The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution expressly protects "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." While this language may seem a bit complex, it essentially means that absent certain circumstances, the government must conduct searches pursuant to lawfully executed warrants.
What happens, however, when you have reason to believe that the evidence secured by law enforcement officials that prosecutors are now seeking to use at your criminal trial was gathered under an invalid warrant or by a warrantless search unlikely to be deemed reasonable under the Fourth Amendment?
The answer is simple: your attorney will seek to have it thrown out at trial, meaning he or she will file a motion to suppress the evidence with the court.
The ability to suppress evidence gathered illegally from criminal trials is made possible by something known as the exclusionary rule. This is not a separate right set forth in the U.S. Constitution, but rather a long-established, court-created remedy designed to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of defendants, and deter unconstitutional searches and seizures by law enforcement.
For example, the exclusionary rule would likely enable a defense attorney to prevent the prosecution from using a weapon in an aggravated assault trial if it can be shown that police officers secured it via a warrantless search of the defendant's home.
It's important to understand that the scope of the exclusionary rule is rather broad. Indeed, under the "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine, any evidence, confessions or testimony that is seemingly admissible, but nevertheless linked to an illegal search or constitutional violation, may be suppressed.
Using the aforementioned example, if the defendant charged with aggravated assault tells the police where they can find the weapon used in the crime, but was never read her Miranda Rights, the defense can later seek to have the weapon suppressed at trial.
We'll continue this discussion in the next post, examining some of the more common scenarios in which a court may suppress evidence.
Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible if you have been arrested for any federal crime or major state offense, as your freedom and your future are at stake.