Illegal Search and Seizure

Los Angeles Illegal Search & Seizure Lawyers 

Fourth Amendment Attorneys Who Will Protect Your Rights

Defendants have rights in the United States legal system and one of the most important rights is protection against illegal search and seizure. This means the authorities must follow legal guidelines in gathering evidence to use against someone. It’s the job of the defense lawyer to ensure that police did indeed follow proper protocol and to fight zealously to ensure their clients’ rights have been respected. 

These are rights that come straight from the Bill of Rights. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly states:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things.”

Within this simple paragraph written in the late 18th century lie several wide-ranging implications that remain a vital part of search and seizure defense strategies used in our technologically advanced world of today. The first implication is that of probable cause. 

A Los Angeles illegal search and seizure attorney from our office will fight to protect your constitutional rights. Call us at (818) 918-5838 or contact us online today.

What Is Probable Cause?

Let’s consider an example where a defendant is being charged with mail fraud. The telltale evidence is on a home computer. The police come in with a warrant and as a part of the search, go through the computer and find the evidence. The defendant is guilty. It’s an open and shut case, right? Maybe. But a few more questions have to be asked .

The first question to ask is why the police sought the search warrant in the first place. To secure the warrant, a police officer would have needed to provide a sworn affidavit to a judge asserting the officer’s belief that the relevant evidence would turn up in the search. Furthermore, that belief must be at least reasonably backed up by supporting facts. 

In other words, a search cannot just “get lucky”. If legitimate probable cause did not exist, then the entire basis for the warrant is undermined. And the defendant was the victim of an illegal search and seizure. 

Search Warrants Must Be Specific

The language in the Fourth Amendment says that warrants must be “particularly describing” of what is to be searched. That translates into authorizations for police officers that are very specific. 

Let’s return to our example of the mail fraud defendant who had evidence on their computer. Did the police officer have a specific warrant to search the computer? Or if a home is being searched on the basis of a probable cause belief that illegal drugs are being sold, does each room of the house have to be spelled out in the warrant? 

The answer to that question divides two ways. In the example of illegal drugs, an office is not required to get every home in the house included in the warrant. If the search goes beyond the house and into a vehicle or a nearby garage, there may be some gray area, but courts generally accept that warrants to search a house will cover each room in the house. 

Computers are different. If the evidence of mail fraud has been printed out and is sitting on a desk next to the computer, then it’s legitimate evidence. But logging into the computer and going through it requires specific language in the warrant authorizing the search. Which of course requires a probable cause belief that the necessary evidence is indeed on that computer 

Exceptions to the Need for Search Warrants 

Police officers do have some leeway in what might be called common-sense exceptions to the need for a search warrant. A prominent example is the “in plain sight” exception. An extreme example will illustrate the point–a heroin ring decides to set up shop on their front law to cut up the illegal product and sell it. 

Does a police officer really need to get a warrant to go arrest them? No. The reason is that the activity does not carry with it a legitimate expectation of privacy. For the expectation of privacy to be valid it must be one that an ordinary person would consider reasonable. 

People have an expectation of privacy for what’s on their computer, even from people they invite into the house. They don’t have an expectation for what’s out there in plain sight. 

The plain-sight exception also applies on an arrest. A defendant was pulled over for speeding. An incriminating piece of evidence is on one of the car seats. It’s in plain sight and a police officer is likely on solid ground in taking it. But what if the same piece of evidence is in the trunk of the car? Now, the officer will probably need a specific warrant to search because the driver of a car has the reasonable expectation of privacy for what’s there. 

The workplace is not an exception to the Fourth Amendment, but it is applied differently. Let’s say a defendant was using their work computer to commit securities fraud. The police come and ask for the owner of the business for permission to search all the computers. The permission is granted, which eliminates the need for a search warrant. It is not  necessary that authorities get permission from each and every employee, because it's the company that owns the workstations. 

Finally, a police officer is not obligated to get a search warrant if the public safety is in danger or if evidence is in danger of being destroyed. Consider an example of an investigation into a ring making fake passports for criminals. The officer knocks on the door, asks a few questions and decides to return with a search warrant. At which point, the officer hears a paper shredder. It’s a good chance the fake passports will be gone by the time the warrant is granted. The officer can enter the home and prevent the shredding. 

Other examples include being able to chase a defendant into their home if that defendant was seen pulling a weapon on someone and that took off when the sirens arrived. The police officer can continue the chase into the defendant’s home under the hot pursuit exception. 

What these exceptions show is how reasonable the search and seizure requirements placed on the authorities are. It’s why defense attorneys have a responsibility to both their client and to society as a whole to make sure those requirements are followed in all cases. And it’s why the consequences of an illegal search and seizure are so severe for the prosecution. 

When authorities overstep, a Los Angeles illegal search and seizure attorney from our office can be there to hold them accountable. Call us at (818) 918-5838 today.

What Happens With an Illegal Search & Seizure?

When a defense lawyer demonstrates that a search was illegal, the evidence obtained from it is now illegal and cannot be shown to the jury. That smoking-gun evidence on mail fraud that was on the computer? If it was obtained illegally, the jury will never see it. It doesn’t mean the defendant is free and clear, but the prosecution can only present legally obtained evidence to a jury. 

Furthermore, let’s say that this illegal computer search also revealed an accomplice in the mail fraud. That led to a search of the accomplice’s computer, which uncovered an even bigger fraud ring .Even if that second search was done legally, the evidence still  has to be thrown out. Why? Because it was only through an illegal search that the authorities had probable cause. 

Defendants have rights and their lawyers must fight for those rights. An illegal search and seizure lawyer needs to have both a scholarly understanding of the law, and real tenacious fighting spirit that will demand the prosecution meet its burdens of proof only through means that are legitimate and constitutional. 

If you’re facing criminal charges, don’t hesitate to contact us online to set up an initial consultation.

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