The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens from illegal search and seizure of property by limiting the power of police to conduct searches of private property and seizure of objects. The Fourth Amendment specifically protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure. Therefore, there are circumstances where police may search your person, home, car, or other property if they can demonstrate probable cause for needing to do so.
Search warrants and probable cause
Law enforcement officials may petition a member of the judicial department for a search warrant in cases where they believe they have probable cause to search or seize private property. The warrant must include precise reasons for probable cause and details on the specific place and items that are to be searched. For instance, if a warrant states that police may only search your basement and they search another area of the home as well, anything seized from elsewhere in the home may be considered evidence obtained illegally.
Use of evidence in court
Evidence that is obtained illegally is not admissible in court. Though illegally seized evidence cannot be the direct cause of a conviction, an illegal search does not mean the case will be automatically dismissed. The case may still proceed if there is enough other evidence against the defendant.
In some cases, evidence seized illegally can still be considered in sentencing and may be admissible in civil or deportation cases. Furthermore, evidence that results from an illegal search may not be used to discover other evidence. This is known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine.
The Fourth Amendment is applicable in situations where there is a legitimate expectation of privacy. Therefore, if you are driving with illegal drugs in plain view in your car and police pull you over and seize them, you would not be protected by the Fourth Amendment because they were clearly in public view.
It is also important to note that the Fourth Amendment applies only to government officials, such as police officers. It does not protect you against searches by private, non-governmental security officers, including mall or supermarket security guards. If a non-governmental security officer seizes property from you and turns it over to the police, this may be admissible in court since the Fourth Amendment does not block private security guards from seizing your property.
Criminal defense lawyers
If you have had your property searched or seized as part of a criminal investigation, it is important that you have an attorney looking out for your rights. Experienced criminal defense attorneys have the necessary expertise and understanding of the complexities of search and seizure laws to ensure that any property seized without proper protocol will not be used against you in court.
Many lawyers have seen many cases where evidence is dismissed because law enforcement has violated the constitutional rights of defendants. However, it is very rare for defendants who do not have legal counsel to have evidence withdrawn for these reasons-the legal processes that must be followed to successfully have such evidence dismissed are extremely complicated and require familiarity with applicable laws. If you are under criminal investigation, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today.