Search and Seizure
Just about every criminal charge results from a search and seizure. Law enforcement agencies conduct searches to find evidence and suspects, and when they find them, they may seize either. For this reason, regulating the manner in which the authorities conduct searches and seizures is essential to securing the rights of the people. In the context of criminal cases, for example, a suspect cannot be convicted of a crime with evidence obtained from an illegal search or seizure.
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution – which is also mirrored in every state constitution – prohibits the government from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that the police needed a warrant specifying the place where the search would take place and the things or persons to be seized. As police methods, technology, and American society has evolved, courts have had to further develop the definition of what exactly is a reasonable search or seizure.
If you believe you were the victim of an unreasonable search and seizure, contact an experienced Lansing criminal defense lawyer right away. You deserve to have your rights respected by law enforcement authorities throughout the criminal justice process. Call DeBruin Law today at (517) 324-4303.
What Is a Reasonable Search or Seizure?
A search or seizure is reasonable when the police are acting on a warrant signed by a judge that specifically states what items or people are being sought, and where the authorities expect to find them. To obtain a warrant, therefore, the police must be able to present a minimum amount of proof – known as probable cause – to the judge. A search and seizure is a violation of privacy, so it must be justified.
People may waive their right to privacy by giving the police permission to enter their homes or to search their property. The police are trained in getting suspects to consent to searches because it’s easier than getting a warrant. There are other situations, known as exigent circumstances, where a search and seizure may be justified without a warrant or the suspect’s consent:
- The illegal item is in plain sight. If the police can see into your house from the street and contraband is visible, they may enter your house without your permission and seize it. Likewise, if you answer the door when the police knock, and they can see illegal items behind you, they may forcibly enter. And if the police are executing an arrest warrant against you, it does not give them the right to search your entire house. They can only take evidence that is in plain sight.
- A crime is committed in front of an officer. If a police officer sees you commit a crime, he or she won’t need a warrant to arrest you. When the police have probable cause to arrest a person, they will search that person for evidence of wrongdoing.
- The police are in hot pursuit of a suspect. If the police have probable cause to believe that you have committed a crime and are actively chasing you, they may follow you into a private property. So if you are running from the police, you cannot escape by seeking shelter in your home or even that of another person.
- There is reason to believe that evidence is being destroyed. The police may enter private property without a warrant to keep evidence from being destroyed. However, it’s often difficult for them to prove that they had a reason to believe this was the case. For example, the smell of burning marijuana is not sufficient to give rise to the suspicion that evidence is being destroyed.
- Someone is in immediate danger. If the police have reason to believe that someone is being harmed inside a house, they may enter without a warrant. Any evidence visible in plain sight may then be seized.
The government does not consider that people have an expectation of privacy on their whole property – only in the immediate vicinity of their home or any other place where they might want privacy, such as a swimming pool. Thus, the police may trespass and search for illegal contraband, such as a marijuana garden, on areas of your property that are not near your house.
People on Foot and in Vehicles Have Fewer Protections Against Searches and Seizures
As noted above, the Fourth Amendment protects the right to privacy in homes, businesses, and property. When people are in public, whether on foot or in a car, it follows that they have a lesser expectation of privacy. Thus, the police do not need a warrant to conduct searches on pedestrians or on people with cars. Instead, they only need probable cause to believe that person or vehicle is hiding something illegal.
Although the police do not need a search warrant if you are on foot or in a car, they still must have probable cause that you are doing something illegal or have something in your possession that would be against the law. In court, the prosecutor must prove that a police officer had probable cause before searching you or your vehicle. Otherwise, the evidence they obtained cannot be validly used in a trial against you.
How Are Searches and Seizures Relevant to my Criminal Case?
A prosecutor cannot use evidence against you that was obtained in violation of your Fourth Amendment Rights, but only if your lawyer files the right paperwork with the court. By filing a motion to suppress, your lawyer can explain what evidence was illegally obtained. If accepted, the judge will remove that evidence from the case.
For these reasons, an understanding of search and seizure law may be essential to defending against your criminal charges. You should hire an attorney with an intimate understanding of Fourth Amendment law to maximize the chance of getting incriminating evidence thrown out of your case. At DeBruin Law, we have a proven track record of successfully suppressing evidence from our clients’ cases. To find out if this might be an option in your case, call us today at (517) 324-4303 for a free a confidential consultation.