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United States v. Burleson Highlights Need For Strong Motion to Suppress in Orange County Felony Cases

September 29, 2011
By The Law Offices of Vincent J. LaBarbera, Jr. on September 29, 2011 10:00 AM |

A recent case out of New Mexico shows how important hiring an experienced Santa Ana criminal defense attorney who has filed hundreds of motions to suppress can be to a defendant facing a serious criminal charge.

A motion to suppress occurs when the police have gone too far in attempting to get evidence to seek a conviction against a suspect. This can happen when officers mislead judges into signing a search warrant to allow them into a home or business for instance, or if they don't follow procedures and protocols in interrogating a suspect.
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These motions should be handled by an experienced lawyer who has represented many clients who have been treated unfairly by police officers. This particular motion is difficult because the burden of proving the misconduct is on the defendant. In most situations, the motion is filed by defendants facing serious felony charges, including murder in Orange County.

In the case of the United States of America v. Carl Roy Burleson, he and two friends were walking down a New Mexico street when a Roswell police officer stopped them.

The stop seems legitimate -- the officer said they were walking in the middle of the street. The officer was also suspicious because one of them was carrying an unleashed dog and there had been a rash of pet thefts recently. The area had also experienced property crime, including a shooting, in recent weeks and it was late at night.

After stopping the three people, the officer was satisfied the dog wasn't stolen, but rather they were worried the dog would run off if it walked on its own because they didn't own a leash. The officer testified he didn't intend to cite them for walking in the middle of the street.

But the issue hinges on the officer's actions after that, during which he asked them for their names and identification. When the officer checked whether they had outstanding criminal warrants, Burleson's name came back with an active warrant.

Upon arrest, he told the officer he had two guns and ammunition on him, which the officer found after handcuffing him. He then was arrested on a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Once his attorney began looking at the case, he filed a motion to suppress the gun and ammunition evidence, stating that the officer had little reason to do a warrants check on three individuals who had been cleared of wrongdoing.

After a hearing, the judge agreed and granted the motion, meaning the gun and ammunition evidence would be tossed out. Essentially, the charge would be dropped if that evidence didn't make it into trial.

But prosecutors appealed the judge's decision, and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently took up the case and made a ruling. The panel of judges reversed the judge's decision, surprisingly, ruling that the officer had a right under "officer-safety concerns" to run a warrants check.

While the officer didn't testify that he was worried about his safety, the judges interpreted that being in a bad neighborhood and stopping three people while he was by himself constituted his right to check for warrants to determine if they were known criminals.

It seems to be a stretch for judges to OK a warrants check when no criminal activity is alleged simply because they say an officer could possibly be intimidated. It's unclear at this point whether the man will appeal that ruling.

If you are facing felony charges in Orange County, contact the Law Offices of Vincent J. LaBarbera Jr. to discuss your options. With three decades of experience, Attorney LaBarbera has argued more than 200 criminal trials and appeals. Call (714) 541-9668 for a confidential appointment to discuss your rights.

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