, which follows the following general process:

  • File the motion: file a written motion to suppress, clearly stating the legal basis for the argument and why the evidence should be excluded.
  • Prepare for arguments: Gather supporting case law, testimony, and other evidence to support the argument in court.
  • Present the case: Once we are granted a hearing, we present the case to the judge, highlighting key elements such as lack of probable cause, warrant issues, or constitutional violations.
  • Rebut the charge: In most cases, the prosecution will argue against the motion to suppress, so we may need to make additional arguments regarding the admissibility of the evidence.

What Is “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree”?

Another strategy attorneys will use when filing a motion to suppress is the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. Under this doctrine, if the primary evidence obtained by law enforcement is deemed inadmissible due to a constitutional violation (the "poisonous tree"), any evidence derived from that primary evidence (the "fruits") may also be inadmissible.

Judge's Rulings In Suppression Hearings

In the suppression hearing, the judge is the final arbiter of whether or not the challenged evidence is admissible. The judge acts impartially and abides by the law. He weighs the arguments of the defense and the prosecution before ruling on the motion to suppress.

The most important factors judges consider when making their decisions are:

  • Whether the evidence was obtained lawfully and by constitutional requirements
  • The relevance and materiality of the evidence to the case
  • The possibility of prejudice to the defendant if the evidence is introduced

Types Of Evidence That An Attorney May Challenge

When the state is preparing a case against you, many different types of evidence may be used in your trial. Here are some of the most common types of evidence that may be used in a criminal trial and ways your attorney may attempt to suppress them.

Physical Evidence And Search Issues

Physical evidence, such as weapons or drugs, may be suppressed if obtained through an unreasonable search or a search conducted without a warrant. When challenging the admissibility of physical evidence, your defense attorney will usually investigate the circumstances surrounding the search and seizure.

The most important factors to consider include the existence of a valid search warrant, the scope of the search, and the reasonableness of law enforcement's actions.

Some exceptions to the search warrant requirement are:

  • Consent to search
  • Exception in the case of a clear view
  • In connection with a lawful arrest
  • Exigent circumstances
  • Exception for motor vehicles

If the search is found to be unlawful, any evidence obtained as a result may be suppressed under the exclusionary rule. In addition, the good faith exceptions, the inevitable discovery doctrine, and the independent source rule may save the admissibility of evidence in some situations despite a faulty search or seizure.

Witness Statements And Testimonies

Witness statements can be crucial in a criminal trial. To suppress a witness statement, your defense may focus on how law enforcement obtained it. If a witness was coerced or the statement was given involuntarily, this may be grounds for suppressing the statement.

Some other tactics for challenging witness statements include:

  • Attacking the credibility of the witness
  • Pointing out inconsistencies in the witness's testimony
  • Proving that the witness's memory or perception was impaired

Your defense attorney may also argue that the witness statement was obtained through an unlawful or improperly suggestive identification procedure, such as an improperly suggestive lineup or photo array.

Confessions And Self-Incrimination

A confession can be powerful evidence against you in criminal proceedings. However, confessions can be suppressed if they are involuntary or violate your Miranda rights.

After you are taken into custody, law enforcement officers must give you a Miranda warning informing you that you have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and that anything you say can be used against you in court. If the Miranda warning is not given or your rights are violated during interrogation, any resulting confession may be suppressed.

Your defense attorney may use the following tactics to challenge the admissibility of a confession:

  • Claiming that the confession was made involuntarily
  • Evidence that you were not adequately advised of your Miranda rights
  • Evidence that the police continued to question you after you asserted your rights

Exclusionary Rule And Its Exceptions

The exclusionary rule is an important legal principle in criminal proceedings. It states that evidence obtained in violation of a defendant's constitutional rights may not be used against him in court.

The most important case establishing the application of the exclusionary rule is Mapp v. Ohio. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that evidence derived from an unreasonable Fourth Amendment search or seizure may not be admitted at trial.

Navigating Through Exceptions

Although the exclusionary rule is an essential legal doctrine, notable exceptions exist. These exceptions allow the admission of evidence obtained in violation of the defendant's constitutional rights under certain circumstances. The most notable exceptions are as follows:

  • Good faith exception: if law enforcement officers reasonably believe they are acting within the law in obtaining evidence, it may be admitted in court even if it is later found to violate the defendant's rights.
  • Inevitable discovery: Unlawfully obtained evidence may be admitted if it can be shown that the evidence would have eventually been discovered through legal means.
  • Independent Source: If the evidence comes from multiple sources and one of the sources is independent of the constitutional violation, the evidence from the independent source may be admitted.

Are You Facing Criminal Charges In Florida?

If you’re facing criminal charges in Florida, you should speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney about your charges right away. Whether you’re facing a misdemeanor or felony, any criminal charge could have a lasting impact on your life.

The attorneys at Weinstein Legal Team are former prosecutors who know the system and will advocate on your behalf to ensure your rights are protected throughout your case.  Click here to schedule a free consultation with an experienced criminal lawyer at Weinstein Legal Team, or give us a call at 888.626.1108 to speak with an attorney right away.

 

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