The Constitution’s Bill of Rights is the foundation of our civil liberties as Americans. One of the key amendments included in the Bill of Rights is the Fourth, which states in part: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”
This means that each of us has the right to privacy in our homes, bodies and personal property. If a police officer wants to search your home, workplace, vehicle or body for evidence that you have committed a crime, they generally must get a search warrant first. Otherwise, they have committed an illegal search and seizure against you.
Exceptions to the rule
Since the Fourth Amendment became the law, courts have carved out several exceptions. For example, you can choose to consent to a warrantless search. Also, if an officer is in a place where they are allowed to be and notice evidence “in plain view,” such as the drugs sitting on the passenger seat of a car they have pulled over, they are allowed to seize it. And when an officer briefly stops and questions someone, they are allowed to pat down the person over their clothing.
But if the police search your property without a warrant and no exception applies, any evidence they seize would be “fruit of the poisonous tree.” This legal principle means that evidence seized during an illegal search generally cannot be used in a criminal trial. It provides consequences to police misconduct.
However, it will probably be up to you and your attorney to expose problems with the search to get some or all of the evidence tossed out. Discuss what happened to you with an experienced criminal defense attorney.