25 Sep 23

What is the process for challenging evidence as illegally obtained in New York?

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Last Updated on: 26th September 2023, 08:18 pm

Challenging Illegally Obtained Evidence in New York

So, you’re wondering how you can challenge evidence that may have been illegally obtained by police in New York? I feel you – navigating the legal system can be super confusing and intimidating. But don’t worry, I’m here to walk you through the process in a simple, easy-to-understand way. I gotchu!

First things first: in New York, the main way to challenge illegally obtained evidence is through a motion to suppress. Let’s break down what that means.

What is a Motion to Suppress?

A motion to suppress is a formal request made by a defendant’s attorney asking the judge to exclude certain evidence from being used at trial. This usually happens before the trial starts.

The logic here is that if the evidence was obtained illegally – like through an unlawful search or interrogation – then it shouldn’t be allowed to be used to prosecute you. That would be unfair and unconstitutional.

Some Common Grounds for Filing a Motion to Suppress

  • The police conducted an illegal search without a warrant or probable cause
  • The police unlawfully stopped and questioned you without reasonable suspicion
  • The police coerced you into making incriminating statements
  • The police failed to give you your Miranda rights before questioning you

There are other reasons you could file a motion to suppress too, but those are some of the most common ones. Your attorney will be able to advise you on the specifics of your case.

What’s the Process for Filing a Motion to Suppress in New York?

The process for filing a motion to suppress in New York is laid out in Section 710.70 of New York’s Criminal Procedure Law. Here are the key steps:

  1. Your attorney files a written motion asking the court to suppress the evidence in question. This has to provide the legal and factual grounds for suppression.
  2. The prosecution files a written response.
  3. The judge holds a suppression hearing where both sides can present evidence and arguments.
  4. The judge decides whether the evidence should be suppressed or not and issues a written order.

One important thing to note is that the motion to suppress has to be made before trial – you can’t wait until you’re already on trial to suddenly try to get evidence thrown out. The idea is to get these issues handled ahead of time.

The timing here is important. Your attorney will need to look at the case discovery and figure out if there are any Fourth, Fifth or Sixth Amendment issues that could form the basis for a suppression motion. This takes some time and strategic planning.

What Happens at a Suppression Hearing?

The suppression hearing is like a mini-trial focused just on the disputed evidence. Both the prosecution and defense get to present evidence and make arguments about whether the evidence should be suppressed.

For example, if the defense is claiming an illegal search, the officers involved may be called to testify about the circumstances surrounding the search and seizure of evidence. Your attorney may cross-examine them to try to show problems with the search.

You may also choose to testify at the hearing if you have information relevant to the suppression issues. For instance, if improper interrogation tactics are alleged, you could testify about how the police treated you.

After considering all the evidence and legal arguments, the judge will make a ruling on whether the evidence should be suppressed. If suppression is granted, the prosecution cannot use that evidence at trial.

What Happens If the Motion to Suppress Is Denied?

If the judge denies your motion and allows the evidence to be used, you’re not completely out of luck. Your attorney can file an appeal after conviction arguing that the judge made an error in failing to suppress the evidence.

The appeals court can overturn the conviction if they find the trial judge improperly admitted illegally obtained evidence. However, appeals courts give a fair amount of deference to trial judges on these suppression issues.

That’s why it’s critical to have an experienced criminal defense attorney fighting for suppression before trial. It’s much harder to get the appeals court to reverse the trial judge later on.

What If the Police Have Evidence I Know Is Illegal?

If you already know the police obtained certain evidence illegally – like through an obviously improper search – you may be wondering if you can just demand that evidence be thrown out.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. You still have to go through the motion to suppress process and have the judge decide if the evidence should be excluded.

I know, it’s frustrating if you know the police violated your rights. But the prosecution still has to be given a chance to argue their side. The judge then gets to weigh everything and make a neutral decision.

Should I Testify at the Suppression Hearing?

Whether to testify at a suppression hearing is a strategic decision to make with your attorney. On one hand, you may have valuable insider knowledge about what really happened during an interrogation or search.

On the other hand, anything you say at the hearing could potentially be used against you later at trial. Prosecutors are always looking for ammunition.

So weigh the pros and cons carefully with your lawyer. In some cases, your testimony may be the key to getting evidence thrown out. In others, it’s better to keep quiet and let the defense attorney do the talking.

What Kinds of Evidence Can Be Suppressed?

The main categories of evidence that can be suppressed due to unconstitutional police conduct are:

  • Physical evidence seized through an illegal search, like drugs, weapons, documents, etc.
  • Statements you made during a custodial interrogation without receiving Miranda warnings
  • Eyewitness identifications obtained through unnecessarily suggestive procedures

However, not all evidence can be suppressed simply because it was obtained illegally. For example, a voluntary confession made spontaneously without police questioning would still be admissible.

Your attorney will help assess what types of evidence may be vulnerable to a suppression challenge in your specific case.

What If the Police Violated My Rights But I’m Guilty?

You may be wondering if you can – or should – challenge evidence if you know you’re guilty of the crime. Legally, the answer is yes. The whole point of the exclusionary rule is to deter police misconduct and protect everyone’s constitutional rights.

As your attorney, I have an obligation to defend your procedural rights even if we both know you committed the offense. My job is to hold the government to strict standards and make sure they don’t cut corners.

Strategically, getting illegally obtained evidence thrown out could lead to charges being dismissed or reduced. But ultimately, you decide how you want to handle your defense.

Should I File a Complaint Against the Police?

If you feel the police clearly crossed a line and violated your rights, you may want to file an official complaint against the officers involved in addition to challenging the evidence.

In New York City, you can file a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) or internally with the police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB).

Even if it doesn’t impact your criminal case, reporting misconduct is important to hold those officers accountable and document patterns of abuse. It’s up to you whether pursuing a complaint seems worthwhile.

Can I File a Civil Rights Lawsuit Against the Police?

If police violated your civil rights, you may have grounds to sue them in federal court under 42 U.S.C. §1983. This allows citizens to sue government officials, including police, for constitutional violations.

To succeed on a Section 1983 claim, you’d need to show: 1) the police acted “under color of law” and 2) they violated a constitutional right such as the Fourth, Fifth, or Fourteenth Amendments.

Evidence that was suppressed in your criminal case could potentially be used to help prove the civil rights violations. An experienced civil rights attorney can advise you on the viability of a lawsuit.

The Bottom Line

I know I just threw a lot of information at you about motions to suppress and challenging evidence in New York. The key takeaways are:

  • File a pretrial motion to suppress to try to keep illegally obtained evidence out of your case
  • An evidentiary hearing will be held for the judge to decide suppression issues
  • If suppression is denied, you can appeal after conviction
  • Police misconduct can also be reported through civilian complaint processes
  • A civil rights lawsuit is another potential option if your rights were violated

I hope this overview gives you a better understanding of how you can fight back against unconstitutional police practices in New York. Every case is different, so rely on your attorney’s advice about the best strategies for your specific situation. Good luck and don’t lose hope – justice can prevail!