How an Illegal Search Can Affect Pending Criminal Charges

by | May 31, 2023 | Criminal defense

Illegal Search in a Criminal Case


Those who have been accused of a criminal offense are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and there is a high standard for proving that a crime occurred, as a result. The state needs compelling evidence to file criminal charges against an individual.

Prosecutors typically only file a case in front of a judge when they have witness statements, physical evidence and/or financial records that implicate a defendant. They know that if a matter progresses to trial, they’ll need to convince a judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred.

Prosecutors depend on law enforcement officers to collect what they’ll need to file charges against individuals and secure a conviction. Police officers are often eager to collect any evidence that could help them meet the burden of proof necessary for a successful case, and some of them might overstep their authority and violate people’s rights.

There are rules in place to limit how police officers interact with suspects. If police officers violate the law or the civil rights of a suspect, their actions can have implications for any resulting criminal case. What happens in criminal court if police officers break the law or violate someone’s rights while gathering evidence?


Consequences of an Illegal Search and Seizure


If you are facing criminal charges, it’s essential to learn your rights regarding search and seizure. For example, The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement officers. However, there are circumstances where an illegal search and seizure can occur, and the consequences can be severe.

A search and seizure is conducted when a law enforcement officer searches an individual’s person, property, or vehicle for evidence of a crime. In order for a search and seizure to be lawful, it must be conducted with a valid warrant, probable cause, or exigent circumstances.

A valid search warrant is issued by a judge and specifies the area to be searched and the items to be seized. Probable cause refers to the officer’s reasonable belief that evidence of a crime is present. Exigent circumstances refer to situations where the officer has to act quickly, such as preventing the destruction of evidence or apprehending a suspect who is fleeing.

Consequently, an illegal or unlawful search occurs when a police officer conducts a search without a valid warrant, probable cause, or these exigent circumstances. The evidence obtained may not be admissible in court. If that evidence is the sole basis of the case, the charges may be dropped.


Illegal Searches and Other Misconducts Can Eliminate Evidence


There are restrictions on when police officers can search people’s physical bodies, their homes, and their vehicles. There are also rules about how police officers conduct themselves when questioning suspects. If police officers don’t adhere to current legal standards during their interaction with someone, they may impair the ability of the prosecution to use the evidence that they gather.

A defense attorney could potentially invoke the exclusionary rule and ask the judge to throw out the evidence secured through their misconduct. Provided that there is evidence to support a defense attorney’s claim that police officers broke the law or violated their client’s rights while gathering evidence, they could potentially prevent the state from using that evidence in their criminal case.


How Can Criminal Defense Lawyers Help?


One exception to the warrant requirement is the plain view doctrine. This allows an officer to seize evidence that is in plain view during a lawful search.

Learning more about the rules that limit police activity may help those who have been recently arrested and are facing criminal charges despite having their rights violated along the way. Those who understand their rights generally have an easier time standing up against injustice during interactions with police officers and also when discussing possible defense strategies with their lawyers following an arrest on allegations of criminal activity.

If you believe that you have been subject to an illegal search and seizure, it is important to seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Virginia attorneys at Ashwell & Ashwell, PLLC, can help you understand the laws surrounding search and seizure and the potential consequences.

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