What is an illegal search and seizure?

On Behalf of | Jul 15, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

Illegal search and seizure typically occurs when police enter or take someone’s property without a warrant. However, that doesn’t mean police always need a warrant to conduct these operations. This can make it difficult to know when they’re legal and when they’re not.

What needs to happen before police conduct search and seizures?

If police believe someone possesses something like illegal drugs or evidence connected to a criminal case, they usually must obtain a warrant before conducting a search. Police can get a warrant by submitting an affidavit to a judge under oath. For a judge to sign off on the warrant, police often must prove:

  • There is probable cause that a crime occurred
  • They expect to find evidence or contraband relating to that crime in the location they wish to search

Police must also describe the scope of their search in detail. If they can’t, a judge may not issue them a warrant.

When can police conduct search and seizures without a warrant?

There are numerous situations where police don’t need a warrant, such as:

  • The person consents to a search without a warrant
  • They conduct their search after lawfully arresting the person
  • They are dealing with an emergency situation
  • They legally impounded a person’s vehicle
  • The evidence they’re searching for is in plain view

At what point are police “conducting a search?”

If police find evidence or contraband during a search and the person claims that search was illegal, a judge will typically ask two questions to determine the legality of the search:

  1. Was the person expecting a degree of privacy when police were searching their car or home?
  2. Did the person have reasonable privacy expectations?

A person’s privacy expectations can play a significant role in the judge’s assessment. However, if the evidence is in plain view, a warrant may not be necessary to search and seize the person’s property. Or, a judge may view the person’s privacy standards as unreasonable.

Can illegal searches be enough to dismiss charges?

An illegal search typically doesn’t shield someone from prosecution. However, since illegally seized evidence can’t be used during a trial, it could lead to that person’s case getting dismissed. This isn’t always the case. There are exceptions, and even if a court finds that the police conducted their search illegally, the prosecution might still move forward.

Understanding what is and isn’t legal is crucial

While the 4th Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures, police still overstep their bounds at times and infringe on the rights of citizens. But by knowing when police can and can’t conduct searches without a warrant, people can realize when their rights are being violated