Hire a Lawyer to Fight Against Illegal Search and Seizure

Illegal Search and Seizure

What Is an Illegal Search and Seizure?

When police suspect someone of a crime, they often perform a search of the suspect’s property. The procedure may involve confiscating any items law enforcement considers relevant evidence. This is a “search and seizure”. The process, however, is subject to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens’ rights to personal privacy and unreasonable government intrusion. This includes unjustifiable police stops of people on the street, arrests, and illegal search and seizure of their homes and other properties.

The Protection of The Fourth Amendment

Under the Fourth Amendment, “search and seizure” protections extend to the “seizure” methods of a police officer, and searches of places or items where an individual expects a legitimate amount of privacy. These include one’s bags, clothing, car, apartment, house, hotel room, or place of business. Individuals, however, must have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” A reasonable expectation of privacy can apply to someone’s home, a hotel room, or a public bathroom, for example.

However, places generally open in a public space, such as some business premises, may have less of this expectation or none at all. Property open to the public, or visible in “plain view,” are also not entitled to Fourth Amendment protection. These can include items found in a person’s backseat or a public garbage. Public records or phone numbers also do not hold an expectation of privacy.

Fourth Amendment protections can apply (though are not limited) to the following scenarios:

  • An individual’s arrest
  • Police confiscation of an individual’s car or property
  • An individual stopped for police questioning while walking down the street
  • Police search of an individual’s house or apartment for criminal evidence
  • An individual pulled over for questioning while police search the trunk of her or his vehicle

When Can a Police Officer Search and Seize Your Property?

A police officer can perform “search and seizures” on a person or her or his property if police have a valid search warrant or a valid arrest warrant. They may also have “probable cause” that the individual committed a crime. These are not an illegal search and seizure. 

Probable Cause

The need for “probable cause” protects citizens from arrest, rounding up, or the stopping by police based on poor reason. Clear-cut guidelines for what justifies as “probable cause” do not exist. However, most believe factual evidence is necessary to have “probable cause.” This means police officers cannot rely on hunches or suspicions alone.

Evidence for Probable Cause

Evidence for probable cause can include:

  • Observations of suspicious criminal activity (or patterns of criminal activity)
  • Information provided by witnesses, victims, or informants
  • Police witness criminal activity or signs of criminal activity
  • Circumstantial evidence of a crime. 

Ultimately, only judges determine the existence of probable cause. They often base their final decision on:

  • Experience with the arresting officer
  • Views on government interference and the defendant’s rights
  • Experiences in similar situations.

Most situations require the police officer to show a judge evidence of probable cause before the judge issues a search warrant.

Limitations on Search Procedures

With an issued search warrant, police officers can legally search your home or property. This, however, is still limited to specific rules.

Generally, police officers may only search for items listed on the warrant. In some cases, such as when officers spot evidence in “plain view,” they may search beyond this.

If your Fourth Amendment rights were violated in an illegal search and seizure, connect with one of our experienced attorneys.

Police Searches Without a Warrant

Some cases may allow a police officer to search your property without a warrant.

These include enacting a search through your consent, though their search cannot extend beyond the consent you give. You must also voluntarily give consent. Police officers may not coerce or manipulate an individual into providing consent for a search. Police can also perform a search without a warrant if you lack any “reasonable expectation of privacy” to the property they wish to search.

Additionally, “exigent circumstances” can allow for a warrantless search. Exigent circumstances refer to urgent situations or emergencies in which a search is necessary and there is no time to obtain a proper warrant. These also include situations in which police are in “hot pursuit” of a suspect who takes refuge in a private home or area to escape.

What Happens When Police Enact an Illegal Search and Seizure? 

In some cases, a police officer may perform a “search and seizure” that violates a citizen’s 4th Amendment rights. In these circumstances, any evidence obtained from the search may be barred from use in a criminal case against the suspected individual. This is referred to as the “exclusionary rule.”

Further, the police may not use evidence from an illegal search to seek other evidence. Such evidence is referred to as “fruit of the poisonous tree”. Speaking with an experienced lawyer can help determine if police violated your privacy rights during a search and seizure.

Work With an Experienced Local Lawyer

Have you found yourself (or a loved one) facing legal charges or a potential arrest? Perhaps you want to challenge your case after your arrest?

Police officers have the power to question or prosecute those engaged in criminal behavior, though abuse of that power is an unfortunately common occurrence. You must know your rights amidst a criminal case, and an experienced attorney can help protect you from illegal searches, seizures, or any charges filed against you.

Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced lawyer in your area!

We've connected over FIVE MILLION requests since 2001

How It All Works

Call us or answer the questions on this site. Your category, location, and additional information will help us connect you to a legal professional and we’ll send you the results instantly.

Which Areas of Law?

We have attorneys in over 20 legal categories to choose from.

How Much Does This Cost?

We don’t charge you to be connected. Some legal categories require upfront fees while others do not. The legal professional will determine this with you before you commit to anything.