Posted on June 29, 2016

Unreasonable Search & Seizure Explained

Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, all persons are to be free from unreasonable government searches and seizures. Therefore, unless you freely give consent, law enforcement must be armed with either reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause. When attorney’s analyze Fourth Amendment issues, they generally look at two things: 1) was your initial detention lawful?; and 2) was the search of your person, vehicle, or home reasonable?

Briefly, “reasonable suspicion” means that a police officer reasonably believes based on articulable facts that criminal activity is afoot. Notice that a police need not know that a crime is being committed, but only that they “reasonably believe” that a crime is being committed. If so, they are permitted to detain you for a reasonable time for investigative purposes. A common detention is a simple traffic stop. If you run a red light or were speeding, an infraction offense is a crime thus permitting the officer to detain you.

Probable cause on the other hand is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion. Probable cause is generally defined when a police officer has knowledge of “…apparent facts that would lead a reasonably intelligent and prudent person to believe that an accused person has committed a crime.” If the police officer is armed with probable cause, the law allows them to place you under arrest.

Contrary to popular belief, police officers do not need a warrant to search your vehicle or person. However, any search into your home requires a warrant unless you give consent or there’s an ongoing emergency requiring police officers to take swift action – e.g., destroying evidence or someone inside may suffer injury or death.

If the physical evidence obtained against you was in violation of your Fourth Amendment right, your lawyer will file a motion to suppress the evidence. A hearing will be held where the judge will determine whether police legally acted within their permissible scope. If the judge determines the police violated your right(s), the judge will order the physical evidence against you inadmissible. In most cases, the government will then motion to dismiss the case.

For more information about your search & seizure rights, contact Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer John Rogers.

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