Searches and Seizures
To charge someone with a criminal offense, the prosecution needs evidence of that crime. To obtain that evidence, they often need law enforcement officers to conduct searches. But if law enforcement officers discover evidence by illegal means, they may not be able to use the evidence they gather. If you believe that you have been the subject of an illegal search or seizure, an experienced attorney can help.Finding Evidence
Law enforcement officers are permitted to make searches and seizures of people and belongings, but they must do so within the bounds of the law. If the searches or seizures are conducted illegally, any evidence gathered therefrom may not be admissible in court for prosecution for a crime.
Search and seizure law in Florida is based on the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure in places where privacy might be expected. These places generally include a defendant’s home, vehicle, and person. If evidence exists in a public location, the defendant cannot stop the police from searching that public location. For example, if a person commits a theft crime and hides the stolen goods in his or her home, the defendant will generally be protected from having his or her home searched because of the Fourth Amendment. But if the defendant hides the stolen goods in a public park, law enforcement officers are free to search the park for the evidence.Legal Searches
Searches and seizures are legal in two situations - when a judge issues a search warrant, or when circumstances justify a search without a warrant.
To obtain a search warrant from a judge, a law enforcement officer must show probable cause, meaning good reason, to believe that a crime has been committed and that the search will reveal evidence of the crime. The warrant must describe in detail the places to be searched and the items or people to be seized. Once the warrant has been issued, law enforcement may search only the places named in the warrant, and may seize only items listed in the warrant, unless evidence of other criminal acts is in plain view.
There are also some circumstances when a warrant is not required for a lawful search to be conducted, though the law enforcement officer must still have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed. In a search incident to arrest, an officer who is arresting a suspect may search the arrestee’s person to make sure there are no weapons and to preserve evidence. A person may also give consent for the police to search his or her person or private property. Law enforcement officers may seize illegal substances that are in plain view. Finally, a search does not require a warrant if there are exigent circumstances, such as the likelihood that evidence will be destroyed, that a person will escape, or that great bodily harm or death will result if the search is not conducted.
If you believe that you have been the subject of an illegal search or seizure, you should consult with an experienced attorney immediately to be sure that any wrongfully seized evidence is not used against you. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.