What is a Motion to Suppress Evidence and When Can it Be Used?

Salt Lake City criminal lawyer

Motions are an important part of the criminal justice process, not only for defendants in Utah, but throughout the United States.  Put simply, motions are legal documents that are used to make formal requests to the court.  Of course, the full explanation is more nuanced.  Here, Salt Lake City drug crime lawyer Darwin Overson will discuss how and when motions are used to influence the evidence that can be used in criminal cases in Utah.

How Do Motions Work in Court? 

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Various motions can be filed by prosecutors and/or criminal defense attorneys prior to trial.  The party who files a motion is called the “moving party.”

Motions often play a major role in sculpting the course of a criminal case.  Depending on what types are filed, motions can have a direct impact on whether the defendant should be charged, and if so, what sort of evidence can (or cannot) be admitted for review.

The rules governing the use of pretrial motions are laid out in the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure under Rule 12.  Rule 12 requires all motions to be:

  • Written.
  • Submitted to the court at least seven days before trial, with some exceptions.

While every motion is different, all are required to provide two pieces of information:

  • The reason (“grounds” on which) the motion is being filed.
  • The result being sought.

When Do Defense Attorneys Use Motions to Suppress Evidence in Criminal Cases? 

Motions to suppress evidence are most often used in cases that involve violations of the defendant’s Fourth or Fifth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.  What are these rights?

The Fourth Amendment grants every defendant the right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” adding that “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In other words, the Fourth Amendment protects against illegal search and seizure, which, while potentially relevant to all types of criminal cases, is especially common in cases involving drug offenses, such as simple possession of marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin, or other controlled substances.  For example, it may be possible to suppress evidence that was illegally taken from your home or apartment even though the police did not have a search warrant, such as drug paraphernalia, or a firearm if the defendant was charged with a gun crime in Salt Lake City.  If the prosecutor’s evidence is inadmissible, the core of their case could fall apart.

Under the Fifth Amendment, “No person shall be held to answer for a… crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury… nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”  (The Fifth Amendment also provides that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation,” which describes a problem known as civil asset forfeiture.)

Generally speaking, people in police custody must be read their Miranda Rights in order for their statements to be used as evidence.  However, there are also some situations where the police are not required to read the Miranda Warning, which is part of why you should avoid talking to law enforcement until you have a defense attorney on your side.

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Other Types of Pretrial Motions in Utah

Motions to suppress evidence, though critically important to preserving the rights of defendants, are not the only types of motions that can be used in criminal cases.  On the contrary, there are many different types of pretrial motions in Utah, which include:

  • Motions Challenging Jurisdiction — When a court “has jurisdiction,” it means that the court has the necessary legal authority to preside over a given case.
  • Motions for a Reduction of the Criminal Offense — In limited circumstances, it is possible to have a felony reduced to a misdemeanor after the defendant has already been sentenced and completed probation successfully.  Having a misdemeanor record instead of a felony record can make it much easier to find a job.
  • Motions to Dismiss on the Grounds of Double Jeopardy — The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment protects defendants against being tried twice for the same crime (“be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb”).  This is one of your legal rights as a defendant.

A skilled defense lawyer will evaluate your unique legal situation to determine which if any motions are most appropriate for fighting your case.  When utilized strategically, pretrial motions can mean the difference between going to trial and having your criminal charges dismissed.

Let a Salt Lake Defense Attorney Fight for You

If you or a family member was arrested in Salt Lake County or elsewhere in Utah, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you navigate Utah’s criminal court system while aggressively fighting the allegations against you.  Call the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 758-2287 to set up a free legal consultation today.

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