For the State to obtain a conviction in a criminal prosecution the prosecuting attorney must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. To achieve that goal, the prosecutor typically introduces different types of evidence to support the allegations against the defendant. A Murfreesboro criminal lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains what the exclusion of evidence in a criminal case in Tennessee means.
Criminal Prosecution Procedure – The Pre-Trial Phase
If you were recently arrested and charged with a crime, the time period after your arrest is referred to as the pre-trial phase. Much of the work in a criminal case occurs during this period of time. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your arrest, the State may continue its investigation during the pre-trial phase or simply refine the case it has already built against you. The defense, on the other hand, will be reviewing and analyzing the evidence the State has against you in order to prepare a defense. When analyzing evidence, your defense attorney will always do so with an eye toward getting the evidence “excluded,” also referred to as “suppressed.”
Filing a Motion to Suppress/Exclude
The United States Constitution guarantees a defendant in a criminal prosecution several important rights. Evidence that was obtained by violating one of those rights may be suppressed, meaning it cannot be admitted into evidence at trial. The same applies to a violation of the criminal procedures established for evidence in a criminal prosecution. If those procedures were not properly followed, evidence may be excluded. A Motion to Exclude or Suppress Evidence (usually referred to as a “Motion to Suppress”) is a motion that is filed during the pre-trial phase of the case which asks the court to exclude one or more pieces of evidence from trial. Typically, once the Motion is filed, the State has the opportunity to respond in writing after which the court will set the Motion for a hearing. At the hearing, the parties may argue their respective cases to the judge. If the Motion is granted, the evidence is excluded and may not be presented at trial. It is possible to orally request suppression of evidence during a trial; however, the courts prefer issue related to the exclusion of evidence to be litigated prior to trial whenever possible.
Why Might Evidence Be Excluded?
There are a variety of reasons why evidence could be excluded from a criminal trial; however, three of the most common reasons include:
- The evidence was obtained illegally. Usually, this is the argument made when evidence was obtained during an illegal search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution which prohibits unlawful searches and seizures. Typically, this means that the police must first obtain a warrant based on probable cause before conducting a search; however, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement. If a judge determines that a search was conducted illegally, any evidence seized during that search may be inadmissible pursuant to the “Exclusionary Rule.” Note that Tennessee adopted a good-faith exception to the federal exclusionary rule which allows “negligent police mistakes in recordkeeping” as opposed to those that resulted from “systemic error or reckless disregard for constitutional requirements” to be admissible in court.
- A statement was obtained illegally. You have undoubtedly heard of your “Miranda Rights” — “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law etc.” You may not, however, be familiar with the remedy if the police failed to read you your rights. If the police never asked you any questions, the fact that they failed to read you your rights is irrelevant. If, however, you were interrogated, or even just asked a few seemingly harmless questions, without being read your rights, anything you said in response may be excluded/suppressed. Whether or not the police were required to read your rights to you hinges on the facts and circumstances, including whether or not you were “in custody” at the time.
- The police failed to properly handle and/or preserve the evidence. Not only must evidence be obtained legally, but it must also be handled properly, according to strict procedures, after it is seized. This is referred to as the “chain of custody.” For example, if law enforcement officers failed to properly preserve blood evidence or they cannot account for where evidence was for a period of time, the evidence could have been tampered with or is now tainted. The mean possibility is often sufficient reason to exclude the evidence from trial.
Contact a Murfreesboro Criminal Lawyer
If you were recently arrested and charged with a criminal offense, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro criminal lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible to discuss your legal options. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.
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