Suppression hearings. What are they? Very simply, they are a legal mechanism defense attorneys use to exclude evidence that is considered to be inadmissible at trial. For example, if there was a 4th or 5th Amendment violation when the individual was arrested. Simple as that. Now, it may sound good on paper, but in practice — it gets a little hairy.
Before I begin, I’d like to lay out a universal judicial maxim: A judge’s best interest is to move the case forward as quickly and as efficiently as possible while spending the least amount of time and resources.
With that maxim in mind, let’s begin.
Typically, a case is disposed of in one of three ways.
1) Dismissed voluntarily by the prosecution (for insufficient evidence or otherwise);
2) The defendant strikes a deal with the prosecution in exchange for a plea to a lesser offense (or a plea to some charges while having the others dismissed); or
3) The case proceeds to a jury or bench trial.
However, in the period between a failed or rejected deal and trial the defense may request a suppression hearing from the court, which, if reasonably presented, will inevitably be accepted.
Now, aside from an obvious and blatant constitutional violation by the state (let’s say the officer dragged the suspect out of the car and started beating him with his nightstick without probable cause), the likelihood of suppressing evidence is very unlikely. Some lawyers have told me that their success rate is less than 1% (you’ll probably have better luck at the casino slot machine.)
Yet, attorneys continue to file and fight for these “frivolous motions” that continually get rejected by judges.
Well, are they really so frivolous after all? Let’s examine.
Many law firms have an established practice to request a suppression hearing irrespective of the facts of the case. Why? Easy. You never know what will happen. (Perhaps this is what leads a lot of judges to look at suppression hearings so cynically — “Well, great; here comes another one. Let’s just get it over with and move on.”)
However, one can’t tell ahead of time what the officer will say, or look like, or, best case scenario, some information will come to light and you will be successful in suppressing the evidence.
Although of course all attorneys strive for that third option, you are more likely to succeed on one of the first two. You will learn about the officer’s behavior on the stand and whether or not he or she has the facts straight in their mind.
Once the hearing is over, the attorney should get the CD/DVD from the court of clerk (it will cost the client something like $22 plus postage) and then hire someone to transcribe the hearing.
Boom. You’ve just created impeachment material.
What does that mean, Mr. Forman?
I am glad you asked.
What the officer testified to at the suppression hearing was made under oath. Anything that was said must be the “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” (Judges rarely add the “so help you God” part anymore — did God lie to the court of law or get himself in trouble or this another step re: separation of church and state? Anyway, I digress.)
Now if the officer contradicts at trial what he or she said at the hearing, you get to “impeach” them on it — basically show the jury that the same person gave two different answers to the same question on two separate occasions.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? You bet you sweet behind it does.
This is, of course, the ideal situation aside from getting the evidence suppressed, and not all suppression hearings will go the way you planned. May be the prosecutor on re-direct examination will be able to get the witness to explain or qualify the damage done on cross examination thus restoring credibility in the jury’s eyes. Anything is possible.
But, “if you don’t [try], the answer is always no.”
If you would like assistance with a DUI, traffic ticket, or some other criminal charge, please contact me or call me at (502) 931-6788..
Thank you for visiting my blog.
The DUI Guy.
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