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Understanding Unlawful Search & Seizure

When law enforcement invades your privacy, it’s natural to feel violated and wonder who gives them the right to search or seize your property in the first place. Although law enforcement is granted a measure of power by the law to search or seize property, their rights to do so are guided by a specific set of rules. If certain circumstances were not present at the time of their search and seizure, it may be considered an unlawful or illegal search and seizure.

Fourth Amendment Rights

Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures carried out by federal or state law enforcement.

The Fourth Amendment protects the following from illegal search and seizure:

  • Your Person
  • Your House
  • Your Papers
  • Your Effects

However, the Fourth Amendment does permit reasonable searches and seizures. This means that if the police have probable cause that you have committed a crime and are able to obtain a warrant, or if certain circumstances justify a search without a warrant, you are not protected from a search.

Reasonable Suspicion

Things get a bit sticky when attempting to define reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion doesn’t require physical evidence to be present and can be a fairly ambiguous term. For example, an officer can’t pull you over and randomly search your car for having a broken taillight. However, if your car smells like marijuana, you may be subject to a search.

Probable Cause

On the other hand, probable cause is defined as a reasonable belief that a person will commit or has already committed a crime and this belief must be based on factual evidence.

The following may constitute probable cause:

  • Observation: For example, if an officer pulls you over and notices guns or drugs in your car, the officer has the right to search and seize.
  • Circumstantial Evidence: For example, if an officer notices you swerving on the road, he could pull you over to see if you are driving under the influence and search your car or administer a test.
  • Expertise: Some officers are specifically trained to recognize body language and gestures that are potential evidence of criminal activity. This can be very wrong, however.
  • Information: Testimony or statements from victims or bystanders can constitute probable cause.
  • Sensory: For example, if an officer smells alcohol on your breath or marijuana in your car, he or she has probable cause for a search.
  • Consent: If you agree to the search, the officers have full permission to investigate your person, house, papers, car, or other effects.

If a search violates the Fourth Amendment, many times, the evidence seized during the search is ruled unusable. In some cases, even secondary evidence stemming from the initial search is also ruled unusable. This is to deter officers from conducting unlawful search and seizures.

Subject to an Unlawful Search & Seizure? Call an Anchorage Criminal Defense Lawyer.

An Anchorage criminal defense attorney from Denali Law Group can fight for your rights and make sure that you are protected from the results of an unlawful search and seizure. With 75 years of combined experience, our firm is confident that we can help you through the problems you face.

Contact our firm today to learn more about your legal options.