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In the United States of America (USA), the constitution stipulates certain criteria that parties should meet for a court of law to consider any piece of evidence as admissible in law. For example, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that such evidence was acquired in a lawful manner (Roberson, Wallace & Stuckey, 26).
It is a common procedure for defense teams to try and challenge the admissibility of evidence in a court of law. The team will especially counter evidence that it feels will work against their case. Defense lawyers exploit even the slightest mistakes and irregularities that police and other investigators may have committed during the collection of evidence.
One should understand that the police department and the prosecutor’s office work closely together in order to combat crime. The investigation conducted by the police helps the prosecutor in proving cases in the court. As such, police officers must take precautions when gathering evidence.
The investigators must make sure that the prosecution can use the evidence that they have gathered and submitted against the defendant. The police must ensure that the evidence submitted and used by the prosecution in court is reliable and can prove a case beyond any reasonable doubt.
The US constitution protects suspects against prosecution based on evidence gathered through unlawful means (Samaha, 38). It is one of the reasons why the constitutions regulates the nature of the evidence used by the prosecution team in a court of law. One of the most common grounds used by the defense attorneys in suppressing evidence in a court of law is based on search without a court warrant.
According to the country’s constitution, the police must acquire a search warrant before accessing and conduct a search on personal property. Failure by the police to acquire a search warrant is considered unconstitutional and a violation of human rights. However, there exists a narrow range of exceptions where the law allows the police to carry out a search without a warrant.
If the information presented before the court was obtained without a warrant, the prosecutor presiding over the case must prove that the search fell under this narrow range of exceptions. The judge may rule that the evidence is inadmissible if the prosecution fails in proving the exceptional nature of the search.
In this essay, the author analyzes how the state can counter a motion by the defense to suppress evidence before a court of law. The author will assess how the judge will likely rule on the motion to suppress. The case revolves around Danny Dawgmire (the defendant) and the Sheriff’s Department in a rural North Georgia County.
The police had conducted an unwarranted search on the defendant’s trailer after receiving a tip off that he was involved in the preparation and distribution of methamphetamines. The defense team is now moving a motion to suppress the evidence produced by the prosecution, claiming that the search was unwarranted.
Countering an Evidence Suppression Motion
To begin with, the ‘warrantless’ search was justified since a crime had already taken place. The American constitution stipulates that the police can enter into a personal property and conduct a search without a warrant under a number of circumstances.
One of the scenarios where unwarranted search is justified is when the police have enough reason to believe that a crime has already taken place within the property (State v. Frazier, 2001). In this case, the police had already received an anonymous letter stating that Danny Dawgmire was operating a meth lab inside his trailer home.
Upon arrival at the trailer home, the Sherriff’s deputies detected a strong chemical odor that is associated with methamphetamine. The chemical odor confirmed their suspicion that indeed criminal activities were going on inside the trailer home. As a result, the deputies proceeded with the search within Dawgmire’s property.
The police officers were also justified in their decision of conducting a warrantless search based on the fact that the constitution allows for such measures where there exist exigent circumstances. A case in point is where the safety of police officers or civilians is threatened (State v. Frazier, 2001).
In this case, the anonymous letter received by the Sherriff’s department stated that Dawgmire operated a meth lab in his trailer home. The letter stated that the trailer also served as the residence of his children. Therefore, the children were exposed to methamphetamine and a host of other toxic chemicals used in the preparation of methamphetamines.
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Based on this, it is obvious that the police had a probable cause to believe that the lives of the children were in danger and immediate action was required (State v. Mills, 1991).
The court should look into the moral issues that guided the unwarranted search into Dawgmire’s property. It is a fact that it takes long to apply and receive a warrant. The application would have taken a lot of time, which is not acceptable given that the lives of innocent children were at risk.
The state prosecution office would also like to appeal to the court that any delays in conducting the search would have led to the loss or probable destruction of evidence. The constitution allows the police to conduct immediate search in such a situation (State v. Mills, 1991). In the anonymous letter, the Sherriff’s department was informed that Dawgmire conducted illegal activities in his trailer home.
According to the information received, the man had set up a fully operational meth lab in his trailer. Based on experience, the police are aware of the fact that the practice of setting up meth labs in trailers is common among many meth cooks. The use of trailers as meth labs allows them to easily escape whenever they suspect that the police have discovered their operations.
It is likely that if police had delayed in conducting the search, evidence would have been lost. There were chances that Dawgmire would have relocated to another site and continued with his illegal activities. Such a scenario would have worked against the rule of the law.
Dawgmire’s attorney claims that his client, who is unmarried, lives in the trailer alone. In addition, the defense team claims that the defendant had never accommodated any children inside the trailer. The statement by the lawyer is based on the fact that there was no one found inside the structure at the time of the search. The defense also points out that Dawgmire arrives at the scene of crime alone and after several hours.
The defense team wants to convince the court that the search was made in response to false statements. The false statements were made in the anonymous letter to the Sherriff’s Department. They argue that the information was false since no children were found on the scene.
However, it is important to point out that the letter contained useful information that was sufficient to warrant an immediate search (State v. Severn, 1998). The letter was factual as far as the presence of a meth lab in the trailer is concerned. Such information is sufficient enough for an unwarranted search.
The law states that evidence obtained as a result of a search conducted following a false statement will is not admissible in a court of a law. However, the same law states that such evidence is admissible if it supports the allegations that led to the unwarranted search (Samaha, 36).
It appears this exception is applicable to the current case. In this case, the anonymous letter had stated that Dawgmire was operating a meth lab in his trailer. The defendant is charged with the offense of manufacture and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. As such, the evidence supports the allegations made, meaning that it is admissible even though the police officers did not have a search warrant.
The Likely Ruling by the Judge on the Suppression Motion
Following the submissions made by the defense attorney and the state prosecution, it is clear that both parties have valid arguments concerning the manner in which the evidence was gathered. Under normal circumstances, the constitution would require the police officers involved in conducting the search to obtain a warrant (Samaha, 36).
Failure to acquire a search warrant on the part of the police officers is considered a violation of the constitution. Such a conduct infringes on the rights and freedoms of the defendant. However, as the state prosecutor has stated, US federal constitution allows a search without a warrant under certain circumstances. Evidence collected under such circumstances, albeit without a search warrant, is admissible in a court of law.
The defense attorney feels that the police should have acquired a search warrant before accessing the defendant’s property. However, the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the police gathered the evidence in accordance with the law. As a result, the evidence is admissible in court.
To begin with, the constitution makes it clear that the police can enter and search private property if they have reason to believe the occupants of such a property are committing a crime therein. The police may conduct a search without a warrant if there is a possibility that the evidence may be destroyed (State v. Mills, 1991).
The circumstances under which the police conducted their search in this case meet these criteria. However, the police could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that there were children living in the trailer home. They could not prove that there were children whose lives were endangered through exposure to methamphetamine and other toxic chemicals in the meth lab.
The failure by the police notwithstanding, the prosecution has proven to the court that indeed the defendant used the trailer to carry out illegal activities. The prosecution has also proven that there was a possibility the police would have lost the evidence if a search was not conducted immediately (Flippo v. West Virginia, 1999). The fact that the defendant had set the meth lab inside a trailer is very significant.
He would have relocated with a lot of ease. The defense attorney argues that there were no children in the trailer. The team argues that the allegations made in the anonymous letter sent to the Sherriff’s Department, and which warranted the search, were false.
However, the court should note that other statements in the letter helped police gather information crucial to this case. Furthermore, the defense should take into account the charges leveled against the defendant. He is charged with manufacture and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. The charges do not include exposure of children to harmful substances.
The main objective of the US judicial system is to ensure that justice is served to all (Roberson et al., 26). Prosecution and defense attorneys are crucial as far as dispensation of justice is concerned. Lawyers are required to ensure that the entire judicial process takes place in line with the existing laws. Defense and prosecution teams should collect evidence through legal means.
The court grants the defense an opportunity to protest in instances where they feel the prosecution did not follow the law in acquiring evidence. In addition, the court grants the prosecution an opportunity to counter motions aiming to suppress the evidence they have brought before the court.
The judge and the jury are then expected to evaluate the legal issues surrounding the matters raised by both parties and make a ruling based on existing laws. If they feel that the collection of evidence contradicted the law, they will rule that it is inadmissible in a court of law. They will accept the evidence if the police met the required threshold in collecting it.
Flippo v. West Virginia, 528 U.S. 11, 13 (1999).
Roberson, C., Wallace, H., & Stuckey, G. B. (2010). Procedures in the justice system (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.
Samaha, J. (2011). Criminal procedure. New York: Wadsworth Publishing.
State v. Frazier, 142 N.C. App. 361, 542 S.E.2d 682 (2001).
State v. Mills, 104 N.C. App. 724, 411 S.E.2d 193 (1991).
State v. Severn, 130 N.C. App. 319, 502 S.E.2d 882 (1998).