If you are facing the prospect of having to go to trial over a DUI charge, you'll want your attorney to use every opportunity to increase your odds. One way that a knowledgeable Atlanta DUI attorney can help you is to argue that any flawed evidence in the case be kept out of the trial. This is known as a motion to suppress evidence.
What a Motion to Suppress Can Do
A successful motion to suppress will reduce the amount of evidence that the prosecutor has to use against the defendant at trial. Before the trial, the prosecutor has to share all the evidence the prosecutor has against the defendant. The defendant's attorney will have the opportunity to evaluate the evidence and raise issues.
Issues involving evidence could include whether the evidence is unconstitutional, whether someone tampered with the evidence, whether it was mishandled, among other things. After a successful motion to suppress, the flawed evidence cannot be considered by the judge or jury when determining whether a defendant is guilty.
How a Motion to Suppress Can Help
Even if you have no intention of taking your case to trial, keeping flawed evidence out of your case can help you. There are some cases where so much evidence has been suppressed that the prosecutor has no choice but to drop the case.
In the case of one man in Jonesboro, Georgia, all the evidence resulting from his traffic stop had to be thrown out because it was determined the officer who stopped him pulled him over without reasonable suspicion. The case is known as State v. Goodman, 220 Ga. App. 169 (1996). Mr. Goodman was pulled over because an officer saw him make a left turn without using a signal. The officer thought this was reason to suspect Mr. Goodman was driving intoxicated, but the Georgia Court of Appeals disagreed.
Since “unreasonable searches and seizures” are illegal under the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Georgia, proving that someone's constitutional rights have been violated is one way to have evidence removed from a case.
However, it's not common for the prosecutor to drop a case. Prosecutors have a lot of incentive to try to get harsh verdicts so that people think the prosecutor is doing a good job and little incentive to let a case go. Except in cases like above where almost one hundred percent of the evidence is unusable, the prosecutor will likely continue the case with the remaining evidence.
A more likely scenario is that a successful motion to suppress evidence will put the defendant in a better position to negotiate a settlement with the prosecutor - such as lesser jail time, reduced fines, or even a lesser charge such as reckless driving.
Knowing What Evidence Can Be Suppressed
Almost any evidence can be suppressed if there is good reason. This could include physical evidence, results from tests, testimony from witnesses, or police reports. However, many of the types of evidence flaws that might arise in a DUI case take years of experience and advanced training to spot and to understand the legal basis for calling the evidence flawed.
The defense attorney will review the details surrounding the stop based on the defendant's account, the police reports, and any available audio, video, or witness statements. The attorney will be looking to determine why the police came into contact with the defendant. What probable cause was present to allow the officers to begin an investigation? Did an officer lie, leave out key details, or otherwise mislead the defendant to not understand the defendant's rights?
The defense attorney will want to know not only how the evidence was obtained but how it was maintained. Was the evidence properly stored? Is there a written chain of custody showing that the evidence being used against the defendant in court is actually the same item the officer claims to have taken from the scene of the arrest?
If the officers searched the defendant's car or personal belongings, was the warrantless search unconstitutional? Did the officers require the defendant to give a blood sample without first obtaining a warrant? Blood tests are intrusive and cannot be done without either the consent of the suspect or a warrant. However, some officers try to confuse suspects into thinking they have no choice but to submit to a blood draw, even though the officer has not obtained a warrant.
After someone is pulled over because an officer suspects the person is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the person is usually asked to perform a series of tests, known as field sobriety tests, that are considered an accurate measure of a person's level of intoxication. However, these tests are only accurate if the officer administers them exactly per the guidelines. If not, they should not be used as evidence against the defendant.
The defense attorney will want to review how the officers conducted the above tests and also whether the defendant was informed of his or her Miranda rights and whether the officers continued to interrogate the defendant after the defendant asked for an attorney.
How to Suppress Evidence
In a criminal court case, a party to the case (the prosecutor, defendant, victim, etc.) who wants something to happen or who wants to prevent something from happening needs to make a formal request to the judge through a “motion.” The motion is made either through a written document or orally in court.
When a defense attorney makes a motion to suppress evidence, the defense attorney has to state what evidence needs to be suppressed and why. The argument for why the evidence needs to be suppressed needs to rely on facts and usually references previous cases where evidence was suppressed under similar circumstances.
The prosecutor will then have a chance to argue why the motion to suppress should be denied. The prosecutor will likely dispute the facts the defense counsel has raised and make arguments for why the evidence should be allowed.
After reviewing the arguments brought by the defense counsel and the prosecutor, the judge will decide which side made the best legal argument. If the motion to suppress is granted, the prosecutor will not be able to discuss the evidence in question with the judge or jury during the trial.
Suppressing Evidence and Your Case
If you think there was something incorrect about the way that the police stopped you or conducted their investigation, the best way to find out if flawed evidence is going to be used against you is to consult a knowledgeable Atlanta DUI attorney. An attorney who is practiced at DUI defense can review the evidence against you and potentially suppress evidence that should never have been entered into the case in the first place before it's too late.