When the police are knocking on your door and asking to come inside, it is likely that you feel stressed and afraid, and that you’re wondering about your rights.
It’s important to know that the Federal and State Constitutions protect you in this situation. Evidence obtained through an unlawful search and seizure cannot be used against you in a criminal case.
What constitutes an unlawful search and seizure?
Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, you are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. This is due to your expectation of privacy in your person and home.
Police must have a legal search warrant that lays out specifically where the search should take place, who should be searched or what evidence is being looked for and seized. In general, if there is not a valid search warrant, the search and seizure are unlawful.
There are some exceptions, however, to the warrant requirement. One is the plain view doctrine. Under the plain view doctrine, if the police are lawfully at your home or you are under a legal traffic stop, and incriminating evidence is in sight or otherwise in public view, it can legally be seized.
A second exception to the warrant requirement is exigent circumstances. Officers can search a place without a warrant if they have reason to believe evidence would be destroyed, the public would be in danger, or the suspect would flee if the necessary time was taken to obtain a warrant.
A third exception to the warrant requirement is hot pursuit. If the police are looking to arrest and search someone who committed a felony, and are currently in pursuit of that person, they can enter any place to search and seize evidence even if they do not have a warrant.
A fourth exception is consent. If you agree to let the police conduct a search of your home, your vehicle, or yourself, the police no longer need a warrant.
These are only some exceptions to the warrant requirement. There are others. And importantly, just because the police claim an exception doesn’t mean you have no ability to challenge it.
Unlawful search and seizure and the exclusionary rule
If you were subject to an unlawful search and seizure, the exclusionary rule can help you build a strong defense in your criminal case. Under the exclusionary rule, evidence uncovered through an unlawful search and seizure cannot be used against you. This is also known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine and applies to all criminal cases.
Your constitutional rights are important, especially when it comes to unlawful searches and seizures. If you believe the police wrongfully searched your person or home and wrongfully seized potential evidence that could be used against you, you can contact a criminal defense attorney for further guidance.