Unlawful Searches and Seizures of Property
“The right of the people to be secure … against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…”
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens against unlawful searches and seizures of their property. If your home, car or other property has been illegally searched and you are facing a charge based on evidence gathered in that search, you need an experienced civil rights trial lawyer on your side.
A search occurs when a government employee or agent violates a reasonable expectation of privacy. A seizure is the taking of an individual’s property. The property’s owner must have had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the items seized. A person is seized when law enforcement personnel use physical force to restrain the person if a reasonable person in a similar situation would not feel free to leave.
The prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures restricts the actions law enforcement personnel may take when performing a criminal investigation, The ban also disallows unreasonable searches and seizures in the civil litigation context. Law enforcement may conduct a search only if individualized suspicion motivates the search. The Fourth Amendment prohibits generalized searches, unless extraordinary circumstances place the public in danger.
Sometimes searches are done without warrants or just cause. Sometimes police will exceed the authority of a warrant. Many times evidence seized as part of an illegal search cannot be used in your prosecution.
To sue regarding an alleged Fourth Amendment violation, the plaintiff must have a legitimate expectation of privacy at the searched location. In order to avoid illegally searching or seizing property, law enforcement officers typically obtain a warrant. They must show probable cause and describe in detail the place they will search and the items they will seize.
A knock-and-announce warrant requires law enforcement officers to knock on the door of a residence and announce their identity before entering. Only certain circumstances allow police to violate this rule.
Government Seizures of Property in Louisiana
There are two important reasons to contact Gelnn McGovern if your civil rights have been violated by illegal seizures of your property
- Evidence used in a trial may have not been used properly – Read about the Exclusionary Rule
- Your personal property may have been taken by the State without proper legal authority in a forfeiture
The policy established in Mapp v. Ohio is known as the “exclusionary rule”. This rule holds that if police violate your constitutional rights in order to obtain evidence, they cannot use that evidence against you. If you have been charged with a crime and you feel that the evidence was illegally obtained, your lawyer can make a “motion to suppress” that evidence. The judge will then consider the manner in which the evidence was obtained and make a decision as to whether or not it can be presented during the trial. In many instances, the evidence is central to the prosecution’s case, and if the judge grants a motion to suppress, it is not uncommon for all charges to be dropped.
The exclusionary rule is a critical remedy against improper searches, and can be used as an effective protection by citizens who know their rights. The reality is that police officers on the street consider it their primary duty to identify and arrest criminals, and often consider the procedural guidelines which restrict their authority as a secondary concern or even a hindrance. In this context, it is understandable that police sometimes perform searches when they shouldn’t. Here’s what you should know about illegally seized evidence:
- Consenting to a search automatically makes the evidence admissible in court. Don’t consent to warrantless searches!
- A search is legal if the officer has probable cause to believe you may be engaged in criminal activity.
- Police officers are quick to conclude that probable cause has been established. Don’t try to be clever . . . Just keep your mouth shut.
- If you feel that police have seized evidence from you illegally, do not discuss it with the arresting officer! . . . Get a lawyer!
Forfeiture Cases Defenses
- Innocent Owner defense — Under most forfeiture laws, if you can prove that you didn’t know of or consent to the illegal use of your property, you win the forfeiture case. If the forfeiture law does not include an innocent owner defense, the U.S. Constitution does not imply one, the Supreme Court held in Bennis v. Michigan, 516 U.S. 442 (1996).
- Unreasonable delay defense — When the government delays too long in filing the forfeiture case or in bringing it to trial, you win if you can show that the delay is excessive and not justified, and that it harmed your ability to put on a defense.
- Illegal search & seizure — Just as in criminal cases you can move to suppress evidence which is illegally seized. If the judge suppresses the evidence, the government may be unable to prove its case.
- Statutory defenses — Each forfeiture statute contains additional defenses which may apply to you. Look at the statute to see what your other defenses are.
- Disproportionality — The U.S. Supreme Court decided in Austin v. United States, 113 S.Ct. 2801 (1993) that forfeitures of property that are disproportionate to the offense committed are unconstitutional. Austin also held that civil forfeiture is punishment.
No matter the circumstances – call Glenn McGovern to protect your civil rights at 800-721-3992.