When evidence of a crime has been obtained or handled improperly or unlawfully in [State], a motion to exclude evidence, also referred to as a motion to suppress, can be filed. It is a defense strategy that, if approved, can prevent harmful evidence from being admitted into trial. In some cases, it can even prevent trial and lead to a dismissal or favorable plea deal, all of which is very much dependent on the unique facts and circumstances of your case. The problem is identifying when evidence should be suppressed and putting forth a good enough argument so the judge grants the motion.
At Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc, our criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles puts forth comprehensive defense strategies that often involve motions to exclude evidence. These motions are important tools and can be used to significantly turn a case in your favor. Contact us today at 888-666-8820 to schedule a free initial consultation and get an idea of how we can help your criminal case.
What is a Motion to Exclude?
The exclusionary rule is a rule that prevents federal, state, or local agencies from using evidence that was obtained in violation of the U.S. Constitution. A motion to exclude evidence, or a motion to suppress, is a way to effect this rule. In this motion, a defendant requests that the court exclude certain evidence from a trial. It is a pretrial motion, heard and decided by a judge.
In a criminal trial in California, the prosecution must prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. It tries to do this by presenting evidence to the jury. If successful, a motion to exclude prevents the prosecution from relying on a particular piece of evidence at trial.
In a motion to exclude, the defendant argues that one or more of their constitutional rights have been violated and that the prosecution should not be allowed to rely on any evidence obtained as a result of the violation.
Motions to Exclude or Suppress Evidence vs. Motions in Limine
A motion to exclude evidence should be distinguished from another motion: a motion in limine, which is another pretrial motion a defendant can use to try and exclude evidence from a trial. Motions in limine, however, are concerned with the nature of the evidence itself rather than how it was obtained. In a motion in limine, a defendant asks the court to exclude highly prejudicial evidence (for example, the defendant's criminal history) or evidence that violates the rules of evidence.
Grounds to File a Motion to Exclude in California
There are several reasons why a defendant may file a motion to exclude evidence. Here, we describe the most common grounds to file this type of motion.
Illegally Obtained Evidence
We all have certain rights as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. When those rights are violated, the law is designed to protect defendants from unfair criminal proceedings. Illegally obtained evidence cannot be used in criminal proceedings because it is often the product of illegal means. For this reason, motions to exclude are often used to challenge evidence obtained during an unlawful search and seizure.
For example, a motion to exclude may argue that a search warrant was improperly obtained. The police officer requesting the warrant may have lied or used bad information to obtain the warrant.
Miranda Rights Violation
A motion to exclude evidence may be used to prevent the jury from hearing any admissions the defendant made to police when the police failed to read to the defendant their Miranda Rights (“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in court…”). The police cannot interrogate you first before reading you the Miranda warning.
For example, the police put you into a squad car and begin asking you questions. They say they just want to help and if you cooperate, things will go better for you. They manipulate the situation so that you start talking, but they never read you your rights even though it is clear you are in their custody.
Improperly Handled Evidence
There are strict rules around the handling of evidence to ensure it isn't tampered with or interfered with. If authorities fail to follow the correct procedures, a defendant may file a motion asking the court to exclude the related evidence.
This often happens when evidence samples were incorrectly labeled or a piece of evidence goes missing for some time.
What Types of Evidence can be Excluded in California
Four basic types of evidence exist:
- Real evidence, is tangible evidence, like weapons, DNA evidence, a bloody glove, etc.
- Demonstrative evidence is evidence used to help to explain other evidence – this can include videos, photographs, and more.
- Documentary evidence is in the form of documentation, like a signed confession, medical records, phone statements, police reports, bank statements, etc.
- Testimony, which is evidence given by the defendant, experts, witnesses, or lay persons (e.g., family, friends, co-workers, classmates, etc.).
Not all of these types of evidence can be suppressed but much of it can if it was obtained unlawfully.
Exceptions to the Exclusionary Rule
Three exceptions to the Exclusionary Rule exist. At Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc, our criminal defense attorney knows what the exceptions are and how to work around them, when applicable.
- Attenuation of the taint, which means the connection between the evidence and the government's misconduct is sufficiently weak -- for example, a long time may have passed so the evidence is no longer tainted by police misconduct.
- Independent source, which means evidence illegally obtained by the police can be admitted into evidence if it could be obtained through a legal means.
- Inevitable discovery, which means evidence can still be admitted--even if improperly obtained--if its discovery was inevitable.
In order to succeed on a motion to suppress, your attorney must present factual information and apply the appropriate laws to those facts. The arguments must be sound and thoughtful, taking into consideration all the facts and circumstances as well as any possibility of an exception to the rule.
Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Los Angeles Today
Not only can a successful motion to exclude prevent unlawfully obtained evidence from being used against you at trial, but it can also significantly change the strength or nature of the case against you. This may allow your attorney to negotiate a favorable plea bargain on your behalf or even lead to the charge being dismissed by the court or dropped by the prosecution.
This is why you must engage a criminal defense attorney in California to handle your case. At Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc, we will assess the evidence the prosecution intends to rely on and advise you if a motion to exclude should be filed as part of your defense. We are ready to discuss your case and craft a defense that gives you the best outcome. Call 888-666-8820 or use our online contact form to schedule a free initial consultation.