The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. If a search or seizure violates the Fourth Amendment, it is illegal. That may mean that the government can not use any evidence collected during the search or seizure against you in court. An unlawful search and seizure could even result in your case being dismissed. Whether or not a search or seizure is unreasonable in Dallas, TX is a very complicated question.
What is a Search?
A search occurs when a government officer invades a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Examples of spaces where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy include: your body, your home, and your car.
What is a Seizure?
A seizure of a person occurs when a police officer uses their authority and the person submits to the authority. Generally, if you believe you are being held by a police officer and are not free to go, a seizure has occurred.
A seizure of property occurs when a government officer takes of possession of your property.
If You Consent, It Is Not An Unreasonable Search and Seizure
If you voluntarily allow police officers into your home, your car, or other private areas, you have consented to the search. Police officers may then legally conduct a search, and any property seized during the search can be used as evidence against you. In general, your roommate, spouse, or anyone who shares access to the property being searched can consent on your behalf.
You have a right not to consent to a search. Police officers have no duty to remind you of your right to refuse consent. If the police ask to come inside your home or search the trunk of your car, you can calmly state, “I do not consent to this search.” Do not engage in any physical confrontation with the police officer. It is important to understand that refusing a search is not an admission of guilt.
If you are not being detained, you have the right to ask the officer if you are free to go. If you are being detained, you can exercise your Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights and tell the officer you would like to remain silent and speak with an attorney.
In general, officers need a warrant to search the body or property of a suspect. A warrant will only be signed by a judge or magistrate if there is “probable cause” to invade a person’s privacy. An officer has probable cause if they have some tangible evidence that the suspect has been involved in criminal activity. Examples of evidence showing probable cause include:
- The officer observes you engage in suspicious behavior, such as talking with known criminals;
- The officer has a signed affidavit of a person swearing that they saw you engage in criminal activity; or
- The officer sees illegal drugs in plain sight.
If an officer suspects or has a hunch that you are involved in a crime but does not have tangible proof, the judge or magistrate should not sign the warrant. A search and seizure is not automatically legal if the officer had a warrant. A defendant could still challenge the search and seizure.
When Do Officers Not Need a Warrant?
In general, if the police conduct a search without a proper warrant, any evidence recovered may be deemed inadmissible in court. However, the law in Dallas, and the entire United States, recognizes that there are certain instances where it is not possible to go into court and get a warrant before performing a search or seizure. Some examples of times when a police officer does not need a warrant include when:
- The officer is in hot pursuit of a suspect;
- The officer suspects the witness is trying to conceal or destroy evidence;
- The life of another person is in immediate jeopardy;
- The officer is checking a suspect for guns or contraband while putting them under arrest;
- Sobriety checkpoints; or
- Evidence of the crime is in plain view of the officer.
When Can An Officer Search My Vehicle?
Generally, a police officer needs a warrant to search your car, but there are exceptions to this rule. A car may be searched without a warrant if:
- The individual gave consent;
- There is specific evidence the car was used in a crime;
- The officer believes a search is necessary for his safety;
- The officer sees beer bottles on the ground or smells marijuana; or
- The car has been towed and impounded after an arrest.
If you are pulled over for a minor traffic offense like blowing through a stop sign, speeding, or a broken taillight, a police officer cannot search your car. Of course, if after they pull you over for a traffic offense, they smell alcohol or see evidence of illegal drugs, they can conduct a search.
What to Do If You Believe You Are a Victim to An Illegal Search and Seizure in Dallas, TX
If you or a loved one believe that you have been the victim of an illegal search and seizure, you should contact the Law Offices of Philip D. Ray. Philip D. Ray is an experienced Dallas, Texas criminal defense attorney who can determine whether or not you were subjected to an illegal search or seizure. The answer to this question can have huge ramifications for your case.
Sometimes, an illegal search and seizure can cause evidence to be excluded from court, or it could even result in your whole case being dismissed. Call the Law Offices of Philip D. Ray at (469) 588-6770.