Saturday, October 3, 2009
Suppression Vs. Exclusion: Missouri Court Of Appeals Denies Interlocutory Appeal By Reading Motion To Suppress As Motion To Exclude
Suppression of evidence is not the same thing as exclusion of evidence on the basis of some rule of evidence. Suppression is a term used for evidence that is not objectionable as violating any rule of evidence, but that has been illegally obtained. The recent opinion of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, in State v. Moad, 2009 WL 3075576 (Mo.App. W.D. 2009), explains why this distinction matters.
In Moad, on February 14, 2006, Jeffrey Moad and Laura Kathleen Winfrey were the sole occupants of a car that crashed, tragically killing Ms. Winfrey. The car belonged to Winfrey, but despite Moad's claims to the contrary, responding State Trooper Bryan Salmons suspected that Moad was the driver.
Trooper Salmons had the car towed to a storage lot on February 14, 2006. On February 15, 2006, the [Missouri Highway Patrol's] crash investigation team inspected the vehicle for evidence. The crash team completed their investigation the same day. According to Trooper Salmons, “within a day or so” following the completion of the crash team's investigation, but before Moad or his representatives were given an opportunity to perform an independent examination, Trooper Salmons contacted the next of kin of Katie Winfrey and released the vehicle to them.
Moad was thereafter charged with involuntary manslaughter and his first trial ended in a mistrial. Before his retrial, Moad brought a motion to "suppress" the evidence recovered from Moad's car because he did not have a chance to examine the vehicle before its release. According to Trooper Salmons, he was following MHP policies and procedures in releasing the car to Winfrey's next of kin, but documents produced did not back him up, and the judge granted Moad's motion.
The government thereafter filed an interlocutory appeal with the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, pursuant to Missouri Code Section 547.200.1(3), which permits the state to appeal an interlocutory order suppressing evidence or where “the substantive effect” of the order results in suppressing evidence. The problem for the government, though, was that the court found that "[t]hough the interlocutory order being appealed to this court is styled as a motion to suppress, the character of a pleading is 'determined by its subject matter and not its designation.'" And, as noted above, suppression of evidence is not the same thing as exclusion of evidence on the basis of some rule of evidence. Suppression is a term used for evidence that is not objectionable as violating any rule of evidence, but that has been illegally obtained.
According to the court, this distinction proved fatal for the government's appeal because
[i]n the current case, the question before the trial court was whether evidence obtained by the State from a vehicle involved in a fatal crash was admissible after the vehicle was released within seventy-two hours and prior to the defendant in a criminal felony trial having an opportunity to examine it....[T]here was never any argument that the evidence had been illegally obtained. Rather, the issue was whether Trooper Salmons acted in bad faith in disposing of evidence.
In other words, according to the appellate court, the trial court had excluded the evidence obtained from the car based upon the trooper's discovery violation; it did not suppress the evidence based upon it being illegally obtained. Thus, the trial judge's order was not interlocutory and could not form the basis for an interlocutory appeal.