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When is a Search and Seizure Illegal?

Anytime an individual has an encounter with law enforcement, he or she will likely feel incredibly intimidated and frightened by the situation, regardless if he or she did nothing wrong, especially if this is a first-time occurrence. It is crucial for every American citizen to understand his or her rights and to not allow those rights to be trampled upon. When it comes to search and seizures, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects personal privacy and every citizen’s right to be free from any unreasonable government intrusion into their persons, homes, businesses, and property, no matter where they are stopped.

However, under certain limited circumstances, the courts allow law enforcement officers to interfere with these rights. Read on to learn how the Fourth Amendment protects you and when it permits the police to interfere with these rights.

How the Fourth Amendment Protects You

Search and seizure protections cover:

A police officer’s physical apprehension or seizure of an individual, whether it is a stop or an arrest;

Police searches of places or items to which a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy, including his or her person, clothing, purse, vehicle, luggage, house, apartment, hotel room, or place of business, to name a few.

The Fourth Amendment essentially safeguards individuals during searches or detentions, preventing the unlawful seizure of items that would be used as evidence in criminal cases. The degree of protection afforded individuals depends on a variety of factors, including the nature of the detention or arrest, characteristics of the place to be searched, and the circumstances under which the search takes place.

Applying the Fourth Amendment

Below are some examples in which the Fourth Amendment provides constitutional protection to individuals:

Someone is stopped for questioning while walking down the street.

Someone is pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, and the law enforcement officer searches the vehicle’s trunk.

An individual is arrested.

Law enforcement officers enter a person’s home to place him or her under arrest.

Law enforcement officers enter a person’s home to search for evidence of a crime.

Law enforcement officers enter a place of business in search of evidence of a crime.

Law enforcement officers confiscate a person’s vehicle or personal property, placing it under police control.

Under these circumstances, a police officer generally cannot search or seize a person or his or her property unless that officer has one of the following:

A valid search warrant

A valid arrest warrant

Probable cause, or reason to believe the person in question committed a crime

When Your Fourth Amendment Rights Are Violated

If a law enforcement officer violates a person’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment, and the search or seizure is considered illegal or unlawful, any evidence that was obtained from it will almost certainly be thrown out of any criminal case against the individual whose rights were violated. Examples of this include:

An arrest was made that violated the Fourth Amendment because it was neither supported by probable cause nor was there a valid search warrant. In this case, evidence acquired from this search, including a confession, will be kept out of the case.

Law enforcement searched a home in violation of the homeowner’s Fourth Amendment rights. A search warrant was not issued and there no special circumstances or probable cause to justify the search. All evidence obtained as a result of this illegal search cannot be used in court against the homeowner in a criminal case.

When Are Search Warrants Not Required

There are limited circumstances in which law enforcement officers might be able to perform a search and seizure without a warrant. These are examples in which search warrants are not required:

Consent Was Given: If law enforcement officers show up at your home, ask if they can come inside to perform a search, and you consent to the search, there is no need for them to have a warrant.

Emergency: If there is an emergency situation, law enforcement officers might not need a search warrant. For example, if law enforcement officers are in pursuit of an armed suspect who disappeared into a small neighborhood, they might not need a search warrant to search the homes in the area since the residents are all at risk.

Searches Incident to Arrest: If an individual was arrested by law enforcement officers, those officers are able to conduct a search of the person and his or her immediate surroundings for weapons that might pose a danger to others.

Plain View: If evidence is in plain view where law enforcement officers are legally authorized to be present, they do not need a search warrant to seize it.

Criminal Defense Attorney in Chicago

If you were recently arrested and are facing criminal charges that you believe are based on an illegal search or seizure, you will need a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. At the Law Office of Steven Fine, our Chicago criminal defense team is ready to come to your aid at any time to provide the thorough and aggressive legal representation you need to protect your rights and future.

Contact our office today at (312) 436-0638 to get the 24/7 help you need!