Suppression Motions: How They Can Turn a Losing Case Into a Winner

There are many ways to skin a cat – and many ways to win a criminal case without going to trial. Any of the best criminal attorneys in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will recognize that multiple opportunities exist during the pendency of a client’s case in which to damage the government’s leverage and position beyond repair.  One such way is to suppress damning evidence against the defendant which has been seized by the government.  With the devastating loss of their evidence no longer part of their case in chief, the government is usually amenable to extending a much more favorable plea offer than ever anticipated. Three examples of such winning suppression motions by our firm are explained below.

Failure to Provide Sufficient Particularity in a Search Warrant

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution requires search warrants to “particularly describe” in detail the places to be searched and the property to be seized. Andresen v. Maryland, 427 U.S. 463, 479 (1976). This means that a properly drawn search warrant permits officers to search only in the specific places described in the warrant and to seize only the listed property for which probable cause to find that property is set out in the warrant’s supporting affidavit.  A warrant must “provide sufficient particularity to prevent a general, exploratory rummaging.’” United States v. Gigante, 979 F. Supp. 959, 966 (S.D.N.Y. 1997), quoting Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 467 (1971). In the Gigante case, our client, a large garbage collection company charged in a federal RICO case, moved to suppress the seizure of nearly 100 boxes of documents by the FBI. The federal court in the Southern District of New York granted our motion to suppress all of these documents due the failure in the warrant’s supporting affidavit and the warrant itself to mention that these documents were expected to be found at the targeted premises. As you can imagine, the government’s loss of 100 boxes of documentary evidence drastically altered the playing field in this case.

Largest Drug Ring in Suffolk County History – Crucial Phone Calls Suppressed

In a recent Suffolk County narcotis case described by the judge as the “largest he’d seen in 40 years,” the Court nevertheless suppressed two crucial, wiretapped telephone calls which provided the only significant evidence of the defendant’s alleged cocaine trafficking – leaving the prosecution’s case with evidence solely supporting allegations of marijuana dealing.  People v. Wright, Ind. 374-2012 (Suffolk Co. 2013).

In Wright, the prosecutors sought to intercept the defendant’s telephone calls which evidenced what they believed at the time to be marijuana dealing.  During their interception of marijuana-related conversations, however, two calls were recorded which, according to the prosecutors, evidenced the defendant’s involvement in a large-scale cocaine operation.  While the prosecutors informed the judge who signed the wiretap order of this new category of evidence to be intercepted, they failed to amend their wiretapping order expeditiously to demonstrate probable cause for the continued interception of cocaine-related conversations.  Due to the lack of a formal amendment to the warrant, the Court was compelled to suppress the conversations.  Such a suppression of devastating narcotics evidence is incredibly rare in Suffolk County – or in any courtroom in New York state.

Federal Court Bars Late Disclosure of Highly Incriminating Fingerprint Evidence

Part of being a successful criminal attorney is looking for any advantage, any opportunity to upset the government’s case – and no opportunity should be squandered.  In one multi-defendant, large scale federal narcotics case we had in the Southern District of New York, the defendant was arrested inside a house in which 16,000 rounds of ammunition, drug paraphernalia, six firearms and a series of documents were found.  United States v. Patterson, 06 CR 80 (S.D.N.Y. 2008).  Soon after the defendant was charged, the government failed to respond to numerous discovery requests for copies of all seized materials.  Suddenly, on the eve of trial, the government turned over a fingerprint report which stated that our client’s prints were found on the ammunition boxes – devastating evidence which was exacerbated by the late disclosure, giving us almost no time to perform our own investigation or prepare a defense.

Despite having the option to simply adjourn the trial to allow us time to investigate the lately-disclosed evidence, the Court instead decided to suppress all of the evidence seized from the house, dealing a devastating blow to the government’s proof at trial.  As I said at the time to the New York Law Journal, “It takes a brave judge to issue a sanction like that.  I’m hoping that this sanction will cause [the prosecutors] to return their phone calls and comply with their discovery obligations in a more expeditious manner going forward.”

Conclusion

Winning suppression motions for wiretapped or seized physical evidence is a usually a long shot, accomplished only through laborious, meticulous examination of dense affidavits of government agents.  But they can be won — and can deal a death blow to the government’s case against you — if your attorney is willing to do what it takes to win.  Call the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman at (212) 581-1001 to discuss your case today.