The underlying legal principles that govern the United States are those outlined in the Constitution. The Constitution guarantees us certain legal protections from government interference, like free speech and privacy rights. But what do these protections mean in practice, and how do they apply in every day interactions between US citizens and state actors? Constitutional questions come up every day, especially in the context of unreasonable searches and seizures. Whether or not a warrantless search and seizure is a Constitutional violation is a fact specific investigation that depends on the circumstances at hand.
The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures by a government actor or entity. To trigger these protections there must be a state action that qualifies as an unreasonable search or seizure, so we must give meaning to these terms in order to apply them. In this context, a search means a government violation of a reasonable expectation of privacy. A seizure occurs when a state actor intentionally prohibits someone’s freedom of movement, either by physical or other show of force.
Generally, when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy a government agent needs a warrant in order to conduct a constitutionally valid search. Warrants may only be issued when they are based on probable cause, which is more than just a suspicion or belief.
Although there is a general warrant requirement, law enforcement can conduct warrantless searches in a variety of circumstances. Those include:
- Exigent Circumstances – Officers do not need a warrant if they conduct a search while in hot pursuit of a suspect or if the suspect poses an immediate danger.
- Incident to an arrest – As long as an arrest is made locally, the police officer may search the arrestee and the area within his or her immediate reach for evidence of the underlying crime and potential safety threats.
- Consent – Law enforcement may conduct a search of you or your property if they ask for your permission and you give it. You can always refuse to consent to a search, but police officers are not required to notify you of your right to refuse. It’s important to understand that if someone else with apparent authority gives an officer permission to search your home or property, this will count as legally valid consent. For example, if you were not home and a guest staying at your house answered the door and gave questioning police officers the right to enter and search, his or her consent would be valid.
- Plain View – If police officers are legally on your property and contraband in plain view, they may seize it and use it as evidence against you.
Although there are many exceptions to warrant requirements, police officers push the boundaries of valid search and seizures every day. People are inherently afraid of law enforcement, and the ins and outs of our rights and obligations under the law are not always black and white even to legal professionals. Law enforcement officers sometimes take advantage of people’s deference to authority and limited knowledge of their legal rights.
Police officers may cut corners and perform illegal searches for a number of reasons both intentional and unintentional.
Regardless of the motive, if evidence was collected against you during an illegal search and seizure, you need the help of an experienced Michigan criminal defense lawyer. Your lawyer will fight to protect your constitutional rights and work to have all illegally seized evidence excluded. Call Davis Law Group PLLC for a free consultation today at (313) 818-3238.