Mapp Motion: To Exclude or Suppress Physical Evidence

A person has a right guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that the police cannot simply take property away from you; they must have a warrant. However, there are numerous exceptions to the warrant requirement. For instance, if the police lawfully arrest you, they may search you, and any evidence they find can be used at trial against you. Likewise, if an arrest or stop is legal, the police may take items that are in plain sight, such as a gun sitting on the seat of your car. If you consent to a search or if extraordinary circumstances exist, a search may be lawful.

New York law enforces the Constitutional right by allowing a defendant to seek to suppress any evidence obtained through an unlawful search. This is called making a “Mapp motion.” This motion is made to a judge before the trial, and the judge may hold a hearing to hear evidence supporting and opposing the motion.

A person must have “standing” to claim that the search and seizure was unlawful. This means that the person had some protected interest in the item, usually by owning or possessing it. Merely being in physical proximity to an item does not establish standing.

If the court grants a Mapp motion, the evidence cannot be used or referred to in the trial against you. If the search and confiscation of property was unlawful, any other evidence obtained because of the unlawful search would be excluded as well.

A successful Mapp motion can change the entire course of the trial. Depending on how incriminating or important the evidence was, the prosecution may drop the charges against you or seek a plea deal on a less serious offense.

  1. Mapp Motion: To Exclude or Suppress Physical Evidence
  2. Huntley Motion: To Exclude or Suppress a Statement by a Defendant
  3. Wade Motion: To Exclude Identification of the Defendant as the Perpetrator of the Crime
  4. Dunaway Motion: To Challenge the Legality of the Arrest

Huntley Motion: To Exclude or Suppress a Statement by a Defendant

The police or an investigator will go to great lengths to get a person accused of a crime to talk and ultimately to confess to the crime. Many convictions are based on no more evidence than the fact of a crime and the defendant’s confession. However, the Constitution and New York law prohibit the introduction at trial of a statement made by the defendant that was not voluntarily given. According to New York law, there are several ways that a statement may be involuntary:

  • if it was obtained by “the use or threatened use of physical force upon the defendant or another person” or by any other improper conduct or undue pressure that diminished the defendant’s physical or mental condition so that the conduct undermined his or her ability to choose whether or not to make a statement;
  • if the state actor (police, investigator, etc.) made a promise or statement that created a substantial risk that the defendant would falsely incriminate himself or herself; or
  • if the statement was obtained in violation of the person’s constitutional rights.

As indicated above, a police officer or an investigator may not do anything that results in coercion or duress or make unlawful threats to the person being questioned to get a statement or confession. Such threats or coercion render a subsequent statement or a waiver of constitutional rights invalid. While some pressuring techniques are not unlawful, tactics that go beyond reasonable pressure render a statement involuntary and inadmissible.

Whether the pressure was unlawful depends on many factors, such as the length of the interrogation, where the questioning was held, the age and education of the person being questioned, and whether any threats or promises were made.

A statement may not be used if obtained in violation of the person’s well-known constitutional Miranda rights. A person in the custody of the police has the right to remain silent in the face of questioning and to have a lawyer present before and during questioning. A state actor (police, investigator, etc.) must inform the person of his or her rights and obtain a written waiver of those rights before interrogation. If the state did not inform the person of those rights, obtain a written waiver, or if the waiver was involuntarily given, any statement made by the person during the custodial interrogation cannot be used against him or her at trial.

Likewise, if a person, at any time during questioning, invokes his or her right to an attorney, the questioning must cease to allow the person to obtain an attorney. If the interrogation continues, any statement made in response to the questions would not be admissible at trial.

If a person waives his Miranda rights and makes a statement, the waiver must be knowing and voluntary. The state may not force or coerce a waiver. The circumstances of the waiver weigh heavily on whether it was knowing and voluntary. Where and when it was signed, whether proper Miranda warnings were given, the person’s response to the warnings, who dictated or wrote the statement, and whether the statement was re-written or changed all matters to voluntariness.

New York law allows a defendant to challenge the admissibility of any statement or confession by him or her on the ground that it was involuntarily given. The defendant does this before trial by requesting the court, through a “Huntley motion,” to have a hearing on the voluntariness of the statement. The prosecutor must show that the statement or confession was voluntary and that all constitutional safeguards were followed. If the court finds that the statement was unlawfully obtained, it will prohibit the prosecution from using the statement against the defendant.

The exclusion of a statement or confession by a defendant is a major victory for the trial. Often, the prosecutor relies heavily on the damaging statements made by the defendant to convict him or her of the crime charged. Proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt without the statement may be made more difficult or even impossible, and the prosecutor may drop the charges or offer a plea agreement rather than going to trial on the original charges.

  1. Mapp Motion: To Exclude or Suppress Physical Evidence
  2. Huntley Motion: To Exclude or Suppress a Statement by a Defendant
  3. Wade Motion: To Exclude Identification of the Defendant as the Perpetrator of the Crime
  4. Dunaway Motion: To Challenge the Legality of the Arrest

Wade Motion: To Exclude Identification of the Defendant as the Perpetrator of the Crime

Prosecutors often rely on an eyewitness’s identification of the defendant to prove that the defendant was in fact the one who committed the crime. For many reasons, eyewitness identification is prone to be unreliable. One of those reasons is suggestive police tactics, and a defendant may challenge those tactics before trial by making a “Wade motion,” which requests the court to hold a hearing to determine whether the identification violated the defendant’s Constitutional due process rights.

To protect the defendant’s due process rights, the court evaluates whether the police used “unnecessarily suggestive” identification procedures. This analysis hinges on the “objective characteristics of the identification procedure itself.” A one-man show-up, where a witness is shown a single suspect and asked if that suspect is the perpetrator of the crime, is so unnecessarily suggestive and likely to lead to mistaken identification that it is a denial of due process (unless extraordinary circumstances exist). The same is true if the police have a lineup of suspects and only the defendant matches the description of the perpetrator; for instance, if the eyewitness said that the person who committed the crime was over six feet tall, and the defendant is the only one who is that tall, the lineup may be a denial of due process.

To determine whether identification evidence should be suppressed, the court also considers whether the circumstances of the identification are so tainted that is unreliable and therefore inadmissible. Factors to be considered in making this determination include:

  • the opportunity of the witness to view the perpetrator at the time of the crime;
  • the witness’s attentiveness to the criminal act;
  • the accuracy of a witness’s previous description of the perpetrator (at the scene of the crime as opposed to the later identification);
  • the witness’s certainty in identifying the defendant as the perpet5rator of the crime; and
  • the time between the crime and the confrontation.

If these circumstances indicate that the identification is unreliable, the court can suppress or exclude the evidence from being used at trial.

  1. Mapp Motion: To Exclude or Suppress Physical Evidence
  2. Huntley Motion: To Exclude or Suppress a Statement by a Defendant
  3. Wade Motion: To Exclude Identification of the Defendant as the Perpetrator of the Crime
  4. Dunaway Motion: To Challenge the Legality of the Arrest

Dunaway Motion: To Challenge the Legality of the Arrest

A “Dunaway motion,” a pre-trial request that the court reviews the legality of the defendant’s arrest, is made along with the three other motions listed above. If the court finds that the defendant’s arrest was unlawful, everything that happened or anything discovered as evidence after the arrest must be excluded from the trial. This evidence is said to be “tainted” as the “fruit of the poisonous tree.” Unless the prosecutor can show that the causal connection between the arrest and the evidence or statement was broken, such evidence will be excluded following a successful Dunaway motion. This motion is a powerful tool in forcing a prosecutor to dismiss charges against the defendant.

Usually, police must have either a warrant or “probable cause” to arrest a person or to take him or her into custody for questioning (without a “formal arrest”) for a crime. Probable cause may exist, for example, when an officer sees a person fleeing the scene of the crime, stops the person, and the person has evidence of having committed the crime on him or her. The police had a valid reason to stop the person, and the evidence found provided probable cause to arrest.

Many other circumstances give rise to probable cause to arrest. The purpose of the Mapp motion is to challenge whether such probable cause existed. A court may hold a hearing on a Dunaway motion to determine the legality of the arrest.

If the police lacked probable cause to arrest, the arrest violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against an unreasonable seizure of the person. As stated above, any evidence or any statement obtained as a result of the unlawful arrest is not admissible at trial unless the prosecution establishes a break in the connection between the arrest and the discovery of evidence or the statement.

The issues raised by a Mapp, Huntley, Wade, and/or Dunaway motion can be brought in one motion known as an “omnibus” motion. A defense attorney is likely to challenge every aspect of the arrest and the prosecutor’s evidence to get a court to exclude tainted evidence at a defendant’s trial. The less evidence that is available, the less likely it is that the defendant will be convicted. Filing such a powerful omnibus motion takes skill and experience and should not be undertaken by the defendant alone. Expert counsel will be able to explain the different motions and prepare them for the court. This provides the greatest chance that the evidence against the defendant or a statement made by him or her will be excluded at trial.

Motions to suppress evidence provide as a protection from unlawful collection of evidence and any unjust convictions that may result, remaining a vital part of the criminal justice system. However, sometimes the court gets it wrong, and evidence can be improperly admitted or suppressed, which may be grounds for appeal. To learn how the devoted team of appellate attorneys at Spolin Law can help in such a case, do not hesitate to call us at (866) 963-7561 for a free consultation.