A recent case out of New Mexico shows the importance of a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney filing a well-worded motion to suppress in a felony case.
In United States v. Burleson, a New Mexico man was walking down the middle of the street with a dog and his friends when police pulled them over. After the officer was satisfied they hadn’t committed a crime, they asked for identification and ran a warrants check, which led to an arrest. A motion to suppress was filed and initially granted, but then was reversed on appeal.
A motion to suppress is a filing made by the defense in cases where evidence or statements were obtained by police in an unlawful manner or in situations where police officers overstepped their bounds in trying to pin evidence against a defendant. These are common in Jacksonville murder cases, for instance.
This area of criminal defense can be a helpful tool for a suspect because it allows him or her to present evidence if law enforcement officers acted outside the boundaries of their duties in trying to get evidence in an investigation.
And this type of motion isn’t just limited to evidence — it can apply to statements, too. Witnesses or even what the defendant told police can be held out of trial if officers made mistakes along the way.
Some ways that a motion to suppress can be successful are if the officer who wrote an affidavit to get a search warrant misled the judge who signed it by omitting key facts, embellishing information or otherwise writing it inaccurately, for example. These motions may also apply in situations where officers don’t have probable cause to make an arrest and yet gather information that must be set aside. For statements, motions to suppress are commonly successful when officers fail to present suspects with a proper Miranda Warning, which includes information about the person’s rights that they don’t have to speak to officers and can get an attorney first.
This case goes back to 2008 when Burleson and some friends were walking down a Roswell, New Mexico, street holding a dog that was unleashed. An officer pulled them over because they were walking in the middle of the street, but also because there had been a rash of pet thefts and other property crimes, including a shooting, in recent months.
After talking with the people, the officer testified, he was satisfied they hadn’t stolen the dog and he didn’t intend to write them a traffic citation for walking in the street. But what happened next is at the heart of the case.
The officer then asked for their names and identification information so he could check them for warrants. After running Burleson’s name, dispatchers found that he had a warrant for his arrest. The defendant told the officer he had two guns and ammunition on him, which the officer found. The man then faced a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
In filing a motion to suppress, the man’s attorney argued that after the officer talked with the three people, he was satisfied the dog wasn’t stolen and no other crimes had been committed. So, why would he check them for warrants? They should have been released.
The judge agreed, and granted the motion to suppress, which meant the evidence of guns and ammunition would have been eliminated. Therefore, the charge would have to be dropped.
But prosecutors appealed and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, saying that based on there being a shooting and other crimes in the area recently, for officer-safety concerns, the policeman was within his rights to check for warrants. It’s unclear whether that decision will be appealed by the defendant.
It certainly seems that after talking with the people, the officer should have let them go, but asking for their names to run a warrants check seems like an overstep of power. If they weren’t suspects of a crime at that point, the interaction should have stopped. Instead, it continued.
A well-worded and argued motion to suppress can make a big difference in a criminal case. But each case is different and should be treated as such. An experienced Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer must be called in to review the facts and see if such a motion applies.
The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for more than a decade and is here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one requires a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.
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