How does evidence get suppressed?

Man in Courtroom

To get a criminal conviction at trial, a prosecutor must present enough evidence to convince a judge or jury that the defendant is guilty of the specified offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Because this is the highest burden of proof in the U.S. justice system, it often requires a substantial amount of evidence to meet. Law enforcement can provide evidence from investigations and the prosecutor can present the evidence in court.

Evidence can come in many forms, including:

  • Physical objects
  • Photographs
  • Witness statements
  • Video or audio recordings
  • Digital data
  • Scientific findings

The law in the United States does not allow all types of evidence to be submitted in court against a defendant, however. There are many protections for defendants in place and rules of evidence that dictate when evidence can be lawfully obtained and presented in court. When illegal evidence comes against a defendant, it can often lead to a wrongful conviction. For this reason, it is imperative to have a highly skilled criminal defense lawyer handling your case who knows how to get evidence “suppressed.”

Motions to Suppress

The suppression of evidence occurs when a judge rules that certain evidence should not be submitted at trial. In order for a judge to rule on such an issue, a lawyer must often file a motion with the court asking for a ruling. A motion to suppress is the catalyst that can lead to the keeping evidence out of your criminal case.

In order to succeed on a motion to suppress, your attorney must present sufficient factual information and apply specific laws to those facts to convince the judge that the evidence is illegal. Law presented in these motions can include case law, state or federal rules, or often, the Constitution of the United States. These motions must be persuasively drafted with sound legal analysis and reasoning.

The prosecution can respond to your motion to suppress with their own arguments in favor of the evidence. In some cases, the court will hold a motion hearing during which both parties will argue their case. The judge will then rule on whether the evidence should be suppressed or not.

The Importance of Evidence Suppression

Often, the suppression of the right evidence can lead a jury to acquit you at trial, or even to the dismissal of charges before a trial ever happens. A common example happens in drug-related cases. In order to convict you of drug possession, the prosecutor must usually prove that police found a controlled substance. They cannot simply tell the jury you had cocaine – instead, they should have the evidence tested and present test results as proof that the substance in question was cocaine.

If police officers obtained the drugs unlawfully – which is more common than you may imagine – a defense attorney can file a motion to suppress the illegally-obtained drug evidence. If the motion is successful, the prosecutor can no longer use that drug evidence to prove that you possessed drugs. This is often the main piece of evidence in drug cases and without it, the prosecution usually knows it cannot prove the drug charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, they may often dismiss the charges then and there. This is only one of many examples of how the suppression of evidence can prevent a conviction.

Common Reasons to Suppress Evidence

As part of the discovery phase of a criminal case, your attorney will obtain and analyze all the evidence the prosecution plans to use against you and how the evidence was obtained. An experienced attorney should be able to identify when there is reason to file a motion to suppress.

Some examples of evidence commonly suppressed include:

  • Evidence obtained by an unreasonable search in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights
  • Evidence obtained due to an unlawful traffic stop or arrest, which constitutes an unreasonable seizure in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights
  • Confessions obtained without proper Miranda warnings in violation of your Fifth Amendment rights
  • Confessions obtained by coercion or physical force
  • Evidence that constitutes hearsay without a valid exception under the Federal Rules of Evidence
  • Evidence that is not relevant to the case at hand
  • Evidence that is unreasonably prejudicial to the defendant
  • Evidence that is not reliable

The question of reliability often arises in criminal cases, as prosecutors often try to admit evidence based on questionable science. This can include evidence involving fingerprints, bloodstain patterns, eyewitness identifications, or DNA. For example, for decades, many people took the witness stand and claimed they were “experts” in analyzing blood spatter and giving their opinion on how the crime occurred. However, in recent years, scientific studies have cast substantial doubt on the reliability of blood spatter analysis and claim such “experts” led to many wrongful convictions. In this day and age, defense attorneys regularly question a prosecutor’s blood spatter testimony and seek for it to be suppressed.

In addition, defense lawyers know that forensic labs can make many mistakes that lead to unreliable testimony. This is common in DUI cases in which a blood test showed a defendant had drugs in their system or a blood alcohol content (BAC) over the legal limit. Labs may mislabel or switch samples, store them improperly, fail to record results right away, use uncalibrated testing equipment, and make many other mistakes that should render their testimony and the test results unreliable for admission at trial.

Contact a Knoxville Criminal Defense Attorney for Help Today

There are many, many other types of evidence that should be suppressed from criminal trials. The problem is that unrepresented defendants often do not realize when evidence against them is unlawful or how to go about getting it suppressed. Suppressing key evidence is only one of many defense strategies we regularly pursue at Barnes Law. If you were arrested or face criminal charges, you should not wait any longer to call a skilled Knoxville defense lawyer for a free consultation. The sooner Barnes Law starts working on your case, the sooner we can start building the most effective defense strategy for you.

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