I Was Subject to an Unlawful Search. Will My Case Be Dismissed?
Under the Fourth Amendment, you can’t be subject to unlawful searches by law enforcement officials. Generally, if the police want to go through your person or belongings because they believe they’ll find evidence of a crime, they must obtain a warrant before doing so.
With some exceptions, a search conducted without a warrant is considered a violation of your constitutional rights. When this happens, you and your criminal defense attorney can move to have certain pieces of evidence excluded from your case.
When evidence is deemed inadmissible, the prosecutor cannot present it before a judge or jury. And while this could weaken their arguments, that does not necessarily mean that your criminal case will be dismissed. The prosecutor might use other evidence to attempt to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and move forward.
What Is Your Fourth Amendment Right?
The Fourth Amendment provides that all people have the right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects.” Essentially, you have the right to privacy, and the government cannot unreasonably intrude upon your freedoms. Any efforts to overcome this protection must be reasonable.
For the most part, if law enforcement officials obtain a warrant from a judge, searches they conduct may be considered lawful. A search warrant is an order from the court allowing officers to look through a person’s property. To obtain a warrant, officers must establish probable cause that the premises they intend to search may contain evidence connected to a crime.
A valid search warrant will specify:
- Who is to be searched
- Where the search is to be conducted
- What items might be seized
In some situations, a search conducted without a warrant is considered a violation of a person’s constitutional rights. However, some exceptions exist where a warrantless search might be considered reasonable.
You can be subject to a warrantless search if:
- You gave your consent
- The search was incident to an arrest
- The object was in plain view
- Exigent circumstances existed
- The search was of your vehicle
What Happens If My Fourth Amendment Rights Were Violated?
A search may be considered unlawful if police examined your home, person, or belongings without probable cause or a warrant and no exceptions to the warrant requirement existed. It might also be unreasonable if it was not consistent with the orders of the warrant. For example, if officials are only authorized to search your bedroom for firearms, they should not go through other rooms in your home. That said, police officers may be able to widen the scope of their search for various reasons, such as protecting their safety.
A violation of your Fourth Amendment protections can significantly affect your criminal case. If an unlawful search occurred, you and your attorney could submit a motion to suppress evidence. If the court grants this request, evidence obtained may be deemed inadmissible. When evidence is excluded from a case, the prosecutor cannot present it before a judge or jury to support their arguments.
The prosecutor attempts to prove that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. To do this, they provide various types of evidence to back their claims. Thus, if a judge finds that law enforcement officials obtained something illegally and the prosecutor cannot use it, the case against the defendant can be weakened. They may have a more challenging time trying to erase doubt from the minds of the judge or jury.
Absent certain pieces of evidence, the prosecutor’s arguments might lack strength, and they might decide that they don’t have enough to meet their burden of proof. In that situation, they might dismiss the case.
However, that’s not necessarily how things will play out. The evidence the judge deemed inadmissible may be only a portion of what the prosecutor has planned to use.
The prosecutor might rely on other pieces of evidence, such as:
- Witness testimony,
- Written statements,
- Audio or video recordings,
- Photographs, or
- Physical objects.
Therefore, even though you were subject to an unlawful search, the prosecutor might still move forward with your case.
Get Help from a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney
The rules of evidence are complicated. Without a firm understanding of them, defendants in criminal cases might not be aware that something the prosecutor presents in their case could have been excluded, weakening the opposition’s arguments.
If you have been charged with a crime, allow our Santa Rosa lawyer to provide the legal representation you need. We’ll review the details of your case and file appropriate motions to remedy any miscarriages of the law. Additionally, we’ll carefully analyze the prosecutor’s evidence to determine courses of action we can take to counter the allegations against you.
Get started with a free consultation by calling the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. at (707) 418-5352 or contacting us online.