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COMMITTED TO PROTECTING YOU

Often contestable: the legality of police searches and seizures

| Oct 1, 2020 | Illegal Search & Seizure

“Where justified.”

Some readers of an in-depth online article on police prerogatives and behavior might see those words as virtually leaping off the page. They immediately spotlight legal limitations on law enforcers’ conduct and underscore key checks and balances in police/citizen interactions.

Notably, too, they frame any reasoned discussion of how the American legal system must play out to promote bedrock principles of government restraint and fundamental fairness.

The above quoted words are contextually stressed in a sentence discussing police search-and-seizure limitations applicable in Colorado and nationally.

To wit: “Police officers are allowed, where justified, to search your home, car or other property in order to look for and seize evidence of a crime.”

That delimiting standard likely strikes most readers as being eminently reasonable and even obvious. Notably, though, and despite its clear call out for lawfully restrained action, search/seizure tactics are continuously problematic. Legions of cases in state and federal courts spanning the country centrally feature allegations of police misconduct concerning this key evidence-linked subject matter.

Instances where search and seizure legality is an issue

Candidly, search/seizure issues become immediately important in all manner of cases where citizens interact with police officers. Here are some representative examples from an encompassing universe of possibilities:

  • Road stops for alleged traffic violations
  • Drug raids/busts centered on a vehicle, home or other property
  • Initial stops where police profiling arguably features
  • DUI-linked roadblocks and checkpoints
  • Search of private belongings at school or in a workplace
  • Warrantless entry into a home

What is the legal standard relevant to search/seizure issues?

In a word, a police search – and any resulting seizure of evidence – must be “reasonable.” The U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment bars unreasonable police conduct; moreover, it mandates that warrants often required must be based upon “probable cause.”

That is hugely important, providing targeted persons with legal protections premised on the notion that law enforcers must have an articulated and reasonable basis for conducting any search or evidence seizure. In fact, they must have due cause to even interact initially with an individual.

Some people advance the argument that such a standard merely protects criminal actors.

That is unquestionably a flawed assessment, and one that needs to be rebutted in every instance. Constitutional and other legal safeguards against unfettered and pretextual police conduct exist to protect the general public against arbitrary and excessive state actions.

The result of an illegal police search and seizure is logical and appropriate, namely, the suppression of any obtained evidence in a criminal action. Such a standard ensures both the protection of the general public and a proper police focus on abiding by legal requirements.

Constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure are fundamentally key safeguards in a democracy. Citizens’ freedoms flatly depend upon them.

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