Motions to Suppress: Getting Evidence Excluded
Aug. 31, 2022
With over two million individuals serving time in jails and prisons, the United States continues to lead the criminal incarceration rate worldwide. However, over 90 percent of all felony and misdemeanor criminal cases never reach trial. Evidence—or the lack of evidence—plays a part in this. In many criminal cases, evidence either leads to a pre-trial plea bargain or dismissal of charges. Ultimately, evidence is the critical cornerstone for any criminal charge.
When defending clients, I can certainly understand the urgency for my clients to focus on evidence—what the evidence is, how it can be used, and what effect it will have on the outcome of the case. Even though no two cases are exactly alike, one essential question surrounding the evidence remains the same: Was the evidence obtained illegally or in violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights? If so, how is that evidence suppressed, or removed from trial?
If your case goes to trial, it’s natural to feel scared or even overwhelmed. Let me help. As a criminal defense attorney, I serve individuals and families in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as well as surrounding areas including Delaware County, Montgomery County, Bucks County, and Chester County. Set up a consultation to discuss your case and how a motion to suppress evidence can make a powerful impact.
What Is a Motion To Suppress?
A motion to suppress is a request made by the defendant in a criminal trial that asks a judge to exclude particular evidence from being used in trial. A motion to suppress evidence stems from the “exclusionary rule” which is found in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and certain portions of the PA Constitution. In short, the exclusionary rule prohibits evidence that has been illegally obtained from being used against a defendant in court.
What Type of Evidence Can Be Suppressed?
The average person who gets arrested and charged with a crime has little more than a basic understanding of their Miranda rights. Because of this, when you are in the midst of a traffic stop, interrogation, or any other type of crime scene, it’s often difficult to interpret whether or not law enforcement and investigators are operating appropriately within your constitutional rights. Although there are always exceptions, the majority of evidence that is suppressed centers around two main ideas.
Illegal search and seizure
Lack of a warrant or probable cause
Here is a scenario that illustrates how evidence might be excluded by way of a motion to suppress:
John Doe was stopped by police for a routine traffic infraction. During the stop, John allowed the officer to search his vehicle where a small amount of marijuana was found. After finding marijuana, the officer also began to search John’s personal belongings and took possession of John's cellphone. As the officer explored John’s personal device, he discovered text messages and photos that illustrated John was illegally cultivating large amounts of marijuana. John was immediately arrested and charged with much more than just a trace amount of marijuana. As the case moved forward, John’s attorney filed a motion to suppress the text messages and photos claiming they were illegally obtained because the officer never received consent or had a warrant to search the data contained in John’s phone. The motion was granted and the outcome of the case significantly changed.
Would the average person have known this was a clear violation of illegal search and seizure? Probably not. This is why it is always critical to partner with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can examine the circumstances of the evidence and best protect your rights.
What Is the Process for Filing a Motion To Suppress?
Unless you find out during the trial that evidence being used against you was illegally obtained, in the majority of criminal cases, motions are presented at either the preliminary hearing or arraignment.
The typical next step is a motion to suppress hearing where both the prosecution and defense have the opportunity to support or argue the evidence in question. At the conclusion of the hearing a judge will decide, based on the evidence and statements from both parties, to allow or exclude the evidence. If the motion to suppress is granted, the evidence will not be used in the trial. If the motion is denied, the prosecution may use that evidence against you in court.
Because freedom often hangs in the balance of evidence, filing motions or attempting to navigate the criminal justice system should only be done with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.
How A Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
Regardless of the nature of the charges against you, everyone has rights that deserve to be protected. Often, because of interrogation tactics and pressure from prosecutors, defendants may be uncertain about the integrity of how evidence has been obtained. This evidence may be used against them. Understanding laws and circumstances that surround how evidence can be used in a criminal trial is extremely complex. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can investigate and best determine the legitimacy of evidence and provides the best opportunity to have evidence suppressed.
At The Law Offices of John Della Rocca, I provide trustworthy and aggressive defense for a wide variety of criminal cases. If you are facing a criminal trial, let me take a close examination of the evidence and help you obtain a fair trial. You deserve the best possible outcome at every stage of the process.