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 presenting certain evidence against them at trial. If the motion is granted, it is often a game-changer for the defense because the evidence is eliminated (i.e., suppressed).
In this article, Benson Varghese, a board-certified criminal defense attorney, explains how a motion to suppress evidence works in Texas, common scenarios in which it may be filed, and the impact it can have on the outcome of a criminal case.
First, please watch this helpful 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 the defendant or his or her attorney. This application seeks to prevent certain evidence from being brought to court, on the grounds that it was obtained illegally or in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights.
Section 38.23 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure It states that “no evidence obtained by an officer or other person in violation of any provision of the Constitution or laws of the State of Texas, or of the Constitution or laws of the United States of America, shall be admissible as evidence against the accused at trial in any criminal case.”
The suggestion of suppression is usually based on the following reasons:
1) The police obtained the evidence illegally or unconstitutionally;
2) there was an improper or unlawful search, seizure, arrest, or interrogation;
3) the evidence was obtained in violation of the accused’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 related to obtaining evidence.
For a motion to suppress evidence to prevail in Texas, a defendant must prove that there is a substantial likelihood that the evidence would be obtained in a way not permitted by Texas law or the U.S. Constitution.
If you are successful in proving this, the court will grant the application and suppress (exclude) any evidence obtained as part of an unlawful search or seizure. Any further use of this evidence for trial purposes will be considered illegal and unconstitutional.
Grounds for filing a motion to suppress evidence
Understanding the circumstances that justify filing a motion to suppress evidence in Texas is pivotal for a person accused of a crime, as well as for the general public. This motion is a powerful tool in a defense attorney’s arsenal, ensuring that constitutional rights are upheld and 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 involves violations of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Evidence obtained without a valid search warrant or outside the limits of an existing search 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 there are no exigent circumstances, a motion to suppress can be filed and the drugs can be disposed of as evidence.
Failure to provide Miranda warnings
Before questioning a suspect in custody, law enforcement officials are required to inform the individual of his or her Miranda rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to legal counsel. If these warnings are not given or are not given properly, any statements or confessions made may be suppressed.
Example: The suspect is arrested, without being read his Miranda rights, and admits guilt during interrogation. A confession can be excluded from evidence due to law enforcement’s failure to provide appropriate warnings.
Involuntary or forced confessions
The confession must be made voluntarily in order for it to be admissible in court. If the defendant can prove that his confession was obtained by force, threat, psychological pressure, or other coercive methods, the confession can be suppressed.
Example: The person is detained and subjected to hours of violent interrogation without breaks, forcing him to confess out of exhaustion. Such recognition may be considered involuntary and suppressed.
Illegal traffic stops or detention
Evidence obtained through illegal traffic stops or unwarranted detention can be challenged and possibly suppressed.
Example: A driver is stopped without any valid reason, and during the stop the officer finds marijuana in the car. Drugs may be excluded if the defense can prove that the police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the car in the first place.
Custody case series
For evidence to be admissible, there must be a clear and unbroken chain of custody, ensuring that it cannot be tampered with or compromised. If there are gaps or problems in this chain, the integrity of the evidence may be called into question, leading to a suggestion of suppression.
Example: A blood sample is taken from a DWI suspect, but storage and transportation records show discrepancies, making it unclear whether the sample was consistently handled properly. This could lead to a movement to suppress blood test results. Without the blood, prosecutors may not have evidence that the driver’s blood alcohol concentration was higher than 0.08
While search warrants give law enforcement the authority to search specific areas for specific items, they must be clear and limited in scope. If it is too broad or vague, any evidence obtained may be withheld.
Example: A search warrant allows a person’s living room to be searched for stolen electronic devices, but officers also search the bedroom and find unrelated illegal items. Evidence from the bedroom may be concealed due to the vague nature of the note.
These are just some of the common scenarios that could justify a motion to suppress evidence in Texas. This proposal acts as a safeguard, ensuring that individuals’ rights are not violated during legal proceedings. Learning about the scenarios under which this request is commonly made provides a clearer understanding of the protections in place within the American justice system.
Types of evidence that can be excluded
If a motion to suppress is granted, various types of evidence may be excluded from a criminal case. This can include:
1. Physical evidence
Physical evidence refers to tangible objects or physical objects that have a direct relationship to the case, such as weapons, drugs, stolen items, vehicles, photos, videos, or forensic samples. If they were obtained illegally, they could be excluded from the case.
Confessions are admissions of guilt or statements incriminating the individual who made them. However, if they are obtained illegally, they can be expelled.
3. Identification certificates
Identification certificate plays a crucial role in many criminal proceedings. In essence, this crime involves a witness, often a victim or other eyewitness, formally identifying the person as the perpetrator of the crime, usually through a collage of photographs, photographs or a composite drawing. If this process is corrupt – sometimes by an officer suggesting who the perpetrator is – or coerced, then this testimony may be excluded.
Process for filing a motion to suppress
1. Formulate the proposal
The defense attorney begins by drafting the request, detailing the reasons and legal basis for the request to withhold evidence.
2. Submission and scheduling
Once drafted, the application is submitted to the court. A date will then be set for a hearing, where both parties will present their arguments.
At the hearing, the defense will discuss why the evidence was excluded, while the prosecution will respond by explaining its validity and importance.
4. Court decision
After considering all the arguments, the judge will make his decision. If the application is granted, the evidence in question cannot be used in court. If the evidence is rejected, it remains admissible.
Influencing the outcome of cases
Once evidence is withheld, the prosecution cannot present it to court. This could be a turning point in the case. With pivotal evidence excluded, the prosecution’s case may be weakened, and they may find it difficult to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This may result in a reduced charge, a better offer of a plea deal, or even a dismissal of the case.
Why are motions to suppress evidence in Texas important?
In Texas, as in the United States generally, the motion to suppress evidence underscores the judicial system’s commitment to upholding individual rights and ensuring due process. It acts as a check and balance, preventing potential abuse by law enforcement and ensuring that trials are fair and just.
Talk to one of our experienced Fort Worth defense attorneys
Filing a motion to suppress evidence is just one of the strategies criminal defense attorneys use to defend their clients. If you are facing criminal charges, it is important to understand your rights and explore every legal strategy available.
The experienced Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys at Varghese Summersett have a proven track record of success in obtaining evidence that was discarded because law enforcement cut corners or failed to do their job properly. Call us today at 817-203-2220 for a free consultation and find out why we’re the tough people they turn to when facing the biggest problems in their lives.