A motion to suppress evidence in Texas is a legal challenge brought by a defendant in a criminal case, asking the court to prevent prosecutors from introducing certain evidence against them at trial. If the motion is granted, it is often a game-changer for the defense because the evidence is thrown out (i.e. suppressed).
In this article, Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney Benson Varghese explains how a motion to suppress evidence in Texas works, common scenarios when it might be filed, and the impact it can have on the outcome of a criminal case.
First, please watch this informative video:
Motion to Suppress Evidence in Texas: Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 38.23
A motion to suppress evidence in Texas is a formal legal request made by a defendant or their attorney. This request seeks to prohibit certain evidence from being presented in court, on the grounds that it was obtained illegally or in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights.
Article 38.23 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure states that “no evidence obtained by an officer or another person in violation of any provisions of the Constitution or laws of the State of Texas, or of the Constitution or laws of the United States of America, shall be admitted in evidence against the accused on the trial of any criminal case.”
A motion to suppress is usually based on the grounds that:
1) the police obtained the evidence unlawfully or unconstitutionally;
2) there was an improper or illegal search, seizure, arrest, or interrogation;
3) the evidence was obtained in violation of a defendant’s right to remain silent;
4) the evidence was obtained in violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights; or
5) any other type of legal error associated with obtaining the evidence.
To prevail on a motion to suppress evidence in Texas, the defendant must prove there is a substantial likelihood that the evidence was obtained in a manner that is not allowed by either Texas law or the United States Constitution.
If successful in proving this, then the court will grant the motion and suppress (exclude) any evidence that was obtained as part of an unlawful search or seizure. Any further use of such evidence for trial purposes would be considered illegal and unconstitutional.
Reasons for Filing a Motion to Suppress Evidence
Understanding the circumstances that warrant the filing of a motion to suppress evidence in Texas is pivotal for someone accused of a crime, as well as the general public. This motion is a powerful tool in a defense attorney’s arsenal, ensuring that constitutional rights are upheld and that trials are conducted fairly. Here are some common reasons why a motion to suppress evidence may be filed:
Unlawful Search and Seizure
Arguably the most common scenario, this pertains to violations of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Evidence obtained without a valid search warrant or outside the boundaries of an existing warrant can be suppressed.
Example: A police officer enters a person’s home without a warrant and finds illegal drugs. If the entry was without permission and no exigent circumstances existed, a motion to suppress could be filed and the drugs could be thrown out as evidence.
Failure to Provide Miranda Warnings
Before interrogating a suspect in custody, law enforcement officers are required to inform the individual of their Miranda rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to legal counsel. If these warnings are not given or not given properly, any statements or confessions made may be suppressed.
Example: A suspect is arrested and, without being read their Miranda rights, admits guilt during questioning. The confession could be excluded from evidence due law enforcement’s failure to provide proper warnings.
Involuntary or Coerced Confessions
A confession must be given voluntarily for it to be admissible in court. If a defendant can show that their confession was obtained through force, threats, psychological pressure, or other coercive methods, the confession can be suppressed.
Example: A person is detained and subjected to hours of aggressive interrogation without breaks, leading them to confess out of exhaustion. Such a confession might be deemed involuntary and suppressed.
Illegal Traffic Stops or Detentions
Evidence obtained from an unlawful traffic stop or an unjustified detention can be challenged and possibly suppressed.
Example: A driver is pulled over without any valid reason, and during the stop, the officer finds marijuana in the vehicle. The drugs might be excluded if the defense can show that police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle in the first place.
Chain of Custody Issues
For evidence to be admissible, there must be a clear and unbroken chain of custody, ensuring it has not been tampered with or compromised. If there are gaps or issues in this chain, the integrity of the evidence can be called into question, leading to a motion to suppress.
Example: A blood sample is taken from a DWI suspect, but the storage and transfer logs show discrepancies, making it unclear if the sample was continuously handled properly. This could lead to a motion to suppress the blood test results. Without the blood, prosecutors may not have evidence that the driver’s BAC was over .08
While search warrants give law enforcement the authority to search specified areas for specific items, they must be clear and limited in scope. If a warrant is overly broad or vague, any evidence obtained may be suppressed.
Example: A warrant authorizes the search of a person’s living room for stolen electronics, but officers also search the bedroom and find unrelated illegal items. The evidence from the bedroom might be suppressed due to the overbroad nature of the warrant.
These are just some common scenarios that could warrant a motion to suppress evidence in Texas. This motion serves as a safeguard, ensuring that individuals’ rights are not violated during the legal process. Recognizing the scenarios under which this motion is commonly filed offers a clearer understanding of the protections in place within the U.S. justice system.
Types of Evidence that May be Excluded
If a motion to suppress is granted, various types of evidence may be excluded from a criminal case. This could include:
1. Physical Evidence
Physical evidence refers to tangible items or material objects that are directly related to the case, such as weapons, drugs, stolen items, vehicles, photos or videos, or forensic samples. If obtained illegally, they can be excluded from the case.
Confessions are admissions of guilt or statements that incriminate the individual making them. However, if they are obtained illegally, they can be kicked out.
3. Identification Testimonies
Identification testimony plays a crucial role in many criminal proceedings. At its core, it involves a witness, often a victim or another eyewitness, formally identifying a person as the perpetrator of a crime, usually through a lineup, photospread, or composite drawing. If this process is corrupt – sometimes by an officer suggesting who the perpetrator is – or coerced, this testimony may be excluded.
The Process of Filing a Motion to Suppress
1. Drafting the Motion
The defense attorney begins by drafting the motion, detailing the reasons and legal basis for requesting the suppression of the evidence.
2. Submission and Scheduling
Once drafted, the motion is filed with the court. A hearing date is then scheduled, where both parties will present their arguments.
3. The Hearing
At the hearing, the defense will argue why the evidence should be excluded, while the prosecution will counter, explaining its validity and relevance.
4. The Court’s Decision
After considering all arguments, the judge will make a decision. If the motion is granted, the evidence in question cannot be used in court. If denied, the evidence remains admissible.
The Impact on the Outcome of Cases
Once evidence is suppressed, it cannot be presented in court by the prosecution. This can be a turning point in a case. With pivotal evidence excluded, the prosecution’s case might be weakened, and they may find it challenging to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This could potentially lead to reduced charges, a more favorable plea bargain offer, or even dismissal of the case.
Why are Motions to Suppress Evidence in Texas Important?
In Texas, as with the broader U.S., the motion to suppress evidence underscores the justice system’s commitment to upholding individual rights and ensuring that due process is observed. It acts as a check and balance, preventing potential overreach by law enforcement and ensuring trials are fair and just.
Speak to an Experienced Fort Worth Defense Attorney
Filing a motion to suppress evidence is just one of the strategies criminal defense attorneys use to defend their clients. If you’re facing criminal charges, it’s important to understand your rights and explore every available legal strategy.
The experienced Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys at Varghese Summersett have a proven track record of success getting evidence thrown out because law enforcement cut corners or failed to do their job properly. Contact us today at 817-203-2220 for a free consultation and find out why we are the firm people turn to when facing the biggest problems of their lives