Supreme Court: officer’s reasonable mistake of law doesn't destroy probable cause, P.2

In our previous post, we began speaking about a recent United States Supreme Court decision which determined that an officer’s reasonable misunderstanding of the law does not destroy probable cause. In the case which gave rise to that decision, the issue came up in the context of the doctrine of the exclusionary rule, which holds that a criminal defendant may exclude from trial incriminating evidence which was illegally obtained by law enforcement.

The exclusionary rule is an important one in criminal defense because it helps to ensure that prosecutors are not able to benefit at trial from the illegal actions of the police officers from whom they obtain their evidence. In order to take advantage of the exclusionary rule, though, one must make a motion to suppress the evidence. This requires proof that the evidence in question was obtained by means of an unlawful search and seizure. 

A judge in a criminal case will not make a motion to suppress for a criminal defendant, and the prosecutor handling the case will certainly not do so. Criminal defendants and their advocates must make that motion on their own initiative. Providing proof to support the motion requires thorough knowledge and application of the rules of evidence to the defendant’s case, and so it is critical to work with a skilled attorney.

Suppressing illegally obtained evidence can sometimes have a dramatic impact on the strength of a criminal case. Having incriminating evidence thrown out can sometimes prompt prosecutors to dismiss a case altogether for lack of sufficient evidence. This is why it is important for criminal defendants to explore search and seizure issues with their attorney when preparing their defense case.

Source: Fox News, “Supreme Court: Traffic stop, search OK despite misunderstanding of law,” Dec. 16, 2014.

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