Excluding Physical Evidence with Motions to Suppress
Motions to suppress may be used to exclude or limit the use of evidence in a criminal case that was obtained from an illegal search or seizure. These motions are presented to the court in writing and allege a violation of constitutional rights. If the court agrees that a violation occurred, it may order the evidence discovered and seized by police excluded from use at trial. This can lead to the dismissal of the case.
Motions to suppress may be used to seek exclusion of both physical evidence and statements at trial. This article focuses only on physical evidence. The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution states that all persons shall be free from searches and/or seizures unless police have a warrant.
As a general rule, police must have a warrant to conduct a search. If police conduct a search without a warrant, a motion to suppress the evidence discovered as a result of the warrantless search may be appropriate.
The general warrant requirement has many exceptions. Examples include:
- automobile searches,
- searches of a person or vehicle incident to a lawful arrest,
- searches conducted under exigent circumstances,
- searches of areas in plain view,
- and many more.
Under these and other exceptions, the law allows police to conduct searches under limited circumstances without a warrant. This is known as a “warrantless search.”
If a warrantless search is conducted and leads to the seizure of physical evidence, a motion to suppress may be appropriate. In such circumstances, the court must determine if police acted reasonably by searching without a warrant and in accordance with a specific exception to the warrant requirement.
To obtain a warrant to search a place or location, police must convince a judge or judicial officer that there exists probable cause or reason to believe based on specific information, that the area to be searched contains evidence of a crime.
Police normally prepare a written affidavit or application, containing facts sworn to under oath, for judicial review. If the reviewing judge or magistrate concludes the affidavit meets the probable cause requirement, he shall authorize the issuance of a search warrant.
Experienced criminal defense lawyers will scrutinize warrant applications and related documentation for potential defects.
Oftentimes, the affidavits or applications in support of search warrants do not establish probable cause. These documents are drafted by police officers and reviewed by judges, all of whom are humans susceptible to errors and mistakes.
Accordingly, any challenges to search warrants, which the defense believes should not have been issued are made with motions to suppress. If a defect exists in the warrant documentation, the warrant may be declared invalid and evidence seized as a result of the warrant may be suppressed.
Even if the warrant documentation is all in good order, a motion to suppress may still be filed to attack a warrant-based search where police failed to comply with the warrant limitations.
When a warrant issues, it specifies the timeframe within which the authorized search must be conducted. For example, a warrant may only be valid for a few days. Warrants also specify the precise times of day when the search must be conducted.
For example, some searches may only be conducted during daytime hours while others are authorized at night.
Lastly, search warrants specify places to be searched and things to be seized. If police exceed the scope of the warrant by searching places or seizing items not otherwise authorized for search or seizure, a motion to suppress may be appropriate. Comparing police conduct with the specific authorizations of a warrant is the job of a good criminal defense lawyer.
In a motion to suppress physical evidence, whether a warrant-based or warrantless search, the court must determine if the evidence discovered by police was obtained lawfully. Unlawful searches are those that run afoul of the 4th Amendment to the federal constitution and/or similar provisions to the applicable state constitution.
If the court concludes the item(s) of evidence was seized in violation of the warrant requirement or absent an applicable exception thereto, the court may order the evidence to be suppressed. Evidence that is ordered suppressed cannot be used or offered against the defendant at trial.
If you have been charged with a crime and know that evidence possessed by the prosecution was obtained by police from a search of your person, vehicle, home, or other property, you may have a valid basis to challenge the use of this evidence against you at trial by filing a motion to suppress.
Criminal Defense Lawyer John L. Calcagni, III has extensive experience and a winning track record with motions to suppress. Call the Rhode and Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyers at the Law Office John L. Calcagni, III today for a free consultation.