We are all granted freedom from “unreasonable searches and seizures” by the fourth amendment to the United States Constitution. The state of Oklahoma also guarantees its citizens the same rights through Section II-30 of its own constitution.
These rights limit the power of police and other government law-enforcement officials when it comes to arresting someone, searching their person or property, and seizing any type of contraband or evidence. They help to ensure that the privacy of the residents of Oklahoma is respected. They protect us all from unlawful search and seizure.
Can Law Enforcement Override Your Right to Privacy?
There are circumstances, however, when law enforcement can legally override your right to privacy and conduct a search of your person, your home or office, your documents, and other properties and possessions. There are generally three scenarios where it is legal for a law enforcement officer to conduct a search:
You’ve Given Consent to Search
If an officer asks for your consent to conduct a search of your body, residence, car, etc. and you give your consent, then it is legal for the officer to do so as well as to seize any contraband he might find.
A Search Warrant Has Been Issued
If an officer believes that there is sufficient reason to search a person or place, he can present an affidavit to a judge stating why he believes the search is necessary. If the judge agrees with the reason(s) given, he can issue a search warrant that will grant the officer the right to search specific areas and/or people as detailed in the warrant.
The Plain View Doctrine
The plain view doctrine states that if a law enforcement officer is in a place where he is legally allowed to be and discovers contraband or evidence of a crime within plain view, that officer is legally allowed to seize what he finds as well as use it as probable cause to make an arrest.
Searches and seizures made under the plain view doctrine are the ones that most often generate debate over their legality and, therefore, whether or not is legal to make an arrest or use any evidence collected as a result of such a search.
When the Fourth Amendment Does Not Apply
The protection of the fourth amendment is based completely on privacy and whether or not a person has a “legitimate expectation” of privacy wherever they or their property happen to be. If someone does not have a legitimate expectation of privacy where they are, then there is no issue and the fourth amendment does not apply.
Courts generally consider two questions when determining if the fourth amendment applies to a particular situation or not:
- Did the person actually expect privacy?
- Was that expectation of privacy one that society would consider reasonable?
For example, if a person is using a bathroom in a store or office, that person would expect to have privacy while doing so and most people would agree that that expectation of privacy is reasonable. Therefore, if the police were to install some sort of monitoring device in that bathroom, it would be considered a search and would be subject to the provisions of the fourth amendment.
On the other hand, let’s say someone is sitting at a table at an outdoor restaurant and police see them take something out of a purse hanging from the back of a woman’s chair through a camera mounted on a nearby traffic camera. They would be allowed to act on what they have seen and justify searching the person because the crime occurred in plain view, in a public place. There was no reasonable expectation of privacy.
Results of Unlawful Search and Seizure
When a court determines that a search violates the fourth amendment, what’s known as the exclusionary rule comes into effect. This is a principle first established by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1961. It states that any evidence collected as the result of an unlawful search and seizure cannot be used against the defendant(s) in criminal prosecution.
Another concept, known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine”, also extends possibly excluded evidence to anything that is found or collected as a result of the initial, unlawfully obtained evidence. In the analogy, the tree would be the evidence found during an improper or unlawful search. The fruit would be any additional evidence that is discovered as a result of examining those initial findings.
For example, if a police officer enters a locked office without a search warrant and finds directions leading to illegal drugs in another location, neither would be admissible in court as evidence against a defendant because the initial search violates the fourth amendment. The officer entered an area where there would be a reasonable expectation of privacy. That would make the directions he found inadmissible in court as well as anything recovered as a result of following those directions.
Contact a Trusted Criminal Defense Attorney
If you think you may have been charged as the result of an unlawful search and seizure, Angela Singleton is the experienced Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney that can help. Knowing what needs to be done and doing it quickly is the key to presenting the best possible defense. Get in touch today to arrange a free consultation and we’ll examine your case together.