In a criminal case, a motion to suppress is an attempt by the defense to make certain pieces of evidence out of the trial because they were illegally obtained by law enforcement. The defense must bring the motion prior to the trial stage.
That evidence could be the following:
- A tangible item, such as a weapon connected to an alleged murder or drugs tied to a drug trafficking case.
- The defendant's statement, like a confession that was coerced by law enforcement.
- An eyewitness testimony, such as a witness who identified the defendant after hearing an officer claimed him to be the perpetrator.
Since the motion to suppress occurs before trial, the prosecution might not have a basis to even take the case to the courtroom because the defense wins the motion. For example, if the judge has tossed the evidence of drugs in a drug possession case, there is nothing available to prove the defendant is guilty of possessing narcotics.
The following are the common reasons a judge may grant a motion to suppress:
- Unlawful search and seizure - According to the exclusionary rule, evidence obtained in violation of a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure. Law enforcement cannot gather evidence to be used against a defendant in court if they failed to follow legal procedure, such as obtain a search or arrest warrant before making an arrest or failed to establish probable cause.
- Miranda rights were not read - Prior to questioning or interrogation under police custody, officers must read the suspect's “Miranda rights” to inform them of their right to remain silent, that anything they say can and will be used against them in court, and that they have the right to an attorney. If police fail to read the suspect's Miranda warning, any statements or confessions made after an arrest cannot be used at trial.
- Chain of custody mistakes - Documentation and proper care of evidence between seizure by law enforcement to its presentation at trial is considered the “chain of custody.” For instance, if police mislabeled or tampered with the blood evidence with other samples at the lab, this evidence may be excluded because of an improper chain of custody.
Motions to suppress start with written pleadings, then proceed to a court hearing, where the judge listens to oral arguments for and against suppression. If a judge grants a pretrial motion to suppress evidence, this decision weakens the prosecution's case. Depending on the circumstances of a case, such a motion may be enough for the state to dismiss charges.
To understand how filing a motion to suppress can benefit your case, contact Wilfert Law P.C. and schedule a free consultation with our Ventura criminal defense attorneys today.