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A criminal case can sometimes come down to just one vital piece of evidence. Examples would be; the weapon used to commit the crime, the results of a breath test, a fingerprint on an item, etc. The law requires many factors to be met before these items can be submitted as evidence at trial. First, the evidence must be the product of legitimate law enforcement actions. Thus, if how the evidence was found is tainted, then it will generally be inadmissible at trial and therefore the jury never sees it when determining if the defendant is guilty of the crime they are accused of. The legal term for this is “suppression.” It is vital to comprehend when evidence suppression is required as a majority of cases come down to these specific pieces of evidence.

Suppression comes from rights granted by the United States Constitution (and the particular state’s constitution). The Constitution also grants rights which control how people can be detained, searched, or questioned. When the State, by actions through its law enforcement, violates these rights when obtaining evidence, suppression comes into play. Suppression is necessary to ensure the rights which were granted to the People have meaning. A few examples of police conduct which violates the rights of individuals accused of crimes and which will likely lead to suppression of the evidence are listed below.

Evidence Found After Prolonged Detention

Law enforcement is allowed to temporarily stop/detain a person when the officer reasonably believes a crime has occurred or is about to occur. The most common example of this is a traffic stop for a traffic infraction, such as not using a turn signal or speeding. However, this ability to detain is limited: the stop has to be administered and concluded within a reasonable time. This means, if an officer takes more time than is needed to address what justified the stop, the initial lawful stop could become impermissible.

Rodriguez v. United States is the seminal case regarding this topic. In this case, the defendant was pulled over for a traffic warning. After giving the driver a warning, the officer then proceeded to conduct a dog sniff investigation around the driver’s car, which prolonged the traffic stop. The Supreme Court found that this extension of time rendered the stop impermissible as the reason for the stop was satisfied upon the warning being issued to the driver. The stop should have ended at that point and all evidence found after that was inadmissible in the defendant’s case. The Kansas Supreme Court has decided a few cases very similar to Rodrigues, such as State v. Coleman and State v. Mitchell.

However, please note that an officer can extend the stop if reasonable suspicion of an additional crime arises prior to the initial stop being completed. An example would be if an officer is giving a driver a citation for speeding and while handing the ticket to the driver, the officer sees an open container of alcohol in the passenger seat. In that situation the nature of the stop may be changed and thus allow the investigation into that possible violation. This just reiterates how important it is to not provide unnecessary information to law enforcement during a traffic stop. A person should be aware of their right to remain silent and exercise that when dealing with police.

Coerced Admissions

In the United States, individuals cannot be compelled to produce incriminating evidence against themselves. However, this information can be used against them in a criminal prosecution if the individual decides to give up this right. The key issue usually falls on why the person chose to waive their rights. More specifically, were they forced into making the declaration?

The Kansas Supreme Court in State v. Compton addressed this issue in regard to breathalyzer tests. The court established the middle ground a police officer is required to stay within: A law enforcement officer is not obligated to clarify consequences and options to a person, but the officer cannot mislead the person about such test. Statements given by an authoritative figure, such as the police, that are misleading are deemed to be coercive. These statements rob a person of their free will to determine whether to give up the rights guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment. This logic expands to all self-incriminating evidence, including the accused’s testimony.

All of these matters derive from the exercising an individual’s Fifth Amendment rights. Law enforcement has one job and that is to catch criminals. The Constitution recognizes that officers may exceed the boundaries of their job when attempting to obtain evidence. It is the responsibility of each person to safeguard their own liberties, and they are free to do that without coercive actions taken by the police.

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Destruction Of Evidence Favorable To The Accused.

During criminal prosecutions, the State has a huge amount of power. This power includes the capability of investigating criminal activity, which then includes having almost exclusive domain over evidence which is produced. The courts have recognized how dangerous this power could be, specifically if the prosecution finds evidence which is favorable to the accused (known as “exculpatory evidence”) and then decides to not disclose this evidence. The remedy for the State purposefully neglecting to save and disclose this favorable evidence may include excluding all of the evidence the State chose to save instead.

The United States Supreme Court in Brady v. Maryland held that for a fair trial to be conducted, the State has an obligation to preserve and share exculpatory evidence. Thus, when such evidence is still available, and the defendant can use it, a new trial shall be ordered, with the defendant having access to the evidence. But what happens when the evidence is rendered useless or destroyed? The evidentiary rules mandate certain actions that are to be taken in storing and handling evidence. This assures that evidence isn’t altered or tampered with. If law enforcement doesn’t treat exculpatory evidence as they are required to, it might be too late to save the affected evidence and a new trial might not be enough. The court decided that for this mandate to have any meaning, any “teeth”, the remedy for mishandling or destroying exculpatory evidence must be quid pro quo treatment: all the evidence the State chose to preserve instead of the exculpatory evidence is now suppressed.

The decisive part in determining if this is the proper remedy is why the State decided not to preserve the exculpatory evidence and also how beneficial it was to the defendant. Thus, if the State knew the evidence was beneficial to the defendant but still chose not to adequately protect the evidence anyways, the remedy is appropriate. An example of this would be a defendant’s breath test that showed that they were not over the legal limit. Sometimes objects are helpful to the defendant, but it isn’t as obvious from the type of evidence. Suppression is only granted here if the State acted in bad faith, i.e. they knew it was likely beneficial but still failed to protect it. The State may have spoiled the evidentiary value of these objects, but suppression of the other evidence is not allowed because the evidence’s value wasn’t apparent.

Law enforcement acts swiftly in investigating criminal acts and deciding which evidence is given proper handling and which are removed from the State’s exclusive control. Therefore, because of this short time period, it is vital that an individual accused of a crime contact experienced legal counsel quickly in order to ensure that exculpatory evidence is preserved.

Interrogation After Request For Counsel

A person who is accused of a crime is entitled to have legal counsel present during law enforcement questioning. Upon requesting this right, the police have to honor it. A person can request it in many forms, and the court will be the one who decides whether a normal, reasonable person would understand that the accused request legal counsel. But what happens if law enforcement doesn’t stop talking with the accused after the request a lawyer?

In Edwards v. Arizona, the court held that once an individual requests an attorney, the interrogation stops right away. This establishes that the right to counsel is meaningful and doesn’t allow the officers to just wear down the person by continually disputing their decision to invoke the constitutional right. The court further established that once an individual has invoked this right, law enforcement cannot ask them to waive it. Thus, if a person requests an attorney but the cops give them a waiver of counsel instead, that waiver is deemed invalid even if the person signed it. Additionally, any evidence gathered after the waiver was signed, including consent to searching the accused’s belongings, vehicle, or home, should also be suppressed.

The rule established in Edwards seeks to safeguard individuals from coercive law enforcement tactics. Another key part of this Edwards rule is how important it is for a person to utilize the rights granted to them by the Constitution. It is vital that someone accused of a crime invokes their rights, including the right to counsel and the right to remain silent. It is up to the individual to invoke these rights granted by the Constitution and they should be invoked as soon as the investigation starts.

Exceeding The Scope Of A Private Search

Searches done by governmental actions or done at the direction of governmental agencies are controlled by provisions in the Constitution. The Constitution does not offer protection to a property owner if the search is conducted by a private individual, such as a significant other, common-carrier employee, or relative. Which then brings up what happens if a private party shows the fruits of their search to law enforcement?

If a private search was not encouraged by the government, law enforcement is authorized to examine the results of that search. However, law enforcement is only allowed to review what that private individual found, they may not search it further. Thus, when a private party finds items on an electronic device or in a container, law enforcement can easily violate the parameters what they can search. If the police further search the item, that additional search will violate the Fourth Amendment and suppression of any information found by the additional search should be warranted. Common situations of this is when a common-carrier employee finds objects inside a package being shipped or when an individual finds items inside a suspect’s residence.

In Runyan v. United States, the girlfriend of the accused discovered multiple CDs which contained incriminating evidence. The girlfriend only viewed a few of the disks but gave them all to law enforcement. The court found that law enforcement was only permitted to view the disks the girlfriend had viewed and that they were not permitted to open and view the disks that she had not viewed. Evidence found on the additional disks was an impermissible search and therefore should have been suppressed.

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In United States v. Jacobsen, a UPS package ripped open during transit. A powdery substance within the package was viewed to be cocaine. The court found that the officers were allowed to test the substance to establish it was cocaine, and the test results and substance were not suppressed. The reasoning behind this was that because the officers stayed within the scope of the worker’s search and the additional search only examined the substance which had been previously discovered.

The line between when law enforcement exceeds a private individual’s search can be difficult to determine. It should be noted that just because the police were given evidence by a private party, it doesn’t mean it was lawfully produced. It is crucial for the right questions to be asked, and such questions are best analyzed and discussed with an experienced lawyer.

Exceeding Scope Of Search Warrant

Police officers will obtain a search warrant when they have enough reason to believe evidence of a crime is located at a particular place. It is the court’s job to seek to limit the warrant’s scope (the limits of what can be searched) as well as preserve the suspect’s privacy rights. Therefore, a warrant has three aspects of limitation: what law enforcement is searching for, who is accused of the crime, and where law enforcement can search for evidence of the crime. These limitations are the extent of what a judge is allowing the search to encompass. If the police exceed these limitations, suppression of any such evidence found shall be warranted (unless the search expansion is verified by the officer having independent justification).

The police are allowed to search anywhere that is able to contain the focus of the search on the specific premises identified in the warrant. The court in United States v. McLevain found that officers were permitted to look under beds and in closets when the search was for two men as these were locations men could hide. However, when a stolen rifle was the focus of the search, the search of binders exceeded the scope of the search parameters as a rifle could not have physically been inside the binder.

The individual the warrant names is suspected of committed a crime, and therefore their property is also deemed suspect. However, property of others doesn’t automatically receive similar suspicion. In State v. Lambert, the court found such a violation. Lambert’s purse, which was with her when law enforcement executed a warrant on her friend’s house, was not within the search warrant’s cope. This was because it was not “associated with” the warrant’s subject; it was Lambert’s, and by coincidence it was at the house when law enforcement executed the warrant. Thus, the evidence discovered in the purse was suppressed.

Further, the warrant also specifies the location. An address identified in the warrant includes the residence and “appurtenant” items and locations. For instance, a search warrant for a townhome would permit the police to search the closets within the townhome, as the court held in United States v. Fagan. However, the court in United States v. Cannon held that a separate garage that was turned into a rental exceeded the scope of the specified address. Courts take a “common sense” approach to questions, meaning if an area is probably treated as part of the residence in the normal sense (i.e. a closet) then it will usually be determined to be within the scope of the warrant.

It is difficult to determine a warrant’s exact scope. However, the scope is determined by a constant instrument, unlike the majority of law enforcement activity. This allows suppression for overreaching easier to obtain than other instances. It is important to note that this is only true as long as law enforcement doesn’t gain independent reasons for suspecting additional areas or persons of criminal activity while they are executing the warrant. Therefore, it is vital to remember your individual rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer present during interrogations, so that law enforcement does not gain access to additional information that could justify otherwise impermissible conduct.

Exceeding Scope Of SITLA

When law enforcement lawfully arrests an individual, they are allowed to conduct a limited search of that individual and the immediate area around them. This is known as a search incident to lawful arrest (SITLA). In Chimel v. California, the court held a SITLA is permitted as the arresting officer should be permitted to ensure the arrestee doesn’t have any weapons nor the ability to destroy protentional evidence nearby. The scope of a STILA is extremely limited as it only includes the person being arrested and the immediate surrounding area for which they could possibly grab an object. A search that exceeds this scope is not permitted without an independent justification, is subject to having any evidence found, suppressed.

The SITLA’s purpose is what controls its scope. In Riley v. California, the court held that a SITLA did not include searching a cell phone’s data. Law enforcement is allowed to search the individual for the phone as that ensures they do not destroy it. The phone’s physical elements can be examined because that also supports the safety purpose of a SITLA. A phone’s data does not support either justification: the phone will not be in the individual’s possession until they are released from custody and law enforcement is not in jeopardy from the phone’s data.

Further, a SITLA’s justifications are also defeated if the arrestee is taken away from the area. In Arizona v. Grant, the police put the suspect in the back of their car and then completed a SITLA of the suspect’s vehicle. The court held that this conduct was not permitted because the suspect was detained and did not have any access to weapons nor have the ability to destroy any evidence in the car. The evidence found in the car was suppressed due to not having any SITLA protection.

The scope of a SITLA depends on the search location and the exact sequence of events. It is vital that this information is accurately and timely relayed to your attorney. Even a slight difference in when the suspect was removed from the arrest area or the distance they were away from the discovered evidence is usually the line between admission and suppression.

Coerced Consent

The Constitution grants individuals the right to be free from unreasonable, warrantless searches. Since these rights belong to the individual, they can waive these rights and consent to a search that would alternatively not be permitted. In order for this consent to be valid, it has to be given “freely and voluntarily’. Therefore, if officers coerce an individual to consent to a search, suppression of any evidence found by that search should be warranted.

The courts are aware of the fact that police officers have “command presence.” This feeling of authority can lead people to agree to conduct that they normally wouldn’t, out of intimidation or fear. Kansa courts examine several factors to decide if consent was coerced, including: physical contact between officer and suspect, language used, positioning of officer(s) around the suspect, and if a weapon was displayed. The pivotal factor is whether a typical, reasonable individual would feel able to refuse law enforcement’s request. In State v. Spagnola, the court found that the individual’s consent to be searched was coerced. In this case, Spagnola was in a prone position, hands on his head, and his back to multiple police officers. Spagnola then consented to a search; obviously this was not a fair and free atmosphere when a typical, reasonable individual would feel able to refuse the search. Thus, suppression of the evidence from the search was warranted.

It is crucial to remember that people have rights when interacting with law enforcement. Officers employ intimidation against individuals in a variety of ways. A bit to remember is that if law enforcement is asking to conduct a search, then they are not permitted to conduct a search yet. Why do law enforcement need permission to search an individual? Regardless if evidence is found, a search is embarrassing, intrusive, and timely for all persons. This is exactly why the Fourth Amendment prohibits such searches.

Roth Davies, LLC.

Get your questions answered - call for a free,
20-minute phone consultation (913) 451-9500.