Police have specific guidelines when they go out to search a home, or if you’re stopped in a car. Sometimes, procedures aren’t followed. The Fourth Amendment protects you from illegal search and seizure.
How you’re protected
The Fourth Amendment states that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” The State of Colorado also has a similar statute in the state constitution. Police can’t just search your car or home for no reason.
Why police might search
While the Fourth Amendment covers searches that are “unreasonable,” there are times when a search may be considered “reasonable.” Should the police believe they have probable cause to search you, your home, your car, or anything else connected to you, the search is because they believe they can find evidence to prove that you committed a crime. Generally, there is a search warrant issued and signed by a judge for this to happen.
Alternately, there may be extenuating circumstances that allow for a search to be executed without a warrant.
“Fruit of the poisonous tree”
Evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search can also be disqualified. This term was coined after a famous court case, Wong Sun vs. The United States. In this case, the prosecution introduced drugs into evidence that were discovered while in an interrogation during an illegal arrest.
For instance, if you are stopped by police for no reason, and the police find something that leads to hidden evidence (a note, a text, etc.) that they would normally not have found, the two parts equal an illegal search and seizure. The trail that leads them to it is the “tree,” and the evidence found as a result is the “fruit.”
This means that dismissals are two-fold. Charges filed against you as the result of an illegal action can be dismissed as well as any evidence because they were not properly obtained.
Defending yourself against illegal search and seizure
Police are not allowed to conduct searches because they feel like it, or because they “thought there might be something.” If the police come to your door and ask to search the place, you have the right to ask for a warrant. If they believe they have probable cause, you will likely get a return visit from them with one. However, if they have probable cause to conduct a warrantless search and are intent on searching anyway, you may have no choice. Verbally inform them that you do not consent (loudly if there are possible witnesses), but do not interfere with them.
Police can only search whatever is described in the warrant. For instance, if the warrant allows a search of your house, searching a potting shed may be considered an “illegal search.” They are only allowed to seize what’s allowed in the warrant. Searching for and finding something else not described in the warrant may also be “illegal,” but not necessarily.
Hiring a civil rights attorney is your best defense against a 4th Amendment violation.
Should the police violate your civil rights with an illegal search and seizure, you can sue for monetary damages under what’s known as a “1983 action.” The section of the US Code (42 U.S.C. §1983) that covers 4th Amendment violations is where the name comes from, and it’s used to define illegal search and seizure, as well as other civil rights. A skilled civil rights attorney can file charges and proceedings and guide you through the process.
If you are charged with a crime using evidence that is obtained through an illegal search, a civil rights attorney can file a motion to suppress the evidence. If the motion is successful, the evidence, and possibly the case, may be thrown out completely.
NOTE: Even if a search or arrest is illegal, resisting or physically fighting an officer can still result in charges of resisting arrest — a separate charge from the original, wrongful arrest that probably won’t be dismissed. DO NOT resist an arrest, no matter how illegal.
Defend your rights — call today
If you’ve been a victim of an illegal search and seizure, you need an attorney experienced in civil rights cases.
Call the Civil Rights Litigation Group at (720) 515-6165, or use our online contact form, to schedule your free consultation with us today. We understand civil rights cases, and aggressively defend you in court and make sure your rights are protected.