A Motion to Suppress is a pre-trial motion that can be filed with the court stating that certain procedural rights have been violated in your case and which requests that certain evidence be barred from use at any potential trial. If successful, often times this results in the underlying charges being dismissed as the prosecution is prohibited from using that evidence at trial and thus would not be able to prove one or more essential elements of the crime. Other times it may result in a particular statement that you made or other specific pieces of evidence (photos, blood results, audio/video recordings, etc.) being excluded from evidence if they were wrongfully obtained, which may not end the case altogether but will make it much harder on the prosecution to prove the charges against you.
There are different ways that a suppression issue may arise. A common situation involves initial police encounters with drivers on the streets and highways of Texas. Unless there is an active warrant for your arrest, an officer must have “probable cause,” or at the very least “reasonable suspicion” that some sort of crime has been committed before that officer may legally detain or arrest you. And it has to be based on specific articulable facts that are clearly present. This means that he cannot have just a mere hunch that you are up to no good before he lights you up and initiates a traffic stop.
Additionally, the law states that absent specific facts that show you may be involved in other criminal activity, you are only allowed to be detained for as long as reasonably necessary to effectuate the purpose of the initial stop. This means that if you’ve been pulled over for speeding, the officer cannot detain you for an hour to ask you questions about what other crime you may or may not be involved in. Recently, courts have even held that keeping a person detained on the road for the purpose of waiting for a drug dog to arrive on scene can be considered an unreasonably lengthy detention that may warrant suppression of any drug evidence seized.
Another common situation arises within the area of searches. An officer that pulls you over for a traffic violation cannot just start searching your car or pockets for possible drugs or weapons if there are no reasons given to him to suspect those things. (But take note, if an officer pulls you over and smells marijuana emanating from your vehicle, the law states that the mere odor alone does give the officer authority to detain you and search certain areas of your vehicle for marijuana, even without your consent.) Further, an officer can’t just walk into your home and start searching without a search warrant based on probable cause and signed by a Judge, even if he thinks you might have something illegal inside.
Still another area of possible suppression deals with statements made by criminal defendants while in custody. We’ve all heard of the “Miranda warnings” and their requirement prior to any police questioning, but there are also rules dealing with how the police may treat you during an interrogation to avoid harsh interview conditions and the little known but proven problem of false confessions based on psychological duress and coercion. If proper procedures are not followed, even a verbal or written confession to a crime can be suppressed from use at a trial.
Keep in mind, not every case will have a valid Motion to Suppress argument. In our experience, many times officers follow their training and do things by the book. But not always. That’s why it’s important to have a skilled criminal defense lawyer look at the facts and circumstances in your case to determine if a Motion to Suppress is a viable option.