Law Office of Tim Powers
Denton County Criminal Defense Lawyer and Adjunct Professor of Criminal
Justice (University of North Texas) Tim Powers
A motion to suppress is a challenge to the legality of how evidence was attained.
In Texas and the United States we have what is known as the "exclusionary
rule." This rule means where a court finds evidence was attained
illegally – it cannot be used for any reason against the accused.
The exclusion (or suppression) of evidence often makes it impossible for
the prosecution to prove one or more elements of the crime — which
means they often lose the entire case based on a successful motion to
suppress because they will fail to meet their burden of proof at trial.
Other times, a successful motion to suppress will exclude a damaging admission,
confession or other piece of evidence which does not win a case for the
defendant but makes the case much more difficult on the prosecution.
What Makes an Arrest or Search Illegal?
It depends on the situation. In an automobile stop, the stop is normally
bad where the driver didn't commit any offense that allowed the officer
to pull them over in the first place. Searches in automobiles can also
be bad where the officer searches a car or individual without consent
or probable cause that some crime has been committed within his presence.
Home searches have extremely great protection. Remember the constitutional
basis for the 4th amendment in the first place was to prevent American
soldiers from rummaging through people's houses the same way the British
had done prior to the revolution.
Search warrants can be held to be illegal if the application for the warrant
was not done properly and fails to establish probable cause.
Also, if the State broke some other law in attaining evidence then the
evidence can be suppressed as well. A common example is where the State
doesn't follow protocol on a breath test or blood draw and can't
use the result at trial.
The situations where searches, arrests, or other types of evidence can
be thrown out are countless. Each is truly it's own unique snowflake
and this discussion barely scratches the surface of suppression.
Does This Mean the Police have Committed a Crime Against Me?
Not really. It's more like an 'illegal procedure' penalty in
football. It sounds worse than it actually is for the cop. Most suppression
cases arise because the officer was being (1) overly-aggressive; or (2)
was just not thinking.
You have to remember a handful of things about police. First is they profile
and target certain people. The good news is that it is rarely based on
race — but it doesn't make it a whole lot better. Police tend
to target, for example, teenagers/ younger adults, people driving beat-up
cars, and frankly — people who look like thugs.
Second, society has glorified police acting on 'hunches' even though
the law requires the opposite — that if the police are going to
act they have to have specific articulable facts which justify their actions.
Not only does the law require there to be 'articulable fact,'
but study after study shows that an officer's 'hunch' is generally
no more reliable than flipping a coin.
When you combine profiling of someone in a high-target group with an officer
acting on 'hunches' instead of fact — you tend to get a
situation ripe for a motion to suppress.
Examples of How a Motion to Suppress Works
The best way to demonstrate how a motion to suppress works is through practical examples.
Bad Stop Eliminates Entire Case:
DWI arrest where blood draw ultimately shows defendant had 0.15 blood alcohol
concentration. Officer stopped defendant for driving slowly, weaving within
lane, and crossing solid white line. Court held defendant committed no
traffic violations because (1) weaving within one's own lane is not
a crime where no lane was crossed; (2) driving slowly does not constitute
a crime in and of itself; and (3) Defendant's car crossed solid white
line exiting freeway in response to being pulled over. The officer's
decision to stop had already been improperly made.
Result: All facts attained from stop were suppressed. Therefore State could not
prove identity of driver or that driver was intoxicated. Case dismissed
Bad Search Eliminates a Key Element
A marijuana case in which the police receive a report of a 'disturbance'
in the middle of the day at an intersection in a high crime neighborhood.
Nature of the 'disturbance' unknown but description of participants
was given – and description was somewhat common. Officer stops defendant
several blocks away walking on a street (towards the area of the disturbance).
After a brief conversation, the officer begins a pat-down search of the
defendant who admits he's got marijuana in his pocket, which is ultimately found.
Court held: (1) the report of a 'disturbance' too broad to allow
a general search of all people matching the description in the vicinity
for all purposes; (2) the encounter between the officer and the accused
was originally voluntary but turned into a detention when the officer
began to frisk Defendant without permission; (3) by the time Defendant
admitted to the drugs, the illegal detention without probable cause had
already commenced — therefore the admission and the marijuana themselves
were not admissible.
Result: Not Guilty verdict because there was no evidence the defendant was in
possession of marijuana (the corpus dilecti of the crime).
Bad Search Warrant Eliminates Blood Result
Defendant arrested for DWI after car accident. Officer's conduct field
sobriety tests and determine defendant was intoxicated. Officers apply
for search warrant from a judge on call. Judge grants the search warrant
and the defendant is shown to have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.17
at the time of testing. Court held that search warrant failed to contain
the time of driving and as such, the warrant was insufficient to demonstrate
that evidence of a crime would be present in defendant's blood specimen.
Result: Defendant stood trial, however, state barred from showing or referring
to blood draw or blood result.
Motions to suppress are hard to understand. They can be an over-looked
and efficient way to defend cases of all types. Don't put your criminal
defense to chance. Call the Law Offices of Tim Powers for a free consultation
to discuss the facts of your criminal case. What you don't know about
the law CAN hurt you.
If you are seeking aggressive criminal representation by an experienced
criminal defense attorney for your Denton County motion to surpress case
or arrest in Denton County, contact the offices of Tim Powers today. There
is no charge or obligation for the initial consultation. 940.580.2899.
*Tim Powers is an attorney licensed to practice law by the Supreme Court
of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For
legal advice about any specific legal question you should directly consult