What Is a Franks Motion in Federal Cases?

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from unreasonably searching or seizing your person, house, papers, or effects. Any warrants that are issued to search or seize someone or something must be supported by a sworn affidavit and based on probable cause particularly describing the place to be searched and the person or things to be seized.  

The criminal defense lawyers at the Stechschulte Nell Law Firm in Tampa have committed their legal practice to ensuring that the rights protected in the Fourth Amendment and every other provision in the U.S. Constitution are respected and enforced in every federal and state court. When one defendant is denied the protection of the law to which they are entitled, everyone’s rights are in jeopardy. Ben Stechschulte and Amy Nell use their extensive experience and deep knowledge of the law to fight for every client’s rights.  

Under some limited circumstances, police may act without a warrant. But when a search warrant or an arrest warrant is issued, it must always be based on an affidavit sworn to by an officer that alleges facts that constitute probable cause. Probable cause exists when the facts alleged would persuade a reasonable person that a crime probably occurred and that evidence of that crime (or the person who committed it) would probably be found at the location to be searched.  


What happens when an officer signs a search warrant affidavit that includes facts that are not true, but the falsity of the facts sworn to only become known after the warrant is executed and the evidence incriminating a defendant is seized? 


This is the scenario in which a Franks motion would be filed by the defendant’s criminal defense lawyer. 

A Franks motion enables defendants to challenge the validity of search warrants by alleging that the affiant (the person who provided information for the warrant) made false statements or omissions, knowingly or recklessly, in the warrant application. The Franks motion must allege that the officer knew that a material fact was untrue or acted with reckless disregard as to the truth of the allegation when they swore to the affidavit’s facts. The motion also states that without the false statement, the warrant was unsupported by probable cause, and the false statement was key to a finding of probable cause. 

The defense will not be granted a hearing unless it can identify arguably reliable evidence supporting its claim that the person who signed the warrant affidavit intentionally or recklessly included false facts in the document.  



Why Is It Called a Franks Motion? (Franks v. Delaware 1978) 

In the Franks v. Delaware case, the Supreme Court established the framework for challenging the validity of search warrants. The Court held that a defendant could challenge the truthfulness of statements made in a warrant affidavit and, if successful, could have the evidence obtained because of the warrant suppressed. In the Franks case, police obtained a search warrant for the defendant after swearing that two of the defendant’s coworkers told the affiant that the defendant’s typical daily dress included the items described by the rape victim.  

During the execution of the warrant, clothes similar to those described were seized. The defendant’s criminal defense lawyer spoke with the two coworkers who both denied ever speaking with the affiant or making the statements attributed to them in the affidavit.  

On appeal from the trial and lower appellate court’s refusal to consider the falsehood in the affidavit for any purpose, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a credible, supported claim of intentional falsehood in the affidavit does warrant a hearing and suppression of the evidence if the Franks motion establishes the following elements:  

False Statements or Omissions 

  • The defendant must demonstrate that the affiant knowingly or recklessly included false statements or omitted material facts in the warrant affidavit. 


  • The false statements or omissions must be material, meaning they were necessary to establish probable cause for the issuance of the warrant. 

Affidavit’s Remaining Content  

  • After removing the false statements or omissions, the affidavit no longer support a finding of probable cause. 

Franks motions are powerful vehicles to suppress incriminating evidence, especially in case where the evidence discovered during the execution of the warrant is central to the prosecution’s chances to convict the defendant.  


Strategic Advantages for Defense Lawyers  

Experienced defense lawyers understand the strategic advantages that Franks motions offer in challenging the prosecution’s case. By meticulously scrutinizing the warrant affidavit and uncovering any falsehoods or omissions, skilled criminal defense lawyers, like those at Stechschulte Nell, can undermine the prosecution’s evidence and weaken its case against their clients. 

The benefits of a strong Franks motion include the following: 

Suppressing Evidence 

The primary objective of a Franks motion is to suppress evidence obtained through an unlawfully obtained search warrant. If successful, this can significantly weaken the prosecution’s case by depriving them of crucial evidence. 

Challenging Probable Cause 

Franks motions allow defense lawyers to challenge the sufficiency of probable cause supporting the issuance of a search warrant. By demonstrating that the affidavit contained false or misleading information, defense attorneys raise genuine doubt about the validity of the warrant. 

Enhancing Negotiating  

Even if a Franks motion is not successful in suppressing evidence, filing such a motion can strengthen the defense’s negotiating position. Prosecutors may be more inclined to offer favorable plea deals or reduced charges in light of potential weaknesses in their case. 


Read More > How Do I Know if I am Under Investigation for a Federal Crime?  


Experienced Search Warrant Defense Lawyers 

In the hands of experienced criminal defense attorneys, Franks motions are a potent legal tool for challenging the validity of search warrants and excluding unlawfully obtained evidence from criminal trials. By skillfully alleging that law enforcement officers knowingly or recklessly included false statements or omissions in the warrant affidavit, your lawyer can undermine the prosecution’s case and protect your constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.  

Experienced defense lawyers play a crucial role in using Franks motions strategically to achieve favorable outcomes for their clients, whether through suppressing evidence, challenging probable cause, or enhancing negotiating leverage.  

If incriminating evidence was seized during the execution of a search warrant or arrest warrant and is being used against you in a criminal court, contact the experienced Florida defense lawyers who understand how to prevent prosecutors from using illegally obtained evidence. 

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