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Understanding the suppression of evidence in criminal trials - II

Last time, our blog began discussing how defendants who believe that the evidence prosecutors are seeking to introduce at their criminal trial was gathered in violation of their constitutional rights can seek to have it suppressed, meaning thrown out, via the exclusionary rule.

We also discussed the "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine, an extension of the exclusionary rule, which essentially provides that evidence, confessions or testimony otherwise admissible on its own can still be suppressed if they somehow resulted from or are linked to an underlying constitutional violation.

Having provided this information, today's post will examine some of the more common scenarios in which courts grant motions to suppress evidence:

  • Unlawful searches and seizures: A search conducted under an invalid warrant or without a warrant under circumstances ultimately found unreasonable by a court violates the Fourth Amendment. For example, any evidence gathered during the search of a suspect's home without a warrant, or of a suspect in the absence of exigent circumstances would likely be suppressed.
  • Failure to read Miranda Rights: Prior to interrogating or questioning any suspect in their custody, law enforcement officials must read them their Miranda Rights, meaning inform them of their right to remain silent, that what they say could be used against them in court and their right to an attorney. Failure to do so would be a violation of the Fifth Amendment, such that any confessions or incriminating statements gathered without having taken this step would likely be suppressed.
  • Right to counsel: Once a defendant has been brought before a judge and formally charged with a crime, law enforcement officials cannot attempt to speak with him or her outside the presence of their attorney. If this happens, it's a violation of the Sixth Amendment, and any confessions or incriminating statements would likely be suppressed.
  • Chain of custody: This term is used to describe the proper care and documentation that must be followed from the time evidence is gathered up through its presentation at trial. Should this chain of custody somehow be broken, such as being improperly labeled, the evidence will likely be found to lack credibility and ultimately suppressed by the court.

Here's hoping the foregoing discussion has proven helpful and demonstrated why it's so imperative to consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible if you've been arrested for any federal crime or major state offense.    

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Darryl A. Goldberg
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