Search and Seizure Laws: What You Need to Know

Search and Seizure Laws: What You Need to Know

One thing Wyoming criminal defense lawyers frequently litigate is search and seizure law. Often the case involves a client who could have better protected their Fourth Amendment rights against unwarranted searches but didn’t, and the police now have evidence against them that they otherwise would not have. Or it may be that police obtained evidence in an illegal search and the defense attorney must fight to keep the evidence from being used against the client.

Either way, the situation can get messy, but while evidence gained illegally can be fought, there’s little that can be done about evidence acquired because a client allowed police to search their home or car. This happens all too often because people don’t realize what their rights are in regard to police searches and seizure of evidence and how to protect themselves under those rights.

Criminal Defense Strategies and Protecting Your Rights Against Search and Seizure

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids law enforcement agencies and officers from searching someone’s person, home, car, or personal property in which a person would expect to have privacy unless police have probable cause. This means that police must have evidence that more likely than not a crime is being committed in order to invade someone’s privacy and conduct a search. More likely than not is like saying there’s at least a 51% chance that crime is being committed.  So simply suspecting that a crime is being committed is not enough. They must have evidence. If police are asking to search your car or home or clothes (or insisting on it) but don’t have a warrant, then they probably don’t have evidence that a crime is being or has been committed and you should politely refuse their requests to search.

Here’s how this all works out from a practical perspective:

  • To conduct a legal search of a home or vehicle or your personal property, police must have one of the following:
    • A warrant issued by a judge before whom police have sworn that they have evidence suggesting a crime is being or has been committed; the warrant must be specific about where police can search.
    • Permission of the owner
    • Evidence that a crime is underway and immediate action is necessary to stop the crime. The law calls this “exigent circumstances.”  This can be something like a scream from someone who might be under attack inside a house or even the smell of marijuana in a car
    • Fourth Amendment protections apply only to places where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, which does not include anything plainly visible or anything done in public
    • Any time police have a right to be someplace and see evidence of a crime or contraband in plain sight, they can seize that evidence or contraband
    • Police are allowed to frisk anyone they stop on the street and search for evidence of a crime if they have Reasonable Suspicion that criminal activity is about to or has just occurred.  The police can also frisk anyone for weapons if they are lawfully contacting that person and that person presents a threat to their safety.  Both of these scenarios can lead to finding and seizing drugs or other contraband
    • If police stop you in your car and they find something on you or see something in plain sight in your car that suggests a crime is being committed – like a pipe in your shirt pocket or between the seats, they are allowed to remove you from your car, seize the pipe, and can continue to search the interior of your car for evidence related to that crime, including the glove box and any containers.  Or they may obtain a warrant or get your permission.
    • Police must have a warrant, or your permission to search the trunk of your car or any other locations not in plain sight or within reach of the driver.  They may also inventory the items in your car before towing it, which is simply another way of searching your personal property.
    • If police conduct a search without a warrant, or one of the exceptions to requiring a warrant such as exigent circumstances or a search incident to arrest, or without a person’s permission, any evidence gained in the search cannot be used against them in court or used to obtain a legal search warrant
    • Contraband, including drugs and drug paraphernalia, is best kept at home, which is the place most protected from police searches
    • The best response to any request from police to search a car or home is to politely refuse and then ask if you are free to leave. If they say yes, walk away immediately.  If they will not let you walk away, let them know you are simply exercising your constitutional rights and will not agree to any searches of your home or personal property. Make the police do their job by requiring them get a warrant. It is also important to ask for an attorney and then remain silent after you tell the police you will not agree to any searches.

Learning to protect your Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful searches is not important just for drug users and people engaged in criminal conduct. It is also essential for law-abiding citizens to avoid unwittingly incriminating themselves should police find, for example, contraband they didn’t know existed on their property. More than once an unsuspecting parent has let police search their premises, thinking they had nothing to hide, and wound up facing drug charges or other criminal charges when their child’s marijuana stash was found. Learn your rights and protect them.

Defend Your Fourth Amendment Rights with Help from Experienced Cody, WY Criminal Defense Lawyers

The Wyoming criminal defense attorneys at Stinson Law Group have extensive experience helping people charged with crimes defend their Fourth Amendment rights and keep illegally obtained evidence from being used against them. If you’ve been charged with a crime, Stinson Law Group can help you protect your rights and minimize the damage from your charges. In some cases we can even get charges dropped all together. Call the Cody, WY criminal defense lawyers at Stinson Law Group toll free today for a free consultation: (888) 527-6090.

Categories: Criminal Defense

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