In order for you to be charged with a crime, there must be enough evidence to indicate your guilt. For the charges to result in a conviction, the evidence must be strong enough to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable a doubt. While the US Constitution protects all citizens from unreasonable search and seizure, police often violate those rights in order to collect enough evidence against the defendant. That’s why it is so important for anyone charged with a crime to always work with a skilled Vista criminal attorney.
Fourth Amendment Protections
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution reads, “The 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.” That might be hard to decipher for most modern English speakers, but essentially it says that people have the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures of their houses, papers and other property and that warrants providing investigators permission to search these things must only be issued with probable cause and include specific details regarding what will be searched and what can be seized as evidence.
While the text can be explained in modern English easily enough, defining the specific limits of what is or is not reasonable and what constitutes sufficient probable cause is a complicated subject that legal scholars, attorneys and judges frequently debate. In fact, many arguments about whether or not searches and seizures are legal in given situations eventually end up being settled in the Supreme Court.
What You Should Know About Search and Seizure Laws
While search and seizure laws often seem simple, there are a number of complexities involved with these laws. For example, an officer cannot search your home without a warrant, unless you give him consent, illegal items are sitting in plain view or if he has reasonable suspicion that there is an immediate threat to either someone in your home or evidence related to the case. This last situation can be particularly tricky as an officer who hears excessive toilet flushing or paper shredding could enter the house without a warrant if he claims that he believes you were flushing drugs down the toilet or shredding evidence that could be used against you.
When evidence is illegally collected due to a violation of the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights, it doesn’t matter if the case is a misdemeanor or felony, illegally collected evidence cannot be used. It’s worth mentioning though that evidence police don’t always need to get a warrant to do a search. In most cases, police can search your vehicle with no more than probable cause, but if your vehicle is in your home’s driveway, garage or carport, then a warrant is necessary before a search can be performed. It’s worth noting that not everything can be used as probable cause though. For example, while the smell of marijuana is considered probable cause to search for drugs, a broken tail light isn’t. If your vehicle is impounded, they can search it without restriction. These issues become even more complicated when a person lives in a home that could still technically be considered a vehicle, such as a fifth wheel trailer, a motor home or a double wide trailer because then the issue can come down to how easily a residential vehicle can be moved.
Exceptions to Warrant Laws
As stated above, even when warrants would normally be required, there are exceptions. The two biggest exceptions are those for exigent circumstances or plain sight. Exigent circumstances refer to urgent situations where police must act immediately, whether that means to protect someone in danger or to stop someone from destroying evidence. If the police come to someone’s house and hear someone screaming “help,” for example, they can enter without a warrant and even if it turns out no one was in danger, anything they found in the home at that point could be used as evidence, although a criminal lawyer in Vista could fight the use of this evidence in court by claiming no reasonable person would really believe it was an emergency.
The plain sight doctrine states that when police see evidence of a crime in plain view. So, for example, if you let police into your home to answer questions and they can see inside a room that is clearly filled with illegal guns and drugs, they can then enter the room and seize the evidence. They could even do this if you refused to let them in your home, but they could see the contraband through a window in front of your home.
It’s Easy to Accidentally Give Up Your Rights
Defense lawyers in Vista and everywhere else often remind the public to never talk to the police without a legal representative present. That’s not only because it’s easy to say something that can later incriminate you (although that is certainly a risk), but also because police often try to sidestep warrants though by getting people to voluntarily give up their rights. In the situation above, for example, you might not necessarily have agreed to let the police search your home, but by letting them into your living room, anything that can be considered to be in plain sight can then be used as evidence without a warrant. Police who have been allowed to enter a home will often then push to use the restroom or get a glass of water so they can enter other rooms and casually look for evidence lurking in plain sight.
More than that, if police ask if they can look around while in your home, even saying something like “yeah, whatever,” can be considered permission to search your home, even if you just thought they wanted to look in your living room. And while cellphones cannot be searched without a warrant, they can search it if you give it to them and it is not locked or if you voluntarily unlock it for them.
It’s worth noting that once you grant an officer permission to search your property, you cannot revoke that consent later and require them to obtain a warrant in most cases. Also, while police need a warrant to obtain a DNA sample from you directly, they often bypass this process and instead just get a cup, cigarette or other item with your DNA on it that you disposed of and then test it. Nowadays, they can even indirectly test your DNA through the use of familial DNA sites.
Because these laws can be so complex and because police often take advantage of a suspect’s ignorance of the law, it is critical that anyone who has been accused of a crime always work with a Vista criminal defense attorney who can challenge any evidence that may have been collected illegally. If you have been accused of a crime, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss.
Creative Commons Image by Israel Defense Forces