What Are Search and Seizure Laws?

Search and Seizure laws are legal procedures and rules which guide the conduct of law enforcement officers when searching a person, property and confiscating relevant evidence related to a crime. Under The United States Constitution, The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable seizures and searches by police officers. This provision guarantees people the right to privacy and protects against unreasonable intrusion by law enforcement and their agents. Also, it covers search and seizure of electronic devices as ruled in Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014).

The Fourth Amendment only gives sanctuary against unjustified searches and seizures done by the government. Searches and seizures are lawful where the police have obtained a valid search warrant or a search is excluded from a warrant requirement. Chicago search & seizure lawyer Joshua Adams has helped numerous clients in the Chicago, Illinois area and talks about what a search warrant is and everything else related to search and seizure laws.

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What is a search warrant?

A search warrant is a court order issued by a judge authorizing police officers and other law enforcement authorities to search a specific place and to confiscate particular items. Law enforcement must clearly show probable cause that a crime occurred and that there is a high probability of finding relevant evidence to the crime at the location specified.

Requirements of a valid search warrant

A valid search warrants must meet these four conditions: the warrant application by a law enforcement officer must be sincere, it must be built on credible information demonstrating that a search is reasonable and that there is probable cause to search, the issuing judge must be impartial and the warrant must explicitly state the location to be searched and the items sought for confiscation.

The exception to the warrant requirement

Unless certain exceptions apply searches and seizures without warrants are unlawful under the Fourth Amendment. However, in some instances warrantless searches are lawful. For example, if incident to a lawful arrest, if the officer asks and gets consent, there exists probable cause or in case of an exigent circumstance. Generally, during exigencies where there is probable cause and it is impossible to obtain a search warrant a warrant requirement may be excused. Situations, where warrantless searches may be lawful based on exigent circumstances, include; imminent risk of destruction of evidence, people facing immediate danger or if an offender is likely to flee.

With regards to property, warrantless searches and seizures are permitted by law if what is being searched is in plain view. Also, searches and seizures of abandoned property are legal under the Fourth Amendment since it is considered unreasonable to demand privacy to properties in an open area or abandoned property. States can still set higher requirements for searches and seizures protection as long as they do not contravene the Fourth Amendment.

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Recourse for unlawful searches

Any evidence obtained by violating the Fourth Amendment is rejected for criminal proceedings per the exclusionary rule. If no exception applies to warrant requirement and evidence is obtained without a valid warrant the evidence is excluded. The exclusionary rule prevents evidence obtained illegally from being used in a court of law.

Previously, the courts have required that the claimant show that his privacy was invaded to be able to argue protection under the Fourth Amendment. However, the Supreme Court has taken a different legal view requiring the determination of the substantive question, “Were the claimant’s Fourth Amendment rights breached?” This then requires the claimant to demonstrate that law enforcement officers violated a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Some states have pushed back against the Supreme Court for seeking to minimize the scope of individual protection under the Fourth Amendment. For instance, In State v. Ingram, No. 6-0736, the Iowa Supreme Court, in 2018, joined a handful of other states that have differed with the U.S Supreme Court on this warrant loophole. The judges ruled that a robust warrant requirement was mandatory before a law enforcement search was declared lawful.

Joshua Adams is a Chicago criminal defense lawyer who has successfully defended numerous clients who have been charged with a crime based on illegally obtained evidence and have had success in suppressing this evidence.

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