A Brief History and Overview
Friday nights are a time to unwind and relive past glory. Take Al Bundy, for example. At TGI Fridays, surrounded by fellow patrons, he recalls his high school football triumphs for the Polk High Panthers. One particular game from 1966 stands out—scoring four touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds. As Al wraps up his legendary story, he decides to head home.
Driving away in his vintage 1971 Plymouth Duster, Al catches the attention of Deputy Sheriff “Spare Tire” Dixon. The resentment still lingers in Deputy Dixon from that fateful 1966 city championship game where Al’s record-breaking performance overshadowed his own. Seeking revenge, Deputy Dixon pulls Al over for no valid reason other than to harass him. The deputy approaches the vehicle and notices the scent of alcohol on Al’s breath. Consequently, Al gets arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI).
In response, Al’s defense attorney files a Motion to Suppress evidence in the DUI court case. The motion argues that Deputy Dixon lacked reasonable suspicion or probable cause to initiate the traffic stop, rendering it an unconstitutional violation of Al’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. The motion calls for the exclusion of all evidence obtained as a result of the unlawful stop. After carefully examining the evidence during a pre-trial hearing, the judge sides with Al and grants the Motion to Suppress. With no evidence to support the DUI charge, the prosecutor is left with no choice but to drop the case.
Understanding a Motion to Suppress
Now that we have some context, let’s dive into the analysis. A Motion to Suppress is an incredibly powerful tool wielded by defense attorneys in criminal cases. As showcased in the example above, a well-supported and competently argued Motion to Suppress can lead to the complete dismissal of a case. It has the potential to be a game-changer, just like it was for Al Bundy.
At its core, a Motion to Suppress is a request made by a criminal defendant, usually through their attorney, to have the court exclude specific evidence from consideration by the jury or judge—the trier of fact. As a pre-trial motion, it challenges the admissibility of evidence before the trial itself.
In federal courts, Motions to Suppress are governed by Rule 41(h) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, while in Florida, they fall under Rule 3.190(g) and 3.190(h) of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure.
From Dismissal to Exclusion
A Motion to Suppress evidence can have two outcomes. In some instances, it leads to the complete dismissal of charges, as seen in our earlier example. This is known as a “Dispositive Motion to Suppress.” However, there are times when a Motion to Suppress seeks to exclude only a portion of the evidence while allowing the prosecution to continue based on the remaining evidence. This is known as a “Non-Dispositive Motion to Suppress.”
Safeguarding Fourth Amendment Rights
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees protection against unreasonable government searches and seizures. It states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. U.S. Const. amend. IV.”
Motions to Suppress are usually raised when there are alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment. This amendment limits the government’s power, specifically in terms of searching individuals, their property, making arrests, and seizing items and contraband. Therefore, a Motion to Suppress aims to exclude evidence obtained in violation of a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, ensuring its inadmissibility during trial.
The exclusionary rule, which primarily addresses Fourth Amendment violations, can also be applied to violations of the Fifth Amendment (right to remain silent) and the Sixth Amendment (right to counsel). However, the exclusionary rule is most commonly associated with Fourth Amendment violations.
The Exclusionary Rule: Its Origins and Purpose
The Motion to Suppress is a product of a century-old legal doctrine known as the “Exclusionary Rule.” Throughout history, courts grappled with how to prevent and rectify unlawful government overreach during criminal investigations. Providing recourse for defendants whose rights were violated constituted another complex challenge. To tackle this issue, the Exclusionary Rule emerged in the United States Supreme Court during the early 20th century.
Nearly a century ago, in Weeks v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously declared that warrantless seizures from private residences violated the Fourth Amendment. The remedy for this constitutional infringement was to exclude all evidence obtained as a result of the unlawful seizure. Weeks held that if a search or seizure violates a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, any evidence obtained through that violation should be deemed inadmissible against the defendant. This served to both redress the defendant’s violated rights and deter law enforcement from infringing on suspects’ rights. The Exclusionary Rule formed the foundation for the Motion to Suppress evidence.
Although Weeks established the Exclusionary Rule as binding on the federal level, many states continued to reject it for several years after the decision. However, in 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved this issue in Mapp v. Ohio, ruling that the exclusionary rule was applicable to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause. With this ruling, the Exclusionary Rule became the law of the land.
Three General Categories of Motions to Suppress
Let’s explore the three primary categories of Motions to Suppress:
A. Motions to Suppress Evidence:
These motions assert that evidence has been unlawfully obtained and should be excluded from being used against the defendant. They focus on various types of searches and seizures, such as those involving houses, apartments, residences, vehicles, vessels, and even personal property like luggage, backpacks, and containers.
B. Motions to Suppress Statements:
Defendants can file these motions when they believe their own statements were obtained in violation of their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and/or their Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Defendants often argue that their statements were taken without the appropriate administration of Miranda Warnings.
Miranda v. Arizona, a landmark case, established that before a defendant in custody can be interrogated by the police, they must be informed of their rights: the right to remain silent, the potential use of their statements against them, the right to have an attorney present during questioning, and the right to a court-appointed attorney if they cannot afford one. A properly filed and argued Motion to Suppress can exclude or suppress statements when these warnings are not administered correctly.
C. Motions to Suppress Eyewitness Identification:
Lastly, a Motion to Suppress can be utilized to exclude eyewitness identification of the defendant if the identification procedure employed violated due process. If the identification procedure used is excessively suggestive, substantially increasing the likelihood of an irreparable misidentification, the Fourteenth Amendment mandates the exclusion of such identification evidence. Various improper identification procedures can make identification overly suggestive, allowing a motion to suppress to challenge them.
A Motion to Suppress is a valuable legal tool that seeks to exclude evidence obtained in violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights. Depending on the circumstances, a defendant can move to exclude tangible evidence, physical evidence, statements and confessions, and eyewitness identifications. If you have any further questions about this topic, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our office for a free consultation. The Law Office of William B. Wynne is a criminal law firm serving the Tampa Bay area.