Overview of Search and Seizure Laws

It is the end of the year, and the start of a new decade. Let us review the laws pertaining to search and seizure. Whenever law enforcement is engaging in a search and seizure, there are a number of rules, and exceptions, that apply to minimize the risk of an illegal search and seizure. These rules are derived directly from the U.S. Constitution, specifically the Fourth Amendment, as well as court opinions. Because of the broad range of rules that can apply to searches and seizures, a number of questions can often arise.

For example, the first question that may come to mind is: at what point are police considered “searching” during an investigation? In general, a court will ask the following two questions to determine whether a police investigation turned into a search: 1) Is the person whose home or property were being investigated/searched expected a degree of privacy? 2) Is that expectation of privacy reasonable? For an investigation to turn into a search, a court must conclude that the investigation impinged or intruded upon a person’s “legitimate expectation of privacy.” This is found when the answers to the above two questions are yes. If either question can be answered in the negative, meaning that the person being search either did not have something to keep private, or if the expectation of privacy was not reasonable, then there was no “search” for purposes of the Fourth Amendment.

Another question that often arises is regarding ones own property and their right to privacy. Property that is within your house or on your property is generally considered to be private. If the police have to enter onto your property in order to get a look at evidence that they wish to use in court, they generally need a search warrant to do so. However, there are certain situations, like stopping suspects from destroying evidence, in which police can search and seize your property in your home without a warrant. This is because the situation itself demands prompt action by the police.

So, now that we have the general rule, what does this mean for you? In most situations, law enforcement officers are allowed to take photographs from the air above your home, or can eavesdrop on your conversations in order to get enough information to get a warrant. When listening to conversations, however, police cannot use hi-tech equipment in either of these circumstances without rendering the eavesdropping an illegal search and seizure.

Generally speaking, the more sophisticated the listening or photography equipment, the more likely it will be that the police will be required to obtain a warrant before conducting their search. If you consent to an officer searching your home, however, you waive any right to challenge a warrantless search later on if evidence is discovered. Additionally, if an officer is on your property for a legitimate reason (perhaps pursuing a felon), any contraband that is in plain sight of the officer is fair game to be seized, even without a search warrant.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Leave a reply