Andrew H. Stevenson
What is a Motion to Suppress?
A motion to suppress is a formal, written request to a judge to exclude or suppress certain evidence from trial. The most common reason for filing a motion to suppress is because law enforcement violated a client's constitutional or statutory right. For example: the police failed to read Miranda warnings before custodial questioning, the police searched without a warrant, or the police improperly stopped a motorist.
Before filing a motion to suppress, it is important that I get all of the facts. In particular, I focus on the interactions between the police and my client. Sometimes the smallest details can make a difference between a stop being legal and illegal. Once the facts are gathered, I must then make a decision about whether or not the police violated my client's rights. Usually, legal research is needed to insure a proper legal foundation for the claim. Finally, I combine the facts and law into a written motion which is filed with the court.
After the motion is filed, a hearing is held before the judge. At the hearing witnesses are called to testify. The prominent witness is the law enforcement officer who is the subject of the objection. The officer will testify as to what he did and why he did it. As a defense attorney, I will then have an opportunity to cross-examine the officer in an effort to elicit testimony in support of my client's claim that the officer violated his constitutional rights. Sometimes, but not always, the client will testify on his own behalf about the facts. This testimony may be in contrast to the officers.
Once all witnesses give their testimony, both the prosecution and defense are given an opportunity to present an argument to the judge. Counsel's argument is most frequently provided in writing. In the brief submitted to the judge, the attorneys set out the facts each believes was established at the hearing as well as the law and proposed outcome. After reviewing the briefs and considering the testimony the judge determines if there was a violation of the client's constitutional rights. If the judge concludes that law enforcement violated my client's rights, the judge will then exclude that specific evidence and any subsequently derived evidence from the trial. Frequently, this means that the case will be dismissed by the prosecution.