Florida Drug Arrests & Suppression Hearings
What is a Suppression Hearing?
A suppression hearing is a procedure used by criminal defense attorneys. Sometimes police use illegal methods to search for evidence or to induce someone into making a confession. If that happens, a suppression hearing can be brought before the court seeking to “suppress” or in other words eliminate the unwanted evidence or confession. A successful suppression hearing will often result in dropped charges.
Florida criminal cases related to drugs often hinge entirely on police conduct, in particular their search practices. There are many rules and points of law that determine whether the police acted properly during interrogations, evidence collection, or seizure of items.
After the police search a suspect’s person, residence, or automobile they may find significant evidence (such as drugs or weapons) that may lead an arrest. The person is then sent to police custody temporarily until later court hearings take place. These hearings are very important because they help the finder of fact get a better idea of what took place during the crime in question that might have led up to the crime. The hearings help paint a picture of what took place as well as what evidence may be used in the actual trial.
This is where a suppression hearing is important, because these hearings are where the prosecution will make the argument that the evidence obtained during the search should be admitted into trial. Alternatively, the criminal defense lawyer will argue that the same evidence should not be admitted into trial because it was tainted by an error in the criminal procedure process.
Experienced Ayo and Iken criminal defense attorneys know that getting evidence to be admitted in court is a complex process that requires police officers following a certain protocol from start to finish. Any violation of this protocol will prevent the admissibility of the evidence into trial. As a result, it is helpful for Florida residents to understand some of the violations of the criminal procedure process that would prohibit the admissibility of evidence into trial. The best way to do this is go through the process of making the arrest and then getting the confession and discussing the possible pitfalls associated with the entire procedure. Our examination of the arrest process can possibly expose certain technicalities that we can exploit to your advantage. The most successful situations may end up with a dismissed case.
Warrant and Warrantless Exceptions
Normally, an officer must obtain a warrant before he or she is allowed to search the person, residence, or automobile in question for evidence. However, there are notable exceptions to the warrant rule and it is these exceptions that end up being the main topics of argument in suppression hearings whenever the officer conducted a warrantless search. The Florida statutes are very specific on warrants and searches. The US Constitution provides protection against searches performed without following the rules. Those searches are subject to a suppression hearing.
One of these exceptions involves the consent search. The basic premise behind the consent search is that if the person in charge of the property or automobile gives consent to the search, the officers will not need a warrant. The officers can also get consent from a third party if the officersreasonably believe that the third party has common authority over the property to be searched. However, the officers must be careful because the person who granted consent is allowed to revoke it in the vast majority of cases. Upon the grantee revoking consent, the officer must stop the search immediately. A person faced with a police search of their home, person, or car must always make it clear they do not consent to the search.
Another exception is the plain view and open fields doctrine. The basic premise here is that if the officer can see an object in plain view that looks like important evidence, they can seize it. If the place to be searched would have no expectation of privacy (such as a marijuana field) or any other area seen from plain view, that the police can search it. However, the officers must be careful if these areas are near the suspect’s home because courts give more leeway to the suspect in these cases.
The third and key exception is exigent circumstances. There is no clear definition as to what exigent circumstance means. It is defined by the Supreme Court as a reasonable person’s belief that warrantless entry was necessary to avoid destruction of evidence, escape of suspects, imminent danger to one’s own life as well as that of others, or anything else that would impede law officers from doing their job. Officers will have to use their best judgment to decide whether the circumstances fit the definition of exigent circumstances whenever a warrantless search is involved. Defense attorneys have a huge advantage here because these officers have to make these decisions on the spot and often will act on quick thinking and instinct rather than careful analysis of the situation. Thus, there is a good chance that the officers may conduct a warrantless search which is not reasonable and a skilled Ayo and Iken defense attorney will argue that the evidence they gather from the search should be suppressed from trial.
Stop & Frisk
Another important exception to consider is the Terry stop (the name is based on a famous Supreme Court case where the matter was defined). The Terry stop occurs when an officer has reasonable suspicion that a crime is, was, or will be committed. This kind of stop allows an officer to frisk the suspect for weapons. It is difficult to defend on the basis of the Terry case because many police officers will “embellish” their story to suggest they had a definite and justified suspicion a crime was in progress. Fortunately the rise of body cameras worn by officers will help defense attorneys more accurately examine each situation.
A frisk is different than a normal search because in a frisk, an officer is only allowed to pat down the suspect for weapons as opposed to a deep search of the suspect, which would be allowed if the suspect were to be arrested. If during the frisk, the officer feels something other than a weapon, and it is immediately apparent that the thing is contraband; the police are allowed to commit a deeper search of that area. It is not clear what constitutes “reasonable suspicion” and it is also not clear what “immediately apparent” means and the defense attorneys at a suppression hearing will do their best to exploit these ambiguities in order to prove that the evidence should be suppressed from trial.
Whenever a warrantless search occurs, the prosecution will argue that there was a valid exception to the warrantless search and the defense will argue that there was no exception or that the exception that the prosecution proffers is invalid.
The defense’s key argument is that if any part of the search violates search and seizure law, any evidence obtained after the violation will be invalid as per the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine. There are many ambiguities in how probable cause is defined, how reasonable suspicion is defined, and what is immediately apparent and in plain view. The defense attorneys will look to take advantage of these ambiguities to prove that the officers did not follow the protocol correctly. This is the point where your Ayo and Iken attorney will pay the most attention because the “payoff” is the greatest. A successful suppression hearing will most likely result in dropped charges.
Arrest and Confession
Beyond searches and seizures, officers frequently make procedural errors during an arrest. One very important aspect of the arrest is the officer reading the criminal his legal rights known as the Miranda rights.
Most people have watched legal dramas or other television shows when an officer arrests a suspect and reads them their rights. They say something along the lines of: The suspect has the right to remain silent, that anything that the suspect says can be used against them in a court of law, that they have a right to have an attorney present during questioning, and that if they cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided to them at no cost. These rights are important during questioning because a confession may come out during questioning which will become an issue during the suppression hearing.
The Fifth Amendment of the constitution states that a defendant has the right not to incriminate himself as the result of force or any coercion. The Fifth Amendment also gives the defendant a right not to answer a question which might cause him great danger or which
might incriminate him. What this basically means is that the defendant will be afforded the right to a fair trial before he is found guilty. The Fifth Amendment applies also to confessions in that the defendant has the right not to confess to his or her committing a crime as a result of force or coercion by the officers or whoever is interrogating the defendant. Officers need to be careful because anytime and anyplace that the defendant has a reasonable belief that he is not free to leave qualifies as custody even if the defendant is not at the police station. As discussed before, Miranda rights are very important because an officer must warn the defendant of his rights before completing the arrest or placing the suspect under custody. Failure to do this will make any subsequent confession by the defendant invalid.
In a suppression hearing, the defendant’s lawyer holds the leverage because if they can prove that one part of the search, the arrest, or the interrogation did not follow the required protocol as laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court or the Constitution, any evidence or confessions made as a result of a violation of that protocol will be rendered invalid at the suppression hearing and not allowed at trial. The prosecution has to ensure that the officers did their job exactly as prescribed and that they can prove that every part of the protocol was followed.