Suppression Hearings

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

Suppression hearings are a critical part of the pretrial process in criminal cases, providing a mechanism to exclude illegally obtained evidence. This critical process ensures the protection of defendants’ rights against unreasonable searches and seizures as per the Fourth Amendment. In essence, a suppression hearing provides an avenue for the defense to challenge the government’s evidence, primarily focusing on its legality and admissibility.

The Purpose of Suppression Hearings

The primary goal of a suppression hearing is to determine the admissibility of evidence. If a defendant believes that the evidence against them was obtained unlawfully, their attorney may file a motion to suppress this evidence. Once such a motion is filed, a suppression hearing is scheduled.

During a suppression hearing, the prosecution and defense present their arguments to the judge outside the presence of the jury. These hearings often involve witness testimonies, usually from law enforcement officers involved in the evidence collection process. The defense aims to demonstrate that the evidence in question was obtained through a violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights.

The Impact of Suppression Hearings

A suppression hearing is a critical pre-trial proceeding in a criminal case, where a defendant seeks to exclude evidence obtained in violation of their constitutional rights, specifically the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments which safeguard individuals against unlawful searches and seizures, self-incrimination, and ensure the right to counsel, respectively. The outcome of such a hearing can significantly influence the trajectory of a criminal case and is a pivotal moment in the strategic planning of both defense and prosecution.

If the court decides in favor of the defense, it rules to “suppress” the evidence, meaning the disputed evidence cannot be introduced or referred to during the trial. This is a significant win for the defense, as the prosecution may now face substantial challenges in proving its case without the suppressed evidence. In some instances, the decision to suppress pivotal evidence can lead to the prosecution being unable to meet its burden of proof, possibly resulting in dismissal of charges or acquittal.

Conversely, if the court rules against the defense and the disputed evidence is deemed admissible, it means the prosecution can present the evidence during the trial. This development can complicate the defense’s strategy. The defense team will now need to address this evidence during the trial, which could involve discrediting the evidence, challenging its relevance or reliability, or demonstrating that it does not substantiate the charges. Therefore, the suppression hearing can drastically alter the dynamics of a criminal case, emphasizing its role in the process of ensuring a fair trial.

It is worth noting that decisions made during suppression hearings can be subject to appellate review. If a party believes the trial court erred in its judgment during a suppression hearing, they can appeal this decision. This right to appeal contributes to the checks and balances within our judicial system, ensuring fairness in the application of the law.


Suppression hearings play a vital role in safeguarding the constitutional rights of defendants in criminal cases, serving as a mechanism to exclude unlawfully obtained evidence. The process involves both the prosecution and defense presenting their arguments regarding the legality and admissibility of the contested evidence. Decisions reached in these hearings can significantly shape the direction of a criminal case and are subject to appellate review, ensuring fairness and balance in the judicial process. Understanding suppression hearings, therefore, provides an essential perspective on how the Exclusionary Rule operates within our criminal justice system.


Modification History

File Created:  08/08/2018

Last Modified:  07/24/2023

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