If you have watched the television drama “Law & Order,” then you have heard about a legal mechanism called “Motion to Suppress Evidence.” It’s a formal, written request made by your defense counsel to the judge to rule that the evidence against you was illegally obtained by the police is therefore not admissible at trial.
Drugs or firearms seized from your home or car without a valid search warrant, or statements given by you during a custodial interrogation that wasn’t preceded by a Miranda Warning, are examples of illegal evidence subject to exclusion by a motion to suppress evidence.
This motion is “dispositive” because the judge usually dismisses the case upon granting the motion because the prosecution then lacks sufficient evidence to prove your guilt. However, if the judge denies the motion, then you must make critical decisions as to how to proceed, and those decisions can depend on whether you’re facing criminal charges in state or federal court.
If you’re in state court and the judge denies your motion to suppress, you can plead guilty while specifically reserving the right to appeal the denial of the motion. If you win your appeal, you withdraw your guilty plea. This is a fairer procedure compared to federal court.
If you’re in federal court and the judge denies your motion to suppress, you can plead guilty while specifically reserving the right to appeal the denial of the motion. However, unlike state court, the government and the court must consent to your plea. That generally doesn’t happen. Therefore, you must go to trial, object to the introduction of the illegally obtained incriminating evidence, lose the trial, and then appeal the judge’s ruling on your motion to suppress.
Should you file a Motion to Suppress Evidence?
The answer to this question depends on your chances of success. A motion to suppress that has little chance of success often means you will lose at trial. At least in state court you can plead guilty, negotiate a lighter punishment and appeal the denial of the motion. However, in federal court, you risk angering the judge and the prosecutor by filing a weak motion, and if you go to trial, you risk receiving a harsher punishment than if you had not filed the motion and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
An experienced criminal defense attorney who is thoroughly familiar with state and federal criminal procedure, the relevant case law and the inclinations of the prosecutor and the judge can help you decide whether it’s in your best interests to file a motion to suppress.