I Think I Was Subjected To An Illegal Search and Seizure – What Can I Do?

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees people on American soil that they will not be subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures.  That sounds great on paper, but what happens if the police break that promise? Well, you might find yourself with a solid defense to your drug offense charges.

What makes a search or seizure illegal?

In general, police must obtain a warrant to conduct a search of your private property.  However, there are exceptions to that rule when police have “probable cause” that a crime has been committed.  One obvious example is if you give them permission to conduct a search.  Police can also seize items that are in plain view, for instance drug paraphernalia on the passenger seat of a car.  Additionally, police are allowed to conduct searches related to arrests they have made, such as searching the pockets of a person they have arrested or searching the scene of a crime for additional suspects.  But if police conduct a search without a warrant that doesn’t qualify for one of the exceptions, a court may find the search was an illegal violation of the person’s constitutional rights.

What does Arizona law say about illegal searches and seizures?

Many people have heard that if police conduct an illegal search or seizure, any evidence they collect cannot be brought into court.  While this is true in some cases, Arizona limits this exclusion of evidence as much as possible.  If a defense attorney asks the court to exclude evidence because the officer who collected it didn’t follow the required procedures, Arizona law allows the prosecutor to ask the judge to permit the evidence anyway because the officer reasonably believed that his search was legal.  If the judge decides that the officer made a reasonable error of judgment about the facts, but the facts the officer believed to be true would have constituted probable cause, then the judge will allow the evidence into court anyway.

What should I do if I believe I am being illegally searched?

If law enforcement officers attempt to conduct a search that you believe is illegal, the best thing to do is be polite and refuse, but not argue with them.  If the search they are conducting really is illegal, your attorney should be able to keep anything they find out of court, so the whole situation may actually end up working out in your favor.  On the other hand, if the search they are conducting is legal, arguing with them will only make matters worse.  Instead, politely inform the officers that you do not consent to a search.  Don’t offer any information or answer any questions; just wait for your attorney to sort it out with the court.

Any search, legal or illegal, can be an unsettling or even frightening experience.  Our firm’s attorneys are experts in protecting our clients’ constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and have helped hundreds of clients understand and assert their rights.  If you have been the subject of a search by law enforcement officers and have questions, please call us today to set up a free legal consultation.