Motion to Suppress Evidence – New Jersey Criminal Procedure The Burden of Proof

In New Jersey, much like Pennsylvania, a Motion to Suppress Evidence is to determine whether certain evidence is admissible in a criminal prosecution.

In New Jersey the defense may bring a Motion to Suppress based on Rule 3:5-7 in Superior Court and Rule 7:5-2 in Municipal Court. New Jersey’s Municipal Court hears all non-indictable offenses such as most driving while under the influence offense (DWI). These motions are usually the defense’s strongest tool because, if successful, the prosecution will normally not be able to meet its burden of proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

Motions to Suppress are usually based on the warrantless search and seizure of evidence. Warrantless searches in New Jersey, like Pennsylvania, are presumed to be invalid. Even though the defense files a Motion to Suppress the burden is on the state to prove that the search is reasonable. The state must satisfy this burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence. The preponderance standard is much lower than the evidence required to prove a person guilty at trial which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Unlike trial, however, the rules of evidence don’t apply and so the court can hear a lot of evidence that is normally inadmissible (can’t use it) at trial. The only evidence that cannot be brought in during a Motion to Suppress is statements which are considered privileged (attorney-client communication) or statements or other evidence that is simply irrelevant to the proceedings.

The right against unreasonable searches and seizures is secured by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as Article 1, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution. While the language in these two documents are virtually identical New Jersey, similar to Pennsylvania, provides a higher level of protection to persons then the United States Constitution. The legal doctrine known as federalism allows individual states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey to interpret their respective state constitutions as providing more protection to people in their borders than is otherwise available under the United States Constitution.

The key issues in Motions to Suppress Evidence is the legal basis to effect an arrest, conduct a search incident to arrest, or search a motor vehicle for evidence of a crime. All of these searches must be based on probable cause. While the law requires probable cause in these situations, police may conduct an investigation based on reasonable suspicion. In New Jersey probable cause is based on a totality of the circumstances and an objective standard or reasonableness. Probable cause is further defined as a well grounded suspicion that a criminal offense has been or is being committed. Probable cause is more than suspicion but it is less than the amount of evidence needed to convict at trial.

Reasonable suspicion is an objective level of proof that is less than probable cause. To determine reasonable suspicion a court in New Jersey will give weight to specific reasonable inferences which the police officers are entitled to make based on the facts using the police officer’s experience. While reasonable suspicion allows the officer to conduct an investigation this suspicion must be more than a hunch or a guess to be sufficient to allow that investigative search or detention.