How do You Suppress Evidence in a New Jersey Criminal Case?
Being charged with a crime is an overwhelming experience, and many people simply don’t know what to do. One of the most damaging things defendants regularly do is assume that the prosecution has a strong case. However, you should be aware that you may be able to have the evidence against you thrown out due to violations of your constitutional rights.
Your Rights and When Evidence May Be Suppressed
In order to convict you of a crime, the prosecution needs evidence to support a guilty verdict. As a result, law enforcement acts quickly to collect evidence, often at the time of your arrest or shortly thereafter. Many of these searches take place without a warrant or without probable cause. Any evidence that is collected in violation of your rights can be suppressed and deemed inadmissible at trial.
The United States Constitution and the New Jersey State Constitution protects criminal defendants from being unfairly prosecuted. The United States Constitution guarantees the following rights:
- Under the Fourth Amendment, you are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures. The police have to have probable cause to arrest you and legal justification to conduct a search of your person, your vehicle, or your home.
- The Fifth Amendment guarantees that you will be given due process of law in a criminal prosecution. This includes your right to remain silent, and the right against self-incrimination.
- The Sixth Amendment guarantees your right to a trial by jury, your right to know your charges, and your right to legal counsel.
Any evidence that is collected in violation of your constitutional rights may be deemed inadmissible at trial.
Examples of Constitutional Rights Violations
To give some context to this discussion, the following police practices often constitute a violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights:
- Arrest without probable cause: if you are arrested by the police for no reason, any evidence that is obtained during that arrest may be suppressed.
- Unlawful search: if the police search your vehicle without your consent or without a warrant, any evidence they find of a crime may be suppressed.
- Failure to read you your Miranda rights: if you are arrested and the police fail to notify you of your Miranda rights (the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, or that anything you say can be used against you), then any evidence subsequently collected may be suppressed.
- Coerced confession after requesting an attorney: if the police continue to question you after you have requested an attorney, anything you say may be suppressed.
Procedure for Suppressing Evidence
If you think that your constitutional rights have been violated, then you need to file a motion to suppress the evidence that resulted from the violation. It’s critical to understand that the court will not – on its own – question whether law enforcement violated your rights and will not seek to suppress any evidence that it believes was illegally obtained. And of course, the prosecution will not question its own evidence. As a result, it’s up to you and your attorney to challenge the circumstances surrounding your arrest and to seek the suppression of any evidence illegally obtained.
In order to file a motion, you have to understand the rules of criminal procedure. In addition, you will need to do a great deal of research and writing – the rights that are guaranteed by the constitution have been interpreted by hundreds, if not thousands, of cases that determine how and when a violation of your constitutional rights occurs. You will need to prepare a compelling argument as to how your rights were violated and why the evidence should, therefore, be suppressed.
It’s almost impossible for a non-lawyer to prevail on a motion to suppress. An experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will be able to identify potential violations and develop a strong argument as to why the evidence should be suppressed.
Burden of Proof
If you have to file a motion to suppress, it’s important to understand who has the burden of proof. Most violations of defendants’ constitutional rights occur during warrantless arrests or searches. In this situation, if challenged, the burden is on the prosecution to prove that they had the legal justification to arrest you or conduct the search. They must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that they arrest or search was valid.
If the police were conducting an arrest or search with a search warrant, however, the burden of proof is on you to prove that the warrant was without legal merit.
If you file your motion to suppress and the prosecutor does not drop the charges, the motion will have to be heard by a judge. You may be required to testify, but there are a couple of important protections that you should be aware of:
- If you are cross-examined by the prosecution, the cross-examination is limited to the subject matter of the motion.
- Nothing you say can be used against you if the underlying case goes to trial.
If you prevail on the motion to suppress, the best case scenario is that the prosecution has no evidence upon which to base the charges. As a result, the motion to suppress may result in the charges being dropped.
Unfortunately, not all motions to suppress bring an end to the criminal charges. The prosecution might have other evidence they can rely upon to move forward with the case. However, the evidence that is suppressed may make an acquittal or more likely. Alternatively, it may give you greater leverage in negotiating a plea agreement.
Contact a New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney
Unfortunately, many people go to trial without ever really challenging the prosecution’s case. Most non-lawyers may not even know when their rights have been violated, and that critical evidence in their case may be suppressed. If you’ve been charged with a crime in New Jersey, criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer can evaluate your case and help you formulate an aggressive defense. However, time is not on your side – call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law today at 215-712-1212, or contact us online, to schedule a free and confidential consultation.