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Illegal Search and Seizure: Challenging Drug Crime Charges

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on September 20, 2023

Possession, use, sale, and transportation of a controlled substance are all serious legal offenses. You may be looking at significant jail time if you have been arrested for a drug crime in California.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects people against unreasonable search and seizure. In many cases, overzealous law enforcement officials overstep the bounds of their authority when conducting a search or petitioning a judge for a warrant.

If you are facing drug charges and the evidence against you was illegally obtained by law enforcement, your criminal defense attorney will make a legal motion to exclude that evidence so it cannot be used against you in court.

What Is an Illegal Search?

A seizure is when a government official takes possession or interferes with your property. This may include impounding a vehicle, taking control of your bank account, or physically taking away your property, such as money or a cell phone, as part of an arrest or an investigation.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. An illegal search occurs when police or other law enforcement officials take some action that violates the Fourth Amendment, which states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched and the person or things to be seized.

When Is a Search Warrant Valid?

There are only situations where it is legal for the police to search someone’s person or property:

  1. When the police have a valid search warrant issued by a judge or magistrate
  2. When circumstances fall under one of the established legal exceptions to the Fourth Amendment.

A warrant is an order issued by a judge that allows a law enforcement officer to search a specified area. To obtain a warrant, the officer must provide the judge with probable cause, which means a law enforcement official has presented facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a crime has been or will be committed.

If a warrant is not legitimately obtained, then a criminal defense attorney can move to exclude any evidence that was collected. Your attorney may challenge any evidence that falls outside the expressed intent of a warrant, and all warrants must meet the following standards:

  • The officer provided warrant information in good faith.
  • The judge didn’t have a previous bias against the suspect.
  • The warrant contains detailed information.
  • The reasons for the warrant are clearly articulated.
  • The warrant clearly states what the officer is looking for.
  • The warrant clearly states what areas may be searched.

When an Officer Doesn’t Need a Warrant to Search a Suspect

There are some situations when the police are allowed to search a suspect without a warrant. These exceptions to the Fourth Amendment include:

  • After a lawful arrest is made to prevent the destruction of evidence
  • When the property owner consents to a search
  • When an object is in plain view
  • When a person is crossing an international border
  • When the officer is conducting an external frisk of a suspect
  • Property that has been abandoned by its owner
  • When they fear evidence is about to be lost or destroyed
  • Inside a motor vehicle after a valid stop when the alleged contraband is within arm’s reach of a suspect

These Fourth Amendment search exceptions are the result of legal rulings by judges in previous cases. Every case is different, and these rules are subject to interpretation.

Even in cases where a Fourth Amendment exception may apply, suspects have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Your attorney may be able to exclude evidence against you if it was obtained under the following circumstances:

  • The evidence was in a hotel room or other rental property.
  • The evidence was in a location where you were permitted to stay.
  • The evidence was underneath the hood of a car.
  • The evidence was inside a closed container.
  • The evidence was in a public place where you can expect privacy, such as a restroom stall.
  • The evidence was inside a tent or underneath a tarp.

Are You Facing Drug Charges?

At Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP, our nationally acclaimed Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will find the best legal strategy to get all charges against you dismissed.

Our Los Angeles firm is rated AV by Martindale-Hubbell, the highest possible rating for ethical standards and legal ability. We have been recognized by Super Lawyers for providing clients with outstanding service.

Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP has successfully defended clients in many high-profile cases, and our firm has been featured on ABC News, Fox News, CNBC, and the BBC, as well as in Esquire and the Los Angeles Times.

Call (213) 688-0460 to schedule a case review today.

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Posted in: Drug Crimes