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Search and Seizure | Henrico Bail Bonding

Search and Seizure | Henrico Bail Bonding

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Search and Seizure

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens and criminal suspects from unreasonable searches of their property and persons, and prohibits police officers from making unlawful arrests (“seizures”). Although this may seem straightforward, the law on these rights is not necessarily so. This section contains information on searches and seizures, what the law requires from police, what constitutes “probable cause,” and much more. Click on the links below to get started.

The Fourth Amendment and Warrants
The Fourth Amendment says that people have the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure, and that no warrant shall issue but on probable cause and specifying the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized. This means that an officer can only search or seize a person or their property with a valid search warrant, a valid arrest warrant, or a belief rising to the level of “probable cause” that an individual has committed a crime. Evidence acquired without one of these three conditions being fulfilled would be excluded from trial.

Probable Cause
The standard for conducting a warrantless search, probable cause, is the same standard necessary for a warrant to issue. Probable cause for arrest exists when facts and circumstances within the police officer’s knowledge would lead a reasonable person to believe that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. Probable cause has to come from specific facts and circumstances, not simply an officer’s hunch, feeling, or suspicion.

Probable cause for a search exists when facts and circumstances known to the officer provide a basis for a reasonable person to believe that a crime was committed at the place to be searched, or that evidence of a crime exists at the location.

Probable cause to seize property exists when facts and circumstances known to the officer would lead a reasonable person to believe that the item is contraband, stolen, or constitutes evidence of a crime.

Search and Seizure
There are a number of circumstances in which an officer can conduct a search, make an arrest, or seize items without implicating the Fourth Amendment and probable cause concerns.

The police can conduct searches where necessary to ensure their safety and the safety of the public. Objects that are in plain view such as a bag of drugs in the backseat of a car do not require a warrant or probable cause to be seized and admitted as evidence. In an emergency the police may conduct a search; an example would be while in pursuit of an armed fugitive. Searches of an individual and the surrounding area are permitted when an arrest is conducted. Finally, if consent is given no warrant or probable cause is necessary to conduct a search.

In addition to these circumstances someone in charge of a space, such as a roommate or spouse, can give consent for your home to be searched. A car that has been towed and impounded may be searched. An officer can pat you down during many kinds of stops, though this is limited to a search for weapons.

In short, there are many circumstances in which the police may search and seize you or your possessions even without a warrant or probable cause. If you were subject to a warrantless search it is important to recall the details of the events leading up to the search and review them with an attorney to determine whether your rights have been violated.

4th Amendment Search and Seizure Protections

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects personal privacy, and every citizen’s right to be free from unreasonable government intrusion into their persons, homes, businesses, and property — whether through police stops of citizens on the street, arrests, or searches of homes and businesses.

Lawmakers and the courts have put in place legal safeguards to ensure that law enforcement officers interfere with individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights only under limited circumstances, and through specific methods.

What Does the Fourth Amendment Protect?
In the criminal law realm, 4th Amendment “search and seizure” protections extend to:

A law enforcement officer’s physical apprehension or “seizure” of a person, by way of a stop or arrest; and
Police searches of places and items in which an individual has a legitimate expectation of privacy — his or her person, clothing, purse, luggage, vehicle, house, apartment, hotel room, and place of business, to name a few examples.
The Fourth Amendment provides safeguards to individuals during searches and detentions, and prevents unlawfully seized items from being used as evidence in criminal cases. The degree of protection available in a particular case depends on the nature of the detention or arrest, the characteristics of the place searched, and the circumstances under which the search takes place.

When Does the Fourth Amendment Apply?
The legal standards derived from the 4th Amendment provide constitutional protection to individuals in the following situations, among others:

An individual is stopped for police questioning while walking down the street.
An individual is pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, and the police officer searches the vehicle’s trunk.
An individual is arrested.
Police officers enter an individual’s house to place him or her under arrest.
Police officers enter an individual’s apartment to search for evidence of crime.
Police officers enter a corporation’s place of business to search for evidence of crime.
Police officers confiscate an individual’s vehicle or personal property and place it under police control.
Potential scenarios implicating the Fourth Amendment, and law enforcement’s legal obligation to protect Fourth Amendment rights in those scenarios, are too numerous to cover here. However, in most instances a police officer may not search or seize an individual or his or her property unless the officer has:

  • A valid search warrant;
  • A valid arrest warrant; or
  • A belief rising to the level of “probable cause” that an individual has committed a crime.

What if My Fourth Amendment Rights Are Violated?

When law enforcement officers violate an individual’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment, and a search or seizure is deemed unlawful, any evidence derived from that search or seizure will almost certainly be kept out of any criminal case against the person whose rights were violated. For example:

An arrest is found to violate the Fourth Amendment because it was not supported by probable cause or a valid warrant. Any evidence obtained through that unlawful arrest, such as a confession, will be kept out of the case.
A police search of a home is conducted in violation of the homeowner’s Fourth Amendment rights, because no search warrant was issued and no special circumstances justified the search. Any evidence obtained as a result of that search cannot be used against the homeowner in a criminal case.
Learn More About Search and Seizure and the Fourth Amendment from a Lawyer
The rules of search and seizure are notoriously complicated. You don’t have to stay confused though, and the complex rules mean that an expert can often find problems with searches, which can result in evidence being thrown out of court. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can review the search and seizure procedures used in the case against you to see if your Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

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