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What happens after police officers conduct an unlawful search?

On Behalf of | Apr 17, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Police officers help to enforce the law by responding to calls for help and intervening when they notice what seems to be illegal behavior. Oftentimes, investigations into potential criminal activity require that police officers conduct searches of private property. Officers might want to go through someone’s vehicle or search their home for evidence of criminal activity. However, those searches can be disruptive and humiliating for the people investigated.

There are rules restricting the ability of police officers to conduct searches. For example, they typically need permission from an individual or probable cause to believe that a crime has occurred or is in progress. Police officers can also ask a judge to sign a warrant when they have reason to believe there is evidence on someone’s property or in their vehicle.

What happens if police officers conduct a search without a warrant, permission or probable cause?

Illegal searches compromise the state’s case

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is one of the most important protections for members of the general public when facing criminal investigations. The Fourth Amendment specifically prohibits police officers and other government agents from conducting inappropriate searches or unnecessarily seizing personal property.

If a defense attorney can convince the courts that a violation of the Fourth Amendment occurred, that can have a major impact on what evidence the state uses during a criminal trial. In general, prosecutors cannot use any evidence obtained through a violation of the law or of someone’s civil rights by police officers.

An illegal search might turn up valuable evidence, but a prosecutor may not be able to use that evidence to convince the courts of someone’s guilt. Defense attorneys can use the exclusionary rule to ask the courts to set aside certain evidence and prevent the prosecutor from presenting that information. The exclusionary rule can potentially eliminate most or all of the evidence that the state has, possibly leading to a dismissal of pending criminal charges.

Knowing the limits on police conduct can play a major role in someone’s criminal defense strategy. People who know their rights are in a strong position to assert themselves when officers ask them to search and to recognize when police officers may have violated their rights by performing a search even after a refusal was articulated.