Illegally Obtained Evidence – You May Get Your Case Dismissed or Charges Dropped
Evidence can be obtained illegally by various means, which could make it inadmissible in court if you hire a good lawyer who knows how to prove it. If you are stopped on the street and patted down by an officer for no reason, without provocation or probable cause, and the officer finds illegal drugs or other property on you it was probably obtained illegally. Ways that evidence can be obtained illegally in Texas include:
- Illegal Search Without a Warrant
- Using Statements from a Witness in Custody Not Read their Rights
- Traffic Stop with No Probable Cause
- Reading Cell Phone Messages & Search History Without a Warrant
- Unlawful Detention
- Police Coercion of Witnesses to Testify
- Evidence Taken by Racial Profiling
- Evidence Obtained During a Search Not Included in a Warrant
When you hear the word “evidence” bantered about in reference to your criminal case, you may be confused as to what constitutes evidence, and how it can be used against you in a criminal trial. While there are many types of evidence that can be used in a trial setting, the most common are:
- Direct Evidence
- Circumstantial/Indirect Evidence
- Physical Evidence
- Scientific Evidence
Differences in Circumstantial and Direct Evidence
Direct Evidence: This is evidence from someone who claims they “have actual knowledge” of a fact. This includes a confession, a video of the defendant committing the crime or eyewitness testimony.
Indirect or Circumstantial Evidence: This is a chain of events or circumstances that, when taken together, indicate something is a fact. This may include contents of your cell phone such as voicemail messages and texts.
A frequent example explaining the difference in direct and circumstantial evidence is that if you look out the window and see rain falling, that is direct evidence that it is raining. If you observe someone come in the door whose clothes and hair are dripping wet, and that person closes an umbrella while standing just inside the door, that is indirect, or circumstantial evidence that it is raining.
Texas Statutory Exclusionary Rule
No matter which category the evidence falls in, and no matter how incriminating it may be, if it was illegally obtained, it can not be used against you. Texas has a Statutory Exclusionary Rule (Art. 38.23) which states:
No evidence obtained by an officer or other person in violation of any provisions of the Constitution or laws of the State of Texas, or of the Constitution or laws of the United States of America, shall be admitted in evidence against the accused on the trial of any criminal case.
In any case where the legal evidence raises an issue hereunder, the jury shall be instructed that if it believes, or has a reasonable doubt, that the evidence was obtained in violation of the provisions of this Article, then and in such event, the jury shall disregard any such evidence so obtained.
Under this law, your criminal defense attorney can file a motion to suppress any evidence against you that was obtained illegally. If the evidence that is suppressed is the only evidence the prosecution has against you, or not being able to use it substantially weakens the case, the charges against you may be dropped and the case dismissed.
Physical Evidence is Circumstantial Evidence
Contrary to popular misconception, all physical evidence falls into the category of circumstantial evidence. It is evidence left at the scene of the crime that tends to connect the alleged offender to the crime. Just a few examples include:
- Fingerprints taken at the scene of the crime
- Blood tests
- DNA evidence
- Hair strands
Although this type of evidence may seem very damning to the accused, if any of it was obtained unlawfully, or the Chain of Custody of the evidence was compromised, it is inadmissible in trial. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will investigate every piece of evidence, how it was obtained, and how it was handled, and move quickly to have suppressed any evidence that wasn’t handled strictly ‘by the book’.
Suppression of Evidence Obtained in Violation of your Fourth Amendment Rights
The Fourth Amendment guarantees you the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that law enforcement may not look for or seize evidence unless they have a warrant to do so, which in turn was issued based on probable cause that evidence of a crime will be discovered. There are some exceptions, like exigent circumstances or when officers are in hot pursuit, but some examples of violations of your Fourth Amendment rights include:
- Evidence was seized without a warrant.
- There was a warrant, but it was not based on probable cause so illegally issued.
- The property that was seized was not property included in the warrant. An exception may be if, in searching for drugs, law enforcement finds a weapon that was left in plain sight.
- The way in which the warrant was executed was illegal. For example, your home may have been searched in the middle of the night for no good reason.
Suppression of Evidence Obtained in Violation of Your Fifth Amendment Rights
The Fifth Amendment gives you the right not to be a witness against yourself. Any statements you may have made are subject to a Motion to Suppress as involuntary.
If you have ever watched a television crime drama, you are aware of the Miranda warning law enforcement are required to give a person who is in custody. This means officers are required to tell you that anything you say “can and will be used against you in a court of law.” The catch is, that they are not required to give you the warning if you are not being detained. If you are free to leave the interrogation, even though you still have the right to remain silent, law enforcement is not required to tell you about it. Some reasons your statements may be suppressed include:
- You were not properly given Miranda warnings.
- Officers may say you were free to leave, but you, in fact, believed you were being detained.
- Even if you were properly Mirandized, law enforcement coerced you into making statements.
A telling example of how law enforcement may use unlawful means of gaining a confession is the case of Ronald Wilson v. The State of Texas. Ronald Wilson confessed and plead guilty to murder. He was tricked into confessing when an officer used a false lab report that appeared to show that Mr. Wilson’s fingerprints were found on the weapon used in a murder, and took what he thought was the best plea deal option at the time. Upon appeal, his initial confession was considered to be obtained illegally based on the unlawful deception of the officer regarding the lab report, and in turn was suppressed. Based upon what was left of the evidence against him, Mr. Wilson was offered, and accepted, a new plea deal that shaved 10 years off of his sentence.
Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
If evidence was gathered pursuant to illegally obtained evidence, it is considered “fruit of the poisonous tree” and must also be suppressed. One example is if, when questioned illegally without a Miranda warning, a defendant confesses to a crime and tells law enforcement where to find a weapon used in the commission of that crime. If the only reason the weapon was discovered was because of the defendant’s statement, if the statement is suppressed, the weapon will be excluded from evidence too. Since prosecutors would have no admissible evidence, they would be forced to dismiss the charges.
For each rule and circumstance, there may be an exception. Rules frequently change. Only recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that officers must have a warrant in order to search the contents of cell phones. Most importantly, retain the counsel of an aggressive attorney that will challenge anything that seems amiss. Law enforcement officers are often in a hurry to ‘close the case’, and might be willing to bend the rules to achieve this. Don’t risk your freedom by letting them get away with it.
Get Your Case Dismissed – We Can File a Pretrial Motion for Suppression of Illegally Obtained Evidence
If you find yourself questioning the lawfulness of any evidence used against you in a past or current legal case, contact The Hampton Law Firm P.L.L.C. for a free consultation and case review. Criminal lawyer Jeff Hampton will thoroughly investigate every single piece of evidence, and the mean with which it was obtained. We may be able to get your case dismissed if the evidence the prosecution is trying to use against you was obtained illegally. Don’t allow law enforcement to railroad you! Contact The Hampton Law Firm today!