Many arrests and subsequent prosecutions are based on evidence found as the result of a search and seizure by law enforcement officers. Although most searches and seizures are conducted lawfully, police officers do sometimes get over zealous and conduct and illegal search and seizure. In the United States, the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by requiring a law enforcement officer to obtain a warrant before conducting a search. The warrant requirement, however, is not as simple as it sounds. To help you recognize a potentially illegal search and seizure, a La Vergne drug crime attorney explains how the warrant requirement works.
The Fourth Amendment
The U.S. Constitution provides you with a number of important rights and privileges, including the right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures” found in the Fourth Amendment, which reads as follows:
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.
What Does the 4th Amendment Mean?
The 4th Amendment was included in the “Bill of Rights” (the first ten Amendments) because of the creators feared a government that could search at will, without any restraint. With that fear in mind, the 4th Amendment was intended to require a law enforcement officer to first obtain a warrant before being allowed to search your person or your property. The strength of the 4th Amendment warrant requirement has been watered down over the years; however, it does still exist as a protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
What Is a Warrant?
In the context of the 4th Amendment, a warrant is required before a search may be conducted. A warrant was originally required to be in writing; however, a police officer can now obtain one telephonically when time is of the essence. Typically, however, a warrant is requested through the use of a probable cause affidavit submitted by a police officer. The affidavit must provide sufficient information to create probable cause to conduct the requested search. Probable cause is a term that has been argued over for centuries. For purposes of discussing the warrant requirement, however, probable cause can be defined as a “reasonable belief that evidence of a crime will be found in the place to be searched.” The affidavit is then presented to a judge or magistrate who must be convinced that the information contained in the affidavit amounts to the requisite probable cause and that all other requirements for the issuance of a warrant are met. For example, the request must specifically state the place to be searched and the items to be seized. If the request is too broad, a judge will not sign the warrant. If the judge is satisfied that the requirements are met, he/she will sign the warrant. This gives the police the legal authority to conduct a search and seizure.
What If the Police Search without First Obtaining a Warrant?
Despite the 4th Amendment warrant requirement, searches and seizures are conducted all the time without a warrant. Some of these have been found by the courts to be exceptions to the warrant requirement. For example, a vehicle on a public roadway does not require a warrant to be searched. Likewise, the police can conduct a “pat down” search of your person without a warrant to check for weapons or contraband without a warrant. Your home remains covered under the warrant requirement, unless an exception applies. Exceptions to the warrant requirement for the search of a home include consent, plain view, incident to an arrest, and exigent circumstances. If, however, law enforcement officers conduct a warrantless search and seizure when an exception does not apply, or if there is a problem with the warrant obtained by the police, the search may be declared illegal by a judge. If that happens, the evidence seized during the search is generally inadmissible at trial.
Contact a La Vergne Drug Crime Attorney
If you believe you are the victim of an illegal search and seizure, consult with an experienced La Vergne drug crime attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.