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What is Considered an Unlawful Search & Seizure?

cop car - no unlawful search and seizure

Our criminal laws are created to penalize individuals for what our society has agreed to be unacceptable conduct. While we bestow the power of enforcing these laws to our government and various public law enforcement agencies, we do not allow the government to indiscriminately violate individual rights and freedoms when doing so. As such, all Americans have rights that protect them from the government’s unreasonable intrusion into their private lives. This includes the right to be free from unlawful search and seizure.

Unlawful Search and Seizure Definition

Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you are protected against unlawful search and seizure. This means that the government needs to have a justifiable reason to search you and your property, and to make an arrest. Under laws that establish protocol to comply with standards and civil rights, there are various situations where searches and seizures can be considered unlawful:

  • No search warrant – If law enforcement officers conduct a search of your person or your property without a warrant, it is possible they violated your rights. However, it depends on the facts and circumstances to know if a warrantless search truly constitutes an unlawful search and seizure. This is because there are situations in which police do have the right to conduct warrantless searches. For example, police may search you or your property without a warrant is they have justification for doing so, such as when they have reasonable suspicion to suspect you are connected to a crime. Warrantless searchers may also be conducted at secured facilities like airports or military bases. In some situations, such as when you are detained during a DUI or traffic stop, officers may conduct a limited search of your vehicle for their own safety. Still, officers without a warrant cannot just search you or your property without cause, and an attorney can help you better understand if a warrantless search was lawful given the unique facts of your case.
  • No probable cause – If law enforcement officers do not have a warrant to search you or your property, then they need to have probable cause, or the reasonable belief that you may be connected to a crime. Probable cause can vary from situation to situation, but it is critical to defining whether a search and seizure can be considered lawful. For example, if an officer pulls over a motorist and does not notice any signs of impairment or a smell of alcohol and continues to search them and their vehicle as part of a DUI stop, or has them provide a breath sample and makes an arrest, they have conducted an unlawful search and seizure. This is because they did not have probable cause or justification to believe the motorist was under the influence.
  • No consent – When law enforcement has neither a search warrant nor probable cause, their only option for conducting a search of your person or property is if you give them consent. You have the right to refuse a search when there is no warrant or probable cause, and you should always do so. If a law enforcement decides to conduct a search and seize property or make an arrest anyway, they are executing an unlawful search and seizure.

Your right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures acts a check on the government’s power. When they violate your rights, any evidence obtained during an unlawful search will not be admissible in a criminal case. Because this can result in key evidence be thrown out, prosecutors often have an exceedingly difficult time proving their narrative, and cases are commonly dismissed. Our legal team at Scott H. Palmer, P.C. explores the facts and circumstances surrounding every arrest to ensure law enforcement adhered to all rules and protocol when making stops, conducting searches, and making arrests. It is just one part of our comprehensive focus on securing the best possible outcomes for our clients.

To discuss a potential case and learn how our Addison criminal defense lawyers can help you, call (214) 891-3382 for a consultation.

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