The Constitution protects Americans from illegal searches and seizures at the hand of law enforcement. However, the police do not always follow constitutional restrictions. If you’ve been subjected to an illegal search and seizure, you may have a civil rights claim against the police.
Cases like these are complex and depend heavily on the individual facts involved. But the first step is retaining a law firm that handles civil rights matters. Hale & Monico works with clients whose constitutional rights have been violated by the government. We can advise you as to whether you have a claim and work to win you fair compensation for your treatment.
Privacy Versus Searches And Seizures
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. It exists to protect the privacy rights of all Americans and to keep them free of unwarranted harassment and intrusion by the government. The Fourth Amendment only applies where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, but “reasonable expectation of privacy” means different things in different settings.
Using an extreme example, the privacy you would enjoy while close to the site of a recent terrorist attack would be different than the privacy you would have in your home on an average day.
A “search” happens when police or other law enforcement takes some action that invades an area in which the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Meanwhile, a “seizure” happens when the government (again, usually the police or law enforcement) takes or interferes with your possession of some item of property.
What’s an Unreasonable Search and Seizure?
As mentioned above, the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. This is important to note because law enforcement is not prohibited from conducting a reasonable search and seizure. For a search and seizure to be reasonable, one of the following must apply:
Search warrant. That means police have probable cause to believe that evidence is located at a particular place (like a home) and have obtained a proper search warrant based on that probable cause. Search warrants must describe with particularity the area to be searched and the things to be seized. Wide-open search warrants that allow police to search any property, looking for any possible thing that could be illegal, are not constitutional.
Consent. If the person consents to be searched or to have his or her property searched, law enforcement is free to do so without a warrant. This can become an issue if the person who consents to the search of a premises doesn’t have authority to do so. It may also be a problem if the person didn’t truly consent or was wrongfully coerced in some way.
Valid warrantless search. Finally, a search and seizure may be reasonable if certain other circumstances exist which would permit the activity without a valid warrant. That’s where the numerous exceptions to the warrant requirement must be considered.
When Do Police Not Need A Warrant?
Contrary to popular belief, police don’t always need to have a search warrant. Several exceptions exist to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Courts carefully scrutinize warrantless searches and seizures to make sure police don’t abuse these exceptions, but they generally include:
Emergency or “exigent” circumstances. These can include emergencies or ongoing urgent situations. But they may also include scenarios in which there is a reasonable fear that evidence will be lost or destroyed, and it would take too long to get a warrant.
Searches and seizures incident to an arrest. If you are placed under arrest, police can generally search your person to ensure you are not hiding weapons or contraband. However, the arrest itself has to be valid. Police cannot wrongfully arrest someone just to use this exception.
Searches of vehicles. There is less expectation of privacy in a vehicle versus a home. While police don’t usually have to have a warrant to search your automobile, they must have probable cause to believe a driver or passenger is committing a crime or has committed a crime, or that evidence of criminal activity will be found in the vehicle.
Plain view. If evidence of criminal activity, such as drugs, is in plain view, police can seize it. But the police must have a lawful reason for being where they are when they see the evidence.
How Can An Attorney Help?
As you can see, the law surrounding illegal searches and seizures isn’t straightforward. There are several exceptions to the warrant requirement, the meaning of phrases like “probable cause” isn’t always clear, and law enforcement will have their justifications for what they did. Moreover, these types of cases are heavily dependent upon the facts and evidence in each case.
You deserve an attorney who is particularly experienced in handling civil rights cases. Your attorney should understand search and seizure law, and how statutes and court cases affect it. Finally, your lawyer should know the relevant rules of evidence and civil procedure that govern these kinds of lawsuits.
Contact Our Illegal Search And Seizure Attorney
Hale & Monico is ready to help. No American should have their privacy rights violated because of unconstitutional law enforcement actions. Our law firm holds the government accountable by demanding fair compensation when they infringe upon citizens’ rights. Give us a call today to learn more.