Dallas Search and Seizure Lawyer: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
Although individuals within the U.S. are entitled to privacy and freedom from government intrusion, there is a limit to that privacy. Federal or state law enforcement officers are permitted, where justified, to search your premises, car, or some other assets in order to look for and seize unlawful items, stolen goods or evidence of a criminal offense. What rules must law enforcement follow when engaging in searches and seizures? What can they do in upholding the laws, and what can’t they do?
What police officers May Do:
- Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, law enforcement officials may engage in "reasonable" searches and seizures.
- To establish that a search is "reasonable," law enforcement need to generally demonstrate that it is more likely than not that a criminal offense has happened, and that in cases where a search is conducted it is probable that they will find either stolen goods or proof of the criminal offense. This is often designated probable cause.
- In a few situations, law enforcement need to first make this showing to a judge who issues a search warrant. Usually in most special circumstances, however, the authorities may be able to conduct a search without having a warrant. In fact, nearly all searches are "warrantless."
- Police may search and seize items or evidence when there’s no "legitimate expectation of privacy." In various other words, in the event you didn’t have a privacy interest in the items or evidence, the authorities can take them and, in effect, no "search" has transpired.
Note: In deciding whether or not there was a "legitimate expectation of privacy," a court will take into consideration two matters:
- Did you have an expectation of some degree of privacy?
- Was that expectation reasonable in our society’s view?
Example: You have a semi-automatic rifle that you had stolen from a pawn shop. You leave the firearm laying on the hood of your automobile when you get home. You don’t have a "legitimate expectation of privacy" with regard to items you leave on the hood of your automobile, and police officers may take the firearm. No search has transpired.
- Police may use first-hand info, or tips from an informant to justify the need to search your property. If an informant’s info is utilized, police officers need to establish that the information is reliable under the circumstances.
- Once a warrant is obtained, law enforcement may enter onto the specified area of the property and search for the items listed on the warrant.
- Police could very well extend the search beyond the specified area of the property or include some other items in the search beyond those specified or listed within the warrant if it is required to:
- Ensure their safety or the safety of others;
- Prevent the destruction of evidence;
- Discover more about possible evidence or stolen items that are in plain view; or
- Hunt for evidence or stolen items that, primarily based upon their preliminary search of the specified area, they believe may be in a different location on the property.
Example: Police officers have a warrant to search your basement for evidence of a drug manufacturing operation. On their way through your property to go down to the basement, they see a cache of firearms sitting on your kitchen table. Some might take the guns to guarantee their safety while searching your basement.
- Police may search your property without having a warrant in the event you consent to the search. Consent has to be freely and voluntarily given, and you can never be coerced or tricked into giving it.
- Police may search your person and the immediate surroundings without the need of a warrant when they are placing you under criminal arrest.
- If an individual is arrested in a home, law enforcement officials may make a "protective sweep" of the home in order to make a "cursory visual inspection" of places where an accomplice may be hiding. In order to do this, police officers must have a reasonable belief that an accomplice may be around.
Example: Police officers arrest you inside your living room on criminal charges of murder. Some may open the door of your coat closet to make certain that nobody else is hiding there, but may not open your medicine cabinet mainly because an accomplice couldn’t hide there.
- When you are being taken to jail, law enforcement may perform an "inventory search" of items you have with you without the need of a warrant. This search may include your vehicle if it is being held by the authorities in order to make a list of all items inside.
- Police may search without having a warrant should they reasonably fear for their safety or for the public’s safety.
Example: If police officers drive past your home on a regular patrol of the neighborhood and see you, inside your open garage, with ten cases of dynamite and a blowtorch, they can search your garage without having a warrant.
- If it’s required to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence, the authorities may search without any a warrant.
Example: If police officers see you trying to burn a stack of cash that you stole from a bank, they can perform a search without having a warrant to stop you from further destroying the cash.
- Perform a search, without having a warrant, when they are in "hot pursuit" of a suspect who enters a private dwelling or area subsequent to fleeing the scene of a criminal offense.
Example: If police officers are chasing you from the scene of a murder, and you run into your apartment in an effort to get away from them, they could follow you into the apartment and search the area without any a warrant.
- Police may perform a pat-down of your outer clothing, in what is designated a "stop and frisk" situation, as long as they reasonably believe that you may be concealing a firearm and they fear for their safety.
What police officers May NOT Do:
- The law enforcement officials may not perform a warrantless search anywhere you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, unless one of the warrant exceptions applies.
- If evidence was acquired via an unreasonable or unlawful search, police officers may not use it against you in a trial. This is often designated the "exclusionary rule."
- The law enforcement officials may not use evidence resulting from an unlawful search to obtain various other evidence.
- The law enforcement officials may not submit an affidavit in support of obtaining a search warrant if they didn’t have a reasonable belief in the truth of the statements within the affidavit.
- Unless there is a reasonable suspicion that it contains evidence, unlawful items, or stolen goods, the authorities may not search your automobile. If your automobile has been seized by police officers, however, they can search it.
- Unless they have a reasonable suspicion that you are involved in a criminal activity, police officers may not "stop and frisk" you. Should they have a reasonable suspicion, they can pat down your outer clothing if they have concerns that you could be concealing a firearm.
Dallas Search & Seizure Defense: Hire the Leading Dallas Lawyer
Courts quite often need to determine case-by-case whether or not the circumstances in which police officers searched without a warrant had been legal. As a result, any time a search has already happened and you aren’t sure of its legality, get in touch with Dallas Lawyer Charles Johnson as soon as possible. And if the search has not yet been conducted, make sure that you understand your legal rights in advance.