The Importance of Asserting Your Rights
Many individuals who are arrested by the police try to talk their way out of trouble, especially when confronted with potentially damaging evidence. Although this situation understandably gives rise to an instinct to panic, the best course is to refuse to speak to the police and insist on asserting your rights.
Your Rights Include Experienced Representation
You have the right to have an experienced criminal defense attorney present before you answer any questions or provide any information. A recent decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in the State of Minnesota v. Ruiz-Deleon, 2015 WL 7356566 (Nov. 23, 2015 Unpublished) provides a compelling example of how a skilled criminal defense lawyer can obtain exclusion of a prosecutor’s evidence, and the way incriminating admissions often make your criminal defense attorney’s job more difficult.
In Ruiz-Deleon, the defendant was convicted of first-degree aggravated robbery after a metal pen and $71 in cash were discovered during a pat-down by police. When confronted with this evidence the defendant admitted, “[t]he money is not mine.”
What One Defendant Did After Being Stopped by the Police
The encounter between the police and the defendant was initiated when a cab driver called the police to report he had been robbed by a fare. The police located the defendant based on suggestions from the cab driver. The police approached and instructed the defendant to stop and put his hands up. After the defendant promptly complied, the officers placed the defendant on his knees and handcuffed him. The first pat-down produced only a wallet with no money. A criminal record check revealed that the defendant had no warrants, so he was released.
When the officer walked away toward his squad car, the defendant followed the officer and talked to him while the officer was on the radio with another officer who was with the victim. The victim indicated that the person who robbed him indicated he was headed to Buena Vista Apartments. The officer noted the defendant’s “strange” behavior as well as his earlier statement that he was headed to Buena Vista Apartments. Based on these facts, the officer placed the defendant in handcuffs and conducted a 2nd pat-down.
During this second search of the defendant’s person, the officer discovered the pen and the money. The money corresponded closely to what the cab driver indicated was stolen. When asked about the money, the defendant stated, “It’s not my money.”
The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
The defendant filed a motion to suppress the cash, pen, and statement about the money arguing that the 2nd search was illegal and that the damaging statement was the “fruit of the poisonous tree.” This evidence was admitted by the trial judge, and the defendant was convicted. He appealed the admissibility of this evidence and contended it led to a wrongful conviction.
On appeal, the court noted that a Terry stop constitutes a valid exception to the warrant requirement authorizing officers to conduct a search. The court indicated that a Terry stop permits an officer to “stop and frisk a person when:
- They have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that a suspect might be engaged in criminal activity, and…
- The officer reasonably believes the suspect might be armed and dangerous
The court emphasized the rationale for permitting this limited search is to ensure the safety of the officer rather than to discover evidence.
Your Rights vs An Officer’s Right to Ensure Safety
The defendant contended that the 2nd pat-down was not based on a reasonable belief that he had a weapon and threatened the officer’s safety, so the pen and cash should have been suppressed. The defendant argued that the officer had just conducted a pat-down moments before and the defendant had made no “furtive, threatening or unexpected moves during the encounter,” nor had he threatened the officer in any way. The officer claimed the search was both to gather evidence and to ensure his safety.
In considering these competing claims, the court first observed that the search could not be justified as a means to gather evidence because the prosecutor did not assert that the defendant was under arrest or that the officer had probable cause to search the defendant. The court also rejected the claim that the search was to promote the officer’s safety.
A prior search had already been conducted while the defendant was kneeling and in handcuffs during a four minute period of questioning. When the officer released the defendant, the accused was only out of the officer’s sight for a couple of seconds before being handcuffed again and searched a second time. While the court indicated there were situations where a 2nd search could be justified based on the officer’s safety, the officer could not claim a reasonable concern that the defendant possessed a weapon in this situation.
Suppression of Evidence
Based on the finding that the search was illegal, the court concluded that the pen and money were excluded. The court determined that the defendant’s admission that the money he had on his person was not his would not have been made had he not just been confronted with the other damaging evidence. Therefore, the incriminating statement also was suppressed as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
The bottom line is that a situation that probably looked pretty hopeless to the defendant led him to make a damaging statement which compounded his problems. Our Minnesota criminal defense law firm frequently files for a suppression hearing that can lead to evidence essential to the prosecutor’s case being excluded. Further, evidence that might be discovered based on this illegally obtained evidence also might be excluded as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
While the incriminating statement of the defendant was excluded on that basis in this case, the better approach is to avoid making a statement of any kind no matter how strong the evidence against you might appear. If you elect to talk to the police, you simply make your attorney’s job more difficult.
If you have been arrested and charged with a criminal offense in Minnesota, we invite you to speak to a Twin Cities Criminal Lawyer at Gerald Miller, P.A. as soon as possible. The sooner you contact us the sooner we can start protecting your rights. Contact us today to schedule your free and confidential case evaluation.