Unwarranted Search and Seizure

Set out in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, protection from unwarranted searches and seizure of personal property is a right of every citizen. The Fourth Amendment was drafted to protect the privacy of private citizens and prevent government officials from overstepping their boundaries. The law distinguishes between “reasonable” search or seizure of property, which is allowed, and “unreasonable” searches and seizures, which are not permissible by law.

Our experienced civil rights lawyers at Williams Cedar are dedicated to protecting the rights of individuals. With our extensive knowledge of civil rights law, we fight for victims of police misconduct, including illegal searches and seizure of property.

The Fourth Amendment and Privacy

The Fourth Amendment offers protection from search and seizure provided the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her given circumstances. An expectation of privacy, one that others would identify as such, must be established or the Fourth Amendment does not apply to the search. As an example, a public restroom is somewhere that everyone regards as a private space. Therefore, installation of hidden police cameras there to record activity would not be reasonable. Conversely, bank and retail patrons should expect the use of surveillance cameras in common areas.

Probable Cause and Search Warrants

A government agent or law enforcement officer may invade a citizen’s privacy to search their home or person, property, documents, trash, or any other personal belongings only if he or she can show probable cause. In other words, the law enforcement officer must have a reason to believe the search will produce evidence of a crime. In some cases, a judge must issue the officer a warrant prior to the search. In other cases, the officer may argue that no warrant is needed because the circumstances justify an immediate search.

A warrant be must properly issued and reasonably executed. It must name the specific individual, place and items being searched. The officials stating the reasons for probable cause must give the specific reasons under sworn oath or affidavit. The search is limited to the items and places listed on the warrant. For example, if the warrant gives permission to search the garage and the law enforcement officers also search the house, that search of the house is illegal. Any evidence collected in the illegal search may not be used as direct evidence against a defendant. This is known as the exclusionary rule. Additionally, evidence obtained because of the initial evidence discovered in an illegal search is also inadmissible in court. This principle is referred to as the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. However, just because a search is determined to be illegal does not mean a case will be dismissed.

Know Your Rights

Consented Searches

It is important to be aware that if a law enforcement officer comes to your home and asks to enter, your permission of entrance could be construed as a consent to any search and seizure. This concept also applies to your person or vehicle if you are stopped. After consenting to a search, you cannot later challenge the legality of any search and seizure. Law enforcement also has no legal obligation to inform you of your right to refuse. They may persist in asking until the person finally consents. Consent may only be given voluntarily and not under duress or as a result of coercion.

Traffic Stops

In order to conduct a search at a traffic stop, a police officer must have probable cause. Probable cause is subject to legal interpretation and an experienced Philadelphia civil rights lawyer can determine if probable cause existed in a specific case. Some courts have found the highly controversial police practice of “stop and frisk” is not unconstitutional, but even when it is permitted, it must be carried out in a reasonable, justifiable manner. Using racial profiling in conjunction with stop and frisk practices is a form of discrimination and is against the law.

Philadelphia Civil Rights Lawyers at Williams Cedar Protect Citizens From Unwarranted Search and Seizure

Be aware of your rights when it comes to police conduct and searches. If you or someone you know has been subjected to illegal search and seizure, the skilled Philadelphia civil rights lawyers at Williams Cedar can provide you with excellent representation to protect your rights under the law. Contact us online or call us at 215-557-0099 to schedule a free consultation about your case. We have offices in Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, New Jersey to serve clients nationwide.