The police may have obtained evidence against you by searching you, your car, home, office, locker, backpack, or purse. They may also have gotten you to make incriminating statements if not an outright confession. Just because the police have this evidence, doesn’t always mean they can use it.
Evidence that is improperly obtained in violation of your Constitutional rights can often be suppressed. Suppressed means the evidence cannot be used against you at a trial. The judge decides whether evidence has been improperly obtain and should be suppressed. There are many gray areas and it’s not always easy to predict what the judge will decide. However, when evidence is suppressed, the prosecution’s case can be seriously damaged or even destroyed.
Your Fourth Amendment Rights
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects your right of privacy. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures of people, their homes, papers, and effects. It requires search warrants to be based on probable cause supported by the statement of a reliable person made under oath.
Evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment cannot be admitted at trial. The courts have defined “unreasonable searches”. The general rule is the police cannot search anywhere that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, unless they have a warrant. For example, absent an emergency, the police cannot come into your house to search without a warrant. The police also cannot search outbuildings (e.g., a garage) and enclosed areas (e.g., a screened in porch).
Fourth Amendment rights against improper searches apply in several situations. Typically, any place a person has a reasonable right to privacy cannot be searched without a warrant. The courts have held that people have a right to privacy in their homes, sheds, and buildings which that adjoin their homes and enclosed fences. The police also have no more right to enter a place of business than the general public. Consequently, if the police want to search an area where the public is generally not permitted, they need a search warrant.
Example: Suppose the police receive a complaint about a loud party at Bob’s house. The police see five cars in Bob’s yard, but nothing unusual is going on. The shades are open and the police see several people are in Bob’s house. The door is ajar so the police walk in. A police officer sees a person in the house who appears to be intoxicated; the police officer asks where Bob is. The person points, and says he is in the kitchen. The police enter the kitchen and see Bob holding a bag with a substance that appears to be marijuana. The police place Bob under arrest for felony possession of marijuana.
In this instance, Bob has a strong claim that the police violated his Fourth Amendment rights because the police entered his home without a warrant and found the marijuana due to an illegal search.
Bob’s attorney can file a motion to suppress the evidence. The State of Arizona has pretrial hearings that are called omnibus hearings. The purpose of an omnibus hearing is to hear motions before trial. An omnibus hearing does not directly determine guilt or innocence. However, as a practical matter, omnibus hearings can determine the verdict. For example, if Bob wins the pretrial motion to prevent the State from introducing evidence discovered due to an improper search, the State has no evidence.
Your Miranda Rights
The Miranda warnings come from an Arizona case that went to the Supreme Court, Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 1966. They are based on the Fifth Amendment, which provides that you cannot be compelled to be a witness against yourself, and the Sixth Amendment, which gives you a right to counsel in a criminal trial.
When a person is taken into custody, the police should advise the person of his or her Miranda rights. You’ve probably heard them many times on TV:
You have the right to remain silent;
You have the right to have an attorney and one will be appointed if you cannot afford an attorney;
Anything you say can and will be used against them in a court of law.If your Miranda rights were violated, statements you made can also be suppressed.
A person does not have Miranda rights until taken into custody. Police can question you without giving you Miranda rights if you are free to go. And anything you say can be used against you. Police often try this tactic because it’s easier to get someone to talk before placing the person under arrest.
Example: Suppose, instead of walking into Bob’s house, the police first ask his wife for permission. See agrees to let them in. The police ask her for Bob’s location. She points to the kitchen. The police ask if they can enter the kitchen. Bob’s wife does not know Bob has the marijuana and says, “sure, go on”. The police walk in and see the baggie on the table. They ask Bob, what it is. He tells them it is pot. The police ask Bob if the marijuana is his. He says yes. The police cuff Bob and tell him he is under arrest for felony possession of marijuana.
On the way to the police cruiser with Bob in cuffs, Bob tells the police about a pistol with filed off serial number under the mattress in his bedroom.
Everything Bob told the police before he was placed under arrest is admissible. However, any statements Bob made after being arrested are inadmissible if the police fail to advise Bob of his Miranda rights.
The Fort Worth criminal defense attorney can make a motion at an omnibus hearing to suppress Bob’s statements about the pistol. Moreover, since the police obtained the whereabouts of the pistol due to improper questioning, the pistol itself cannot be presented as evidence at trial. If the police can show they would have found the pistol without Bob’s statement, then the pistol can be admitted.
An Experienced Aggressive Attorney Can Help
Bryan Hoeller is an experienced trial attorney who practices criminal defense law. He is a zealous advocate for his client and will fight hard to keep evidence out of the trial that was obtained improperly. Contact a qualified criminal defense lawyer at The Law Office of Bryan P. Hoeller, PLLC.