Every defendant is a presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. In Virginia, prosecutors have a duty to produce evidence that establishes the defendant’s culpability. It is crucial that illegally obtained or unreliable evidence is not allowed into court and therefore, that to get that evidence excluded.
Through a type of pretrial filing, you can file a motion to suppress to get evidence excluded from a criminal case. Here, our Fairfax criminal defense lawyer explains your rights and discusses your options for getting illegally obtained evidence thrown out of a case.
You Have a Constitutional Right Against Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects all Americans against unreasonable searches and unreasonable seizures. As a general rule, law enforcement officers need a warrant or probable cause to conduct a search and seize evidence.
Unfortunately, police officers and law enforcement agencies do not always respect the rights of citizens. For a number of different reasons, they may initiate an unlawful search. If they do, you can take action to get evidence discovered during an unlawful search excluded from a criminal case.
The Remedy: Defendants Can File a Motion to Suppress Illegally Obtained Evidence
The primary remedy against an illegal search is a type of pre-trial filing called a motion to suppress. As a starting point, it is important to understand what pre-trial motions are and how they work in criminal cases. The pre-trial process is as important as the trial itself. Indeed, a successful defense strategy is often built during the pre-trial phase of the criminal justice process. They help to ensure that the prosecution is handling your case in a fair manner.
Under Virginia law (Code of Virginia § 19.2-266.2), a defendant can file a motion to suppress evidence on the grounds that their Fourth Amendment rights were violated. When granted, this type of pre-trial filing can result in certain evidence being excluded from a criminal case. In some cases, the exclusion of unlawfully obtained evidence is so significant that the prosecution’s case falls apart entirely and the charges are dismissed before the trial even begins.
Case Example: Motion to Suppress Evidence in a Virginia Criminal Case
To better understand the standards courts use when evaluating a motion to suppress evidence, it is useful to refer to a real world case example. In the 2016 case of Johnson v. Commonwealth, a Virginia appeals court overruled a lower court’s dismissal of a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence. The case involves the 2013 stop of a red SUV by a Chesapeake, VA police officer. The vehicle in question has a defective headlight.
Four individuals were inside of the SUV. Based on the fact that the vehicle was in a “high drug activity area” and that the officer “did not believe” the driver’s stated reason for being there, he called upon another officer to bring a drug sniffing dog. One officer believes that the dog “alerted” to the presence of drugs in the car, but the other officer was not so sure. A search was conducted anyway and an unlabelled pill bottle was discovered. The occupants were all arrested.
Finding that the initial call for the drug sniffing dog—which was based solely on the officer’s hunch based on the neighborhood the vehicle was in—amounted to an unreasonable search, the appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision to dismiss the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence.
Call Our Fairfax, VA Criminal Defense Attorney Today
At Leary Law, P.C., our Virginia criminal defense lawyer is an experienced, respected advocate for clients. If you have any questions about illegal searches & seizures or motions to suppress evidence, we can help. Contact our legal team today for a strictly confidential consultation. From our Fairfax and Manassas offices, we represent defendants throughout Northern Virginia, including in Haymarket, Gainesville, Bristow, Chantilly, Reston, and Tysons.