Suppression of Evidence Laws

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 What Is Suppression of Evidence?

Suppression of evidence is the lawful or unlawful act of preventing evidence from being shown at trial. This could happen for many reasons. If a judge believed that the evidence in question was obtained illegally, the judge could rule that it not be shown in court.

Suppression of evidence could also refer to a prosecutor improperly or intentionally concealing evidence that weakens their case.

What Happens to Evidence Obtained by an Illegal Search?

Evidence obtained through an illegal search cannot be used against the person who was searched. This is known as the “exclusionary rule.” It is almost always necessary to make a motion to suppress the evidence to keep it from being admitted at trial.

If I Get the Evidence Suppressed, Does That Mean the Case Is Over?

No. The police may have other evidence. If the suppressed evidence is not crucial, it is still possible for the police and prosecutor to move forward with the case.

If I Get the Evidence Suppressed, Does That Mean No One Will Know about It?

Not necessarily. While the evidence cannot be used as direct evidence at trial, there are possible situations where the evidence can still be used. These situations include:

  • A judge may consider the evidence when determining a sentence for the individual
  • The evidence may be admissible in civil and deportation cases
  • In some situations, the evidence may be used to impeach or discredit a testifying witness

What Is a Motion to Suppress?

A motion to suppress is a written request to a judge for an order that evidence is excluded from consideration by the judge or jury at trial. Most motions to suppress in criminal cases arise from the United States Constitution, a state constitution, or a specific statute permitting the exclusion of evidence.

A motion to exclude evidence arising from the rules of evidence is commonly called a motion in limine. A motion to prevent the discovery of evidence is called a motion for a protective order.

In the U.S., the motion to suppress stems from the exclusionary rule. The rule is grounded in the right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures. If a person has been unreasonably searched or seized, they might have the standing to suppress evidence. A person could not object to evidence obtained by an illegal search if someone else’s privacy was violated.

Federally, motions to suppress arise from Rule 41(h) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Motion to Suppress Exceptions

If the discovery of an item was illegal, it might still be allowed into evidence under some circumstances.

These exceptions include:

  • Inevitable discovery: if the discovery of the evidence was inevitable by purely legal means
  • Independent source: if the discovery involved legal and illegal means, but the illegality was insignificant, such that the evidence would have been discovered by the legal source alone.
  • Standing: if the violation affects the rights of someone other than the defendant, the defendant does not have the standing to complain.
  • Good faith: the illegal search was not the fault of the law enforcement officers who found the evidence

What Is the Exclusionary Rule?

The exclusionary rule prevents the government from using evidence gathered illegally. The Exclusionary Rule usually comes into play when evidence is obtained in violation of a suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure. A weapon can’t be used at trial if the police illegally searched a home to recover it. An officer must have a valid search warrant and follow procedures for a piece of evidence to be admissible at trial. The Exclusionary Rule may be triggered by police violations of the Fifth or Sixth Amendment.

The “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine holds that otherwise admissible evidence, testimony, or confessions may be excluded from a trial if it resulted from an illegal search or other constitutional violation. If a suspect was arrested and told the police where to find the ax he used to commit a murder, but he wasn’t read his Miranda Rights or the police ignored his attempts to talk to his lawyer, the ax may be deemed inadmissible in court.

Why Do Courts Suppress Evidence?

Common reasons a court may suppress evidence include:

  • Unlawful search and seizure: The Fourth Amendment protects against unlawful search and seizure and applies to situations involving police officers, routine traffic stops, and visits to your home. Police must have a valid search warrant, a valid arrest warrant, or probable cause that a crime has been committed in order to search for evidence.
  • Failure to read Miranda Rights: Officers must read Miranda Rights to a suspect in custody prior to questioning or interrogating them. Miranda Rights inform a suspect that they have the right to remain silent, that anything they say may be used against them in court, and that they have the right to an attorney. If a suspect hasn’t been read their rights, any confessions or statements made after the arrest may be inadmissible.
  • Chain of custody errors: The “chain of custody” refers to the documentation and proper care of evidence. From its seizure by police to its presentation at trial, evidence must be credible and admissible. If the chain of custody is broken, the evidence may be inadmissible.

Can I Suppress Any Other Evidence?

Yes, there are other types of evidence that are suppressible. The exclusionary rule applies to any evidence discovered based upon the results of an illegal search. This evidence is “the fruit of the poisonous tree” and cannot be used at trial.

If an officer illegally searches a car and finds a note with an address on it where you have counterfeit money stored, the money may not be admissible as evidence at trial. The illegal search of the car and the finding of the note are the “poisonous tree,” while the counterfeit money is the “fruit.”

There are some important nuances to this rule.

When Can The “Fruits” of an Illegal Search Be Used?

There are three exceptions to the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. First, evidence that has become sufficiently attenuated from the illegal search is admissible. In other words, if the connection between the evidence in question and the illegal search is sufficiently weak, the evidence is admissible.

Second, if the police have inevitably discovered the evidence, it is admissible. Third, if the evidence is discovered through an independent, untainted source, it is admissible.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you’ve been charged with a crime, the outcome of your case will depend on the evidence admitted in court. The evidence may be favorable or unfavorable. To increase your chances at a favorable outcome, you should hire a skilled criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney can evaluate the evidence and move to suppress harmful evidence. Taking proactive steps may make the difference in the criminal proceeding ahead of you.

Knowing what evidence can be suppressed and how to suppress it are incredibly complicated issues. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you with the process and advise you of your rights and defenses. Anytime you are accused of committing a crime, you should consult a local lawyer immediately. Use LegalMatch’s services to find a lawyer in your area today.

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