A recent ruling out of New Mexico shows how critical filing and arguing a solid motion to suppress evidence or statements can be for a defendant. Having an experienced West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer is key to getting it right in the courtroom.
In United States of America v. Carl Roy Burleson, the issue of interpreting an officer’s fear and whether evidence should have been used against the defendant takes center stage.
A motion to suppress is a common pleading in felony cases, especially cases of murder in West Palm Beach. What it seeks to do is eliminate key evidence or statements by the defendant or witnesses from trial. An attorney will attempt to show police actions were improper and therefore the evidence that was collected shouldn’t be shown to jurors at trial.
This can be a solid strategy, depending on the circumstances of the case and how police acted and whether they followed proper procedures and protocols. But the burden can be difficult. It really comes down to a case-by-case basis.
In this case, Burleson and friends were walking in the middle of the street in a Roswell, New Mexico neighborhood, carrying a Pitt bull without a leash. That aroused an officer’s suspicion, who pulled them over to talk with them.
According to the officer’s testimony, there had been a rash of pet thefts recently and that neighborhood had been ravaged with property crimes and a shooting in recent months. After talking with the people, the officer was satisfied the dog wasn’t stolen and didn’t intend to cite them for walking in the middle of the street, but told them not to do it.
The case comes down to what happened next. According to the court file, the officer then asked for the names and identification of the three people to run a warrants check. Upon hearing back from dispatchers, the officer found that Burleson had an outstanding warrant. When he was being handcuffed, he told the officer he had weapons on him, which he did and which the officer confiscated.
That led to the man facing a charge of a possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. But he and his attorney filed a motion to suppress, saying that the guns and ammunition were unlawful seizure under the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees that a person can’t be searched without probable cause.
The judge agreed and suppressed the evidence, which essentially wiped out the charge for prosecutors. But they appealed. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, letting back in the evidence.
While the lower court judge had ruled that the officer, by his own admission, had no fear of the suspects but was simply doing his job, the appeals court found that based on officer-safety concerns, he had the right to seek identification and a warrants check.
The case has been sent down with the evidence in play, but it’s unclear what the cases future will be. What the case shows is that a motion to suppress can go a long way toward seeking justice for a defendant. When police overstep their bounds or go too far in peppering a suspect for information or evidence, a motion to suppress can correct that mistake at the court level.