Suppressing evidence could dismiss your case

The attorney representing a man accused of stabbing a man to death in an argument over $20 worth of marijuana earlier this year attempted to get some of the evidence tossed out before his client's trial.

A twenty-one-year old man in State College, Pennsylvania was accused of killing a 20-year-old man over $20 worth of marijuana in January 2012. The 21-year-old was charged with first-degree, second-degree and third-degree murder, as well as robbery and aggravated assault. Centre County prosecutors alleged that what started as two men arguing over the drugs ended in one stabbing the other to death.

The 21-year-old man's attorney claimed his client acted in self-defense and filed motions to have evidence of marijuana found in his apartment and text messages from his girlfriend suppressed at trial. The 21-year-old's attorney asserted that allowing the jurors to hear these pieces of evidence would prejudice them against his client, which would be unjustly damaging to his client's right to a fair trial.

The suppression of evidence

The suppression of even a single piece of evidence in a criminal trial can secure an acquittal. When evidence is suppressed, it cannot be presented to a judge or jury at trial. The government's case is made up of individual pieces of evidence that could be thought of as building blocks used to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt. By taking a key block away, the government's case could be completely undermined and could result in either a dismissal before trial or an acquittal by a jury at trial.

Motions to suppress can come in several different forms by attacking different types of evidence depending on the facts of the case. For example, the fruits of a search by police officers (e.g. drugs, biological evidence, computer files, etc.) could be suppressed because of a violation of one's Fourth Amendment right to be secure from "unreasonable searches and seizures." The stop of a vehicle could have been improper, the police could have searched when they should have first obtained a search warrant, consent to search could have been coerced or a search warrant might have been invalid. If there was a violation, the evidence is suppressed.

A defense attorney could also move to suppress an eyewitness' identification of his or her client. Identification can be shown to be unreliable based on the witness' ability to see due to distance, lighting and/or obstructions. If the witness was shown a photo lineup an attorney could demonstrate that the lineup itself or the way the lineup was presented pushed the witness to identify his or her client. Undermining a witness' identification could be a complete game-changer.

In many cases, the defendant may have made damaging statements to the police. However, a defense attorney could possibly show that the statements were made involuntarily--the product of threats, coercion or promises. Or, the police may have questioned the defendant while in custody without advising him or her of their Fifth Amendment (Miranda) rights.

In either event, the statements would likely be suppressed. Admissions of guilt by a defendant are the most valuable pieces of evidence for the government. Getting an admission suppressed could translate into the government making a better plea offer or even dismissing the case.

There are many ways that evidence in a criminal case can be suppressed, which could mean the difference between a lengthy prison term and an acquittal. If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your situation and your legal options.