What Are The Search and Seizure Laws?

SQ Attorneys

The Fourth Amendment says people have the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. It also states that judges cannot issue a warrant unless probable cause exists. It is not enough that the officer had a reasonable suspicion that a crime had taken place. Law enforcement agents must respect the Fourth Amendment rights of the people and abide by search and seizure law.

This means that an officer can only search or seize a person or their property with a valid search warrant, a valid and lawful arrest warrant, or a belief rising to the level of probable cause that an individual has committed a crime. If the police seize evidence without meeting one of these conditions, the judge may deem it an illegal search and will exclude that evidence at trial. The law refers to this as the exclusionary rule.

If the police obtain evidence through an illegal search, the judge must exclude evidence gathered after the fact. The Supreme Court has held that any evidence that results as a by-product of an illegal police search constitutes “fruit of the poisonous tree.” In other words, law enforcement would not have the evidence had it not been for the unlawful search.

Imagine that the police stop somebody suspected of selling drugs on a local street corner. While conducting a stop and frisk of the suspect, the police searched their inside pockets and found several bags of heroin. They also find and collect the suspect’s cell phone. They arrest the suspect for drug possession. Back at the police station, they find texts on the cell phone confirming their suspicion that the suspect is a drug dealer.

If the court finds that the initial stop and frisk was unlawful, then the texts on the cell phone would not be admissible at trial.

Police must have probable cause to conduct a warrantless search. This is the same standard required for a judge to issue a warrant. Law enforcement must submit an affidavit spelling out why the judge should issue the warrant. If the judge believes probable cause exists, they can sign the warrant and authorize the search.

Law enforcement has probable cause for arrest when the facts and circumstances within the police officer’s knowledge would lead a reasonable person to believe that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. Probable cause must come from specific facts and circumstances, not a police officer’s hunch, feeling, or suspicion.

Probable cause exists when the officer knows specific facts and circumstances that provide a reasonable basis to believe that the suspect committed a crime at the place to be searched or that evidence of a crime exists at that location.

Probable cause to seize property exists when facts and circumstances known to the officer would lead a reasonable person to believe that the item is contraband, stolen, or constitutes evidence of a crime.

There are a number of circumstances in which an officer can conduct a search, make an arrest, or seize items without implicating the Fourth Amendment. These are exceptions to the rule and are sufficient to justify a warrantless search.

The police can conduct searches where necessary to ensure their safety and the safety of the public. They are also able to seize evidence in plain view of the police. For example, the police do not need a warrant or probable cause to seize a bag of drugs lying on the floor.

Police can also conduct a warrantless search in emergency situations. This is referred to as the exigent circumstances exception. An example would be while in pursuit of an armed fugitive. Police can also search an individual and the surrounding area when making an arrest.

Another situation where a police officer can conduct a warrantless search is when the suspect consents to the search. In fact, anyone in charge of a space, such as a roommate or spouse, can consent to the search. As long as the police believe that the person giving the consent has the apparent authority to do so, they do not need a warrant.

There are special rules when it comes to whether the police need a search warrant during a traffic stop. The regular rules and exceptions apply, such as the plain view exception to the warrant requirement. If the police pull a driver over for suspicion of DUI and see an open container in plain view, they can seize it without a search warrant.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge (theft or otherwise), 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. SQ Attorneys can be reached at (425) 359-3791 and/or (206) 441-0900.

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