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What is a Motion to Suppress Evidence?

In a criminal trial, the prosecutor will try to use evidence to convince the jury that the defendant is guilty of the criminal charges. Evidence in a criminal case can include drugs or alcohol in the driver's car, video evidence showing the defendant doing something illegal, or fingerprints collected from the scene of the crime. 

Without evidence that supports the criminal elements, the prosecutor may not have much to use in court, other than witness testimony or circumstantial evidence. The defendant may be able to file a motion to keep some of the state's evidence out of court. This is known as a “motion to suppress evidence.”

Motion to Suppress Evidence of Search Warrants

A common basis for a motion to suppress involves violations of the defendant's rights against unlawful search and seizure. The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives people, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The 4th Amendment also provides that search warrants shall be issued upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and persons or things to be seized. 

The California criminal court motion to suppress is also known as a 1538.5 motion, from the California penal code. Under California Penal Code 1583.5, a defendant may move for the return of property or to suppress evidence obtained from a search where: 

  • The search or seizure without a warrant was unreasonable; or
  • The search or seizure with a warrant was unreasonable. 

Most searches require a warrant, based on probable cause. However, there are a number of warrant exceptions. If the search is based on one of the admissible exceptions, the police may not need a warrant and can use the evidence against the defendant. Exceptions include: 

Exceptions include: 

  • Automobile Exception, where police have probable cause that a vehicle contains evidence of a crime
  • Plain View Exception, where evidence is in plain view from a place where the police are legitimately located. 
  • Hot Pursuit Exception, where police are in pursuit of a suspect or in an emergency situation. 
  • Consent, where the property owner or resident allows the police to conduct a search.

Just because a search was conducted with a warrant does not necessarily make the search reasonable. Problems with the search warrant may render the search invalid, and can be based on: 

  • The warrant is insufficient on its face.
  • The property or evidence obtained is not that described in the warrant.
  • There was no probable cause for the issuance of the warrant.
  • The method of execution of the warrant violated federal or state constitutional standards.
  • Other violations of federal or state constitutional standards.

When to File a Motion to Suppress

A motion to suppress evidence is generally filed as part of pretrial motions. These motions are to deal with legal issues before the case is presented before the jury. Motions regarding evidence will determine what evidence the jury can see and hear about, and the extent that evidence can be used to support the prosecutor's case. If a motion to suppress evidence is granted, the evidence may be kept out of court and could significantly change the outcome of the case.

What If the Motion to Suppress is Denied?

If the motion to suppress is denied, the prosecutor may be able to use the evidence to support their claim, to find the defendant guilty of all the elements of the offense, beyond a reasonable doubt. There may be other legal defense strategies available, to help you avoid a criminal conviction. However, even if you are convicted, the motion to suppress can be a basis for an appeal. 

Your criminal defense lawyer may be able to appeal the guilty verdict. As part of the appeal, the defense attorney can argue that the trial court wrongly decided the motion to suppress. If the appeals court finds the trial court committed an error in denying the motion to suppress, it may be the basis for a new trial or remanding the case back to the lower court. Talk to your East Bay California defense attorney about pre-trial motions and possible appeals. 

East Bay Criminal Defense Attorney Representation

After an arrest, you may not be sure if the police violated your search and seizure rights and the police are not likely to tell you when they are violating your rights. It may take an in-depth review of the criminal arrest report, video evidence from police vehicles, and interviewing witnesses to find out what really happened. A skilled criminal attorney with extensive experience in handling search and seizure cases can file a motion to have unlawfully obtained evidence suppressed. 

If you are arrested anywhere in Contra Costa or Alameda counties, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the criminal defense strategies to keep any tainted evidence out of court and away from the jury. With over 37 years of criminal defense experience, Lynn Gorelick understands how to take action to avoid the most serious criminal penalties. Contact our office today for help with your criminal charges.

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