Suppression of Evidence

What leads to the suppression of evidence?

Evidence is suppressed if a judge believes that the evidence in question was obtained illegally by law enforcement agents. This is known as the “exclusionary rule.”

The judge may also rule that evidence the prosecution improperly or intentionally hid from the defense can not be shown in court. Hiding evidence from the defense is a violation of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. It can result in a mistrial.

Even if evidence is suppressed, it doesn’t mean that no one else will know about it. While it cannot be used as direct evidence at trial, the judge can consider the evidence when determining a sentence for the defendant. It can also be used in civil or deportation cases, or to impeach or discredit a witness who testifies at trial.

There are other types of evidence that you can have suppressed at trial. The “fruits of the poisonous tree” doctrine states that additional evidence discovered as a result of illegally obtained evidence is excluded at trial. For example, if an officer illegally searches your car and finds a piece of paper with the address of where you hide your illegal drugs on it, the drugs can not be used as evidence at trial. The illegal search and the piece of paper are the “poisonous tree” and the illegal drugs are the “fruit.”

However, there are some exceptions in which evidence that was obtained illegally may be used in court. These exceptions are:
  • Independent source – the discover of the evidence involved a combination of legal and illegal means, but the evidence could have been discovered by a reliable source
  • Good faith – the officers who discovered the evidence has no reason to believe their search was illegal (i.e., believed the search warrant to be valid when it was not)
  • Attenuation – if the connection between the illegal search and the evidence is sufficiently weak, the evidence may be considered untainted.