Suppression of evidence is one of the primary legal protections afforded to criminal defendants in the United States. Excluding evidence obtained in violation of law or tainted due errors on the part of law enforcement gives teeth to the Fourth Amendment’s constitutional guarantees. Without the exclusionary rule, law enforcement would have little incentive to respect your constitutional rights. Drug evidence seized due to an illegal traffic stop, pat down, or unlawful search must generally be excluded from consideration during post-indictment proceedings. The court must assume the evidence doesn’t exist, and the suppression of drug evidence often results in a dismissal of any drug-related charges against you.
If you’ve been charged with a federal or state drug-related offense in Wisconsin, contact the experienced Outagamie, Brown, and Winnebago County drug crimes defense attorneys at Hogan Eickhoff for your free drug defense consultation.
Illegal Search & Seizures – Constitutional Violations
The Bill of Rights, which is part of the United States Constitution, refers to the first ten constitutional amendments passed by Congress. Nearly all of these amendments focus on (1) your right to be secure in your property and home and (2) the legal rights of those accused of a criminal offense. Inherent in the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution is freedom from law enforcement harassment and overreach. The Fourth Amendment is central to this principle and guarantees the following:
- Security from unreasonable government intrusion into your home, possessions, records, or body
- Protection from unreasonable police searches of your home, self, or property
- Protection from unreasonable seizures of yourself, i.e., arrest, or property
- That no warrant will be issued unless the police have “probable cause” (a reasonable basis to believe a crime has been committed) and have sworn to it under oath
- That any warrant be narrowly tailored to protect your property rights by specifically describing the place, person, and/or property to be searched/seized as supported by the evidence
Any drug evidence used against you in a court of law must have been seized in accordance with the Fourth Amendment. This means the police had a valid warrant and/or a valid reason to conduct a warrantless search or seizure. If police officers seize drug evidence in violation of one of these protections, the remedy is to exclude the evidence from consideration.
The Exclusionary Rule & Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
As of the 1960s, the United States Supreme Court has required that any evidence obtained in violation of your constitutional rights be excluded from consideration during prosecution. This is called the “exclusionary rule” and applies to both physical evidence like drugs, scales, cell phones, cash, and testimonial evidence. This rule is often implicated in drug cases, and the most common examples of the exclusionary rule’s application include:
Illegal traffic stops and/or illegal vehicle searches
A traffic stop is a warrantless seizure and must be justified. The police must reasonably believe you committed a crime. Once the vehicle is stopped, the police may search the vehicle without a warrant if they have a reason to believe illegal contraband is in the vehicle, i.e., the officer can clearly see drug-related paraphernalia through the window or smell an illegal substance. If either the traffic stop or the search was illegal, any drug evidence taken from the vehicle must be excluded.
A warrant that is too broad or obtained by false testimony, with illegally seized evidence, or without probable cause is invalid. Any drug evidence seized due to a clearly defective warrant must be excluded.
Unlawful Warrantless Searches
Police officers may conduct warrantless searches in certain circumstances, such as emergencies, when they witness a crime or can clearly see/smell illegal items while standing in a lawful place. Warrantless searches are per se illegal, so the police must justify the warrantless search and evidence seized. Failure to do so will result in the exclusion of the evidence obtained.
Unlawful Stop & Frisk
Police officers are permitted to conduct a flat-handed weapons pat-down of a suspect’s outerwear if they reasonably believe a crime has been committed or is about to take place. They may not base this suspicion on race and must have some evidence of potential wrongdoing. They cannot reach into pockets or “feel around” for evidence unless it’s reasonably clear a weapon is present. This principle is often abused to seize drug evidence, and any evidence seized as the result of an unlawful stop and frisk must be excluded.
Part of the exclusionary rule is a principle called “fruit of the poisonous tree.” This means any secondary evidence seized, i.e., evidence derived from a lawful search or seizure that was justified by unlawfully seized evidence, must also be excluded. For example, if the police unlawfully obtain incriminating testimony and then use that testimony to get a search warrant through which they find drugs, the drugs must be excluded. Even evidence that seems lawfully seized may be fruit of the poisonous tree and therefore, excludable.
Procedural & Investigative Tainting
Police must maintain detailed records and drug-testing procedures to protect defendants’ constitutional rights. They must keep a log of everyone who handles the drug evidence from seizure to trial, and the evidence must be stored in a manner that protects against tampering or tainting. Further, any scientific testing conducted on a drug must be done in an environment that prevents contamination and destruction of the evidence. Gaps in police logs, improper storage of evidence, and improper drug testing are all grounds to request the evidence be excluded from consideration during trial.
Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with a Wisconsin Criminal Defense Lawyer
The experienced Wisconsin drug defense lawyers at Hogan Eickhoff will diligently analyze every detail of your case to ensure constitutional compliance. Constitutional violations, violations of state or federal procedural laws, and violations of evidentiary rules are all grounds to suppress drug evidence in Wisconsin. Don’t delay. Schedule you free, confidential drug crimes defense consultation with one of Hogan Eickhoff’s top-rated criminal defense lawyers today by calling (920) 450-9800 or contacting us online.