Have you been the victim of an illegal search or seizure in San Diego? The state should not be allowed to benefit from a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. You need to speak with an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney immediately. At the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC, we will fight to get any illegally-obtained evidence thrown out of your criminal case. Without this evidence, the prosecution may not be able to support its case against you. As a result, we can negotiate a favorable plea or get the charges dropped altogether. Contact our San Diego criminal defense team today to schedule your free case assessment.
Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. Specifically, the Fourth Amendment states that you have the right “to be secure” in your “person, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Reasonable Expectation of Privacy
You have the right to enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy. This means that police have to take certain steps if they want to search you, your home, or property you control. Put another way, police can’t just barge in and begin searching you or your property for evidence of a crime.
Your expectation of privacy is limited. In fact, it is an objective legal standard. Just because you would like to have privacy does not mean that it is guaranteed. The right to privacy is defined by law, and extends to:
- Your person
- Your home
- Your vehicle
- Your cell phone, and
- Structures you have erected to shield activity from public view.
The right to privacy does not extend to:
- You as a passenger in someone else’s vehicle
- Property you have abandoned, or
- Property you have stolen.
The prosecution should not be allowed to benefit from violations of your right to privacy. Evidence or information gathered as a result of this violation should be excluded from your criminal trial using a motion to suppress.
Police searches must be reasonable. Reasonableness typically depends on whether or not police have probable cause to believe that you have broken (or will break) the law. Probable cause is a fairly high standard of proof. Police must have more than a simple suspicion or gut feeling. Probable cause must be supported by specific and articulable facts. The specific circumstances of a situation can be used to support other facts.
Searches that are not supported by probable cause are unreasonable. The prosecution should not be allowed to use evidence obtained in these unlawful searches. A motion to suppress can prevent the state from benefiting from violations of your rights.
Motion to Suppress
A motion to suppress is a formal request to have certain pieces of evidence excluded from your criminal trial. There are two grounds for filing a motion to suppress, which can be found in Penal Code 15398.5 PC. Both involve unreasonable searches and violations of your Constitutional rights.
Evidence Obtained in Warrantless Search
Searches performed without the authority of a warrant are presumed to be unreasonable. You can file a motion to suppress tangible or intangible evidence that is obtained as a result of a warrantless search. The state will have the burden of proving that the search was reasonable.
Evidence Obtain in Warranted Search
Search warrants are only issued when probable cause exists. A judge reviews the formal request for a warrant and determines if there is enough evidence to establish probable cause. However, just because police have a warrant does not mean that they have free reign to search everything and anything they want. Officers must stick to the very strict and narrow terms of the warrant and adhere to constitutional procedures.
You can file a motion to suppress tangible or intangible evidence that is obtained as a result of a warranted search if:
- Police obtained evidence that was outside the scope of the warrant;
- The property obtained was not described in the warrant;
- The warrant was not supported by probable cause;
- The warrant was executed in a way that violated Constitutional standards;
- There were other violations of any constitutional standards, or
- The warrant was insufficient on its face.
Searches performed pursuant to a valid warrant are presumed to be reasonable. As the defendant, you and your attorney will have the burden of proving that the search was unreasonable.
Evidence Subject to Exclusion
Which evidence can your attorney target in a motion to suppress? According to the exclusionary rule, any evidence that has been tainted by a violation of your rights is fair game. Evidence that has been tainted by an unreasonable search is known as “fruit of the poisonous tree.” This simply means that police were able to get their hands on evidence because of their illegal conduct. Since the initial search was reasonable, any additional information or evidence that is related to that illegal conduct is tainted. Your attorney can attempt to exclude any evidence that is connected to illegal conduct.
Example: Police conduct a warrantless search of Joe’s house. During the illegal search, police find an address for a storage locker on the other side of town. They go to the locker and find that Joe has stashed illegal drugs there. Joe’s attorney argues that the illegal drugs are fruit of the poisonous tree. Police only found this evidence because they conducted an illegal search of Joe’s home. If the judge agrees, police will be prevented from using the illegal drugs as evidence against Joe in a criminal case.
Filing a Motion to Suppress
A motion to suppress is typically filed in the early stages of your criminal case. In fact, your attorney can file the motion as early as your pretrial arraignment hearing. The motion itself can be argued during a pretrial hearing or dedicated suppression hearing.
Your attorney can request to argue the motion to suppress during a pretrial hearing (e.g., arraignment). However, arguments will be limited to pieces of evidence that the prosecution is likely to introduce during that specific hearing. If there are multiple pieces of evidence at stake, your attorney may choose to wait to argue the issue at a later date.
What happens if the motion is denied during a pretrial hearing? Your attorney can file the motion again and request a dedicated suppression hearing. That hearing, however, will be limited in scope. The judge will only consider the transcript of the initial hearing and evidence that “could not reasonably have been presented” during the pretrial hearing.
Your attorney can also request to have a dedicated suppression hearing. This hearing is basically a mini-trial to determine whether evidence should be excluded from your criminal trial. The judge will consider arguments, testimony, and evidence presented by your attorney and the prosecution. This may include testimony and cross-examinations of witnesses and police.
Deciding on a Motion to Suppress
The judge presiding over your hearing will determine if evidence should be excluded from your criminal trial. The judge can come to one of three possible decisions: approve, deny, or approve in part.
Approve the Motion to Suppress: The judge can approve the motion to suppress if he or she believes that police conducted an unreasonable search or seizure. When your motion is approved, the prosecution will not be allowed to use those specific pieces of evidence in its criminal case against you.
Deny the Motion to Suppress: The judge can deny the motion to suppress if he or she believes that a search was reasonable. When your motion is denied, the prosecution will be allowed to use those specific pieces of evidence in its criminal case against you.
Approve the Motion to Suppress in Part: The judge may decide that certain pieces of evidence should be excluded, while others should not. When this happens, the judge can approve your motion to suppress in part.
Using Excluded Evidence For Other Purposes
It’s important to understand that a successful motion to suppress only prevents the state from using certain pieces of tainted evidence in its criminal case against you. That evidence does not disappear altogether. It can still be used against you in other legal proceedings.
Evidence that is excluded from your criminal case may still be used during:
- Grand jury proceedings
- Deportation hearings, or
- Parole revocation hearings.
Need More Help?
The Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. If the police have violated your rights, our San Diego criminal defense attorneys can help to protect you. Call us today to schedule a free consultation with our legal team. We will review the details of your case and determine which pieces of evidence should be excluded from your criminal case. Filing a successful motion to suppress can help to limit the consequences of your arrest. The state may be forced to offer a plea or drop the charges altogether. Call us today to learn more.