Criminal cases are sometimes made – and broken – by technicalities.
Birmingham criminal defense lawyers know that it’s not always about the evidence that exists – it’s about what evidence the jury is allowed to hear.
Juries can only make their decision based on the evidence that is presented to them. This means you want your attorney to suppress as much of the prosecution’s evidence as possible. The less they have, the better your chances.
The process that is used is called a “motion to suppress.” Your attorney will petition the court to suppress evidence that is either irrelevant or gained inappropriately. This could be anything from evidence of prior crimes of which you were accused but never convicted, all the way to a gun found at the scene or a taped confession given to investigators.
This is what happened in a recent hearing for an upcoming homicide trial in Huntsville, in northern Alabama. There, a county judge agreed to toss a lengthy interview the defendant gave to investigators back in 2009, regarding his alleged crimes.
He has been accused of a July 2009 homicide of a 50-year-old woman. He is already serving a life sentence in prison in Tennessee for the murder of five others, including his estranged wife, her family and a family friend. However, Alabama authorities are seeking the death penalty.
In an interview that the defendant gave to Alabama police shortly after his arrest, he referenced the Tennessee slayings, as well as the Alabama killing. However, some of those statements came after the defendant requested counsel with an attorney before continuing. Authorities ignored his request, and continued to question him.
Additionally, the county court ruled that two sheriff’s investigators who interrogated the defendant after he had requested an attorney – and had not been given one – would not be allowed to testify at his upcoming trial.
Of course, police denied that the defendant had requested a lawyer, but the tapes were clear.
His trial is slated for the end of October, but now Alabama prosecutors are weighing whether it is worth it to them to move forward with the case, considering that he already has a life sentence and numerous statements and pieces of evidence will no longer be presentable in court.
Although this case centered on statements made after the defendant asked for an attorney, there are other grounds upon which a defense attorney can request that evidence be suppressed.
Another one is a Fourth Amendment violation. The Fourth Amendment basically guarantees the right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure. So for example, of officers come to home and search it without a warrant or certain elements of probable cause, your defense attorney can move to suppress any and all evidence obtained as a result of that search. That could be a gun, that could be drugs – anything. Unless it is conducted according to proper legal procedure, the prosecution may as well forget it.
Another basis for a motion to suppress would be lack of probable cause to make a traffic stop or arrest. So let’s say an officer stops you for no other reason than he doesn’t like the political bumper sticker on your car. He hassles you about it, and then searches your vehicle. Even if he found evidence of something illegal there, unless he had probable cause to stop you in the first place, the evidence obtained during that search can not be used against you.
If you have questions about whether evidence in your case merits suppression, contact us.
Madison County judge throws out mass killer Jacob Shaffer’s police interview on Huntsville, Tennessee murders, Sept. 25, 2012, By Brian Lawson, The Huntsville Times