Exactly what does it mean to “suppress” evidence in a criminal trial? And on what basis is a piece of evidence suppressed or not suppressed?

If you’re charged with a crime in Florida – and even if you are the victim of a crime – you’ll want to know as much as possible about the rules of evidence and the suppression of evidence in a criminal case.

HOW IS THE “SUPPRESSION OF EVIDENCE” DEFINED?

Of course, if you actually face criminal charges here in Florida, you’ll need the specific and personalized legal advice – and the aggressive representation – that a criminal defense attorney can offer.

We’ve all seen fictional TV and movie trials where a defense lawyer argues or moves to have certain evidence “tossed” or “thrown out” of court. In simple terms, when evidence is suppressed, it is not allowed into a trial and cannot be presented to a jury.

If you are charged with a crime in Florida, an attorney with criminal defense experience may file a “motion to suppress” on your behalf to keep certain evidence from being used against you.

The evidence in a criminal case must be directly related to the case, collected legally, and handled properly in accordance with established guidelines.

WHAT IS THE EXCLUSIONARY RULE?

If any evidence against you has been collected illegally by the police, and if your attorney can prove that your rights were violated during an investigation, an interrogation, a search, or an arrest, that evidence may be suppressed on the basis of what’s called the exclusionary rule.

The exclusionary rule prevents the state from using evidence against you if your constitutional rights were violated in order to gather that evidence.

The exclusionary rule applies to all persons within the United States regardless of whether they are citizens, documented or undocumented immigrants, or visitors.

The exclusionary rule does not apply in a civil case, in a grand jury proceeding, or in a violation of parole hearing.

CAN EVIDENCE IN A CRIMINAL CASE BE SUPPRESSED FOR OTHER REASONS?

The exclusionary rule is not the only reason why evidence can be suppressed in a criminal case. Evidence may also be suppressed for these reasons:

1. warrantless search/lack of probable cause
2. violation of Miranda rights
3. “chain of custody” errors

WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR SEARCH WARRANTS?

Usually, the police must have a warrant to search someone’s vehicle, home, or property. The Constitution requires the police to have “probable cause” to obtain a search warrant – that is, the police must have a reasonable belief that a search will uncover evidence of a crime.

The Constitution also requires a search warrant to include a clear description of the item or items that are being searched for, and that may be seized.

Your Miranda rights are your right to remain silent and your right to have an attorney. However, your Miranda rights do not “kick in” until the police begin interrogating you, so anything that you say voluntarily prior to questioning can be used against you.

When the police begin to interrogate you, they must read your Miranda rights. If they fail to read your Miranda rights, your responses to their questions may be suppressed.

HOW IS A “CHAIN OF EVIDENCE” DEFINED?

Legally collected evidence passes through a “chain” of handlers called the chain of custody. Whenever evidence is transferred, stored, or handled in any way, a form must be completed and signed.

If a chain of evidence is “broken” or if evidence was improperly handled, the court may suppress that evidence.

However, there are exceptions to all of the reasons listed above, and a violation of your rights – or a broken evidence chain – does not always guarantee that the evidence in question will be suppressed.

ARE THERE EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULES FOR SUPPRESSION OF EVIDENCE?

Listed here are several of the reasons why judges will allow evidence that would otherwise be suppressed:

1. The discovery of the evidence was inevitable: When a judge reasonably believes that illegally gathered evidence would have been found legally by the police anyway, the evidence may not be suppressed.

2. The police acted in good faith: If the police believe they are acting legally, the evidence gathered may not necessarily be suppressed. For example, if there’s a mistake on a search warrant, but the officer is unaware of that mistake, the officer is acting in good faith.

3. Another source could provide the evidence: When a different source can provide evidence that would otherwise be suppressed, the judge may choose to allow the otherwise tainted evidence.

EXACTLY WHAT IS A MOTION TO SUPPRESS?

A “motion” to suppress is a formal, written request to a judge asking the judge to prevent certain evidence from being introduced at trial.

Some critics of the legal system contend that too much evidence is suppressed in too many criminal cases, and they characterize the exclusionary rule as a “technicality” that can be exploited by criminals.

HOW HAS THE SUPREME COURT LIMITED THE EXCLUSIONARY RULE?

But the Supreme Court established the exclusionary rule more than a century ago (in Weeks v. United States) and made it binding on the states in 1961 (in Mapp v. Ohio) as a remedy for unlawful searches or seizures.

Since Mapp v. Ohio, the Supreme Court has somewhat limited the exclusionary rule. A defendant may only seek to suppress evidence collected in violation of the defendant’s own rights.

Evidence against a defendant obtained, for example, in an unwarranted search of another person’s home may not necessarily be suppressed.

And in Hudson v. Michigan (2006), the Supreme Court reaffirmed that constitutional violations and the suppression of evidence obtained because of those violations are two distinct legal issues.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing the majority opinion in Hudson v. Michigan, stated that the “mere fact that a constitutional violation” occurred does not require the suppression of the evidence collected because of that violation.

WILL THE EXCLUSIONARY RULE APPLY IN YOUR OWN CASE?

Still, in most situations where a defendant’s rights have been violated, the exclusionary rule will apply. Most attorneys and judges believe that the exclusionary rule provides an essential protection of our constitutional rights.

If you are charged with a crime, an experienced Stuart criminal defense attorney can provide the sound legal advice and aggressive defense representation that you will very much need.

Disclose every detail about your case to your attorney, who can then determine if a motion to suppress should be filed on your behalf.

Get the legal help you need as soon as you need it. Florida is tough on crime, and every criminal defendant must have high-quality legal help – a dedicated defense attorney who will fight relentlessly for the justice you need and deserve.