What Is Considered Unlawful Search and Seizure?

Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, citizens are protected against unreasonable government intrusion into their homes, property, and businesses, particularly in regards to police stops, arrests, and searches. With that being said, these rights are not absolute. Law enforcement are granted the authority to conduct searches of our homes, vehicles, and other property as a means of detecting and seizing illegal items, stolen goods, or evidence of criminal activity. But what limitations must police follow, and when are searches illegal?

The Fourth Amendment protects you against the following types of unlawful search and seizure:

  1. Searches conducted in areas where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy: Unless the police have a search warrant issued by a judge, they are prohibited from searching any area where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This can include your person, luggage, purse, vehicle, hotel room, home, or place of business.
  2. Use illegally-obtained evidence against you: Any evidence that is obtained in an illegal manner is inadmissible in court and may not be used to your detriment. Likewise, illegally obtained evidence cannot be used as a reason to justify further searches.
  3. Searches of your vehicle: If you are stopped by police, they may not search your vehicle without a warrant unless they have reasonable suspicion that your vehicle contains some sort of evidence of a crime or illegal contraband. It is important to note, however, that the police can search your vehicle if it has been seized.

As previously stated, these protections are not universal. Law enforcement officials are permitted to conduct searches in certain scenarios and in specific ways.

The police are justified to do the following in regards to searches:

  1. Perform reasonable searches: The police may conduct a search without a warrant if they have a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed a crime, known as “probable cause.”
  2. Search when there is no reasonable expectation of privacy: Law enforcement may conduct warrantless searches if a person has no privacy interest in the items or evidence. For example, if a person leaves a small bag of marijuana in plain view on the hood of their car, the police may seize it without question.
  3. Use informant information: Searches may be justified with firsthand intelligence or reasonably reliable information obtained from an informant.
  4. Search beyond a warrant’s limitations: Police may search beyond the bounds of a warrant if it is deemed necessary to protect the lives of others, to prevent the destruction of evidence, to investigate further evidence seen in plain sight, or to search for further evidence which the police believe to be located nearby based on their initial findings.
  5. Search with your consent: The police may perform any search without a warrant if you give them your express permission or voluntarily invite them into your home or business.

Arrested? Contact a Fort Collins Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you have been arrested for a crime after the police conducted a search of your property, you may be able to have your case dismissed if it can be proven that the police illegally acted in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. At Rachel A. Michael, LLC, our Fort Collins criminal defense attorney can examine the circumstances surrounding your arrest and provide the aggressive representation you need to ensure your rights are protected. To find out more about how our firm can assist you, call us today at (970) 616-6668.