In order to convict any defendant of a crime, federal prosecutors must prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Such proof happens by presenting evidence, which can include physical evidence, written statements, witness testimony, video or audio recordings, scientific test results, and much more. One important way that federal defense attorneys protect their clients’ rights is by ensuring that only evidence admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence can be submitted to the jury.
When a defense lawyer identifies that evidence should not be admissible, they can file a motion for the court to suppress the evidence, which if granted, means the prosecutor can’t use that evidence against a defendant. The more evidence that is suppressed, the less evidence the prosecutor has to prove the case. Suppression of evidence is especially important in drug-related cases.
Nearly 60 years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that courts should exclude evidence that was illegally obtained, which means law enforcement officers or agents found and seized the evidence in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights. There are different ways that officers illegally obtain evidence in drug cases:
4th Amendment violations - When an officer conducts a search without a warrant or a valid exception to the warrant requirement, the search violates a defendant’s 4th Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. In order to conduct a warrantless search, an exception must apply, including:
There are many ways that police violate 4th Amendment rights by conducting illegal searches. Often, they claim they are conducting a search incident to an arrest when, in reality, they search outside of permitted places. A common example is if police pull over a defendant and arrest them for suspected drunk driving. They can then search the car for evidence of drunk driving, such as empty bottles or containers. Officers search a small compartment in the vehicle (that would never be able to hold a liquor bottle) and find drugs. This drug evidence was found in violation of the defendant’s rights.
In addition, if police ask for consent to perform a search, the defendant must understand what they are consenting to. For instance, in one recent federal drug case, an officer found methamphetamine and cocaine in a defendant’s car after the claiming the defendant consented to a search. However, the defendant did not speak English, and the officer used his laptop to ask “Can I search your car?” via Google translate. The literal translation of that question through Google is, “Can I find the car?” The defendant, therefore, nodded and said yes. The court found that the consent was invalid because the defendant didn’t understand the question he was supposed to answer, and the drug evidence was suppressed.
4th Amendment violations can also occur based on wrongful detention or arrest, which is an unreasonable seizure. If an officer pulls someone over or stops them without having reasonable suspicion of a crime, and evidence stemming from the stop should be suppressed.
Getting drug evidence suppressed whenever possible is extremely important in federal drug cases. This is because, without evidence of the existence of the drugs themselves, the prosecutor rarely can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant possessed, trafficked, or intended to distribute drugs.
5th Amendment violations - Another important type of evidence that can be suppressed in drug cases is answers or confessions provided to officers or agents during interrogations. Sometimes, federal officers will need to gather more evidence before a prosecutor can charge a suspect with drug conspiracy, trafficking, or other charges related to large-scale drug schemes. Sometimes, officers will try to get this information in violation of the suspect’s 5th Amendment rights.
SCOTUS has long held that the 5th Amendment requires officers to read anyone their Miranda rights before a custodial interrogation. A suspect doesn’t need to be formally arrested, but Miranda rights apply anytime a suspect is detained and police want to ask them questions. The rights include:
In order for police to lawfully proceed with questioning, you must knowingly and voluntarily waive your Miranda rights. If you don’t, officers should not ask you any more questions until you have legal representation present.
Unfortunately, many federal officials don’t always follow proper procedure before interrogating suspects. They know they can often get more information from a suspect without a defense attorney in the room, often making false promises or using coercive interrogation tactics. However, if a suspect gives them self-incriminating information or confesses to being involved in a drug operation without knowingly waiving their Miranda rights, that evidence should be suppressed from the case.
The exclusionary rule is only one example of how a lawyer may be able to suppress evidence in a federal drug case. The Federal Rules of Evidence are complex, and there are many ways that certain evidence can be deemed irrelevant, overly prejudicial, unreliable, and more. The best way to know how evidence may be suppressed in your specific case is to consult with a skilled federal criminal defense lawyer who knows how to defend against serious drug charges.
If you are facing federal drug charges, it’s imperative that you speak to an experienced attorney as soon as you can. An experienced lawyer will be able to recognize whether your rights were violated during the investigative process or your arrest and, if they were, may be able to have the evidence against you suppressed. To schedule a free case evaluation with Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Lauren Wimmer, call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law today at 215-712-1212 or send us an email through our online contact form.