What is a motion to suppress?

A motion to suppress is a motion that seeks to suppress evidence because it was unlawfully obtained. A motion to suppress is based on the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In California, Penal Code section 1538.5 sets forth the grounds to bring a motion to suppress (also called a “suppression motion”).

  1. The People Bear The Burden Of Justifying A Warrantless Search

“The Fourth Amendment provides that ‘the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . . .’ This inestimable right of personal security belongs as much to the citizen on the streets of our cities as to the homeowner closeted in his study to dispose of his secret affairs. For, as this Court has always recognized, ‘No right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by clear and unquestionable authority of law.’ Union Pac. R. Co. v. Botsford, 141 U.S. 250, 251 (1891).”

(Terry v. Ohio (1968) 392 U.S. 1, 8-9 [88 S.Ct. 1868, 1873, 20 L.Ed.2d 889, 898-899].)

The People have the burden to justify a warrantless search and seizure, Coolidge v. New Hampshire (1971) 403 U.S. 443, 455, People v. Williams (1988) 45 Cal.3d 1268,1297 [Williams I], because warrantless searches and seizures are presumptively illegal. (Katz v. United States (1967) 389 U.S. 347, 357; People v. Laiwa (1983) 34 Cal.3d 711, 725.) 

A search or seizure without a warrant is presumptively illegal, and the prosecution bears the burden of justifying such an intrusion under a recognized exception to the warrant requirement.  (People v. Williams (1999) 20 Cal.4th 119, 125-126.)

The proper procedure flowing from the burden of proof is well-settled in California:

“The obvious solution to this problem is a suppression motion pleading procedure whereby real party speaks first to the issue upon which it bears the burden of proof and petitioner thereafter responds. Petitioner moved to suppress specifically described evidence (see People v. Superior Court (1969) 274 Cal.App.2d 228, 232 [78 Cal.Rptr. 830]) upon the ground such evidence was seized without a warrant; his suppression motion was a sufficient first pleading. The prosecutor should have pleaded his justification prior to the hearing based upon the facts he expected to prove at the hearing. Petitioner should have been allowed an opportunity to file a written response to the attempted justification prior to the hearing. At a cost of one additional pleading, this procedure serves to focus the litigation upon the only relevant issues — the justifications relied upon by real party to sustain the warrantless seizure. Thus, the issues are narrowed and sharpened to the benefit of all concerned.”

(Wilder v. Superior Court (1979) 92 Cal.App.3d 90, 96-97 [154 Cal.Rptr. 494].)

  1. All Evidence Discovered During An Illegal Search Must Be Suppressed

Any evidence seized as a result of an illegal detention, arrest, search, or seizure is tainted by the illegality and subject to suppression. (Wilson v. Superior Court (1983) 34 Cal.3d 777, 791; Brown v. Illinois (1975) 422 U.S. 590, 601.) Such evidence includes not only the primary evidence seized during the course of the unlawful conduct itself, but also any secondary or derivative evidence subsequently obtained through the information gained during the course of such conduct. This so-called “fruit of the poisonous tree” must be excluded. (Wong Sun v. United States (1963) 37 U.S. 471; People v. Mayfield (1997) 14 Cal.4th 668, 760; People v. Gonzalez (1998) 64 Cal.App.4th 432, 440-447.)