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How the Concept of Search Could Impact Your Case

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

April 19, 2018

In order to convict you of a crime, prosecutors and accusers must be able to show, beyond all reasonable doubt, that you committed the act you’re accused of, which usually involves showing evidence. However, in order to be able to show the evidence, it needs to be collected, and this is done through searching. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from “unreasonable search and seizure,” which means that searches are heavily restricted and can only take place when certain circumstances are present.

It’s these same protections that could come back to help you in your case, as search and seizure laws require law enforcement and prosecutors to adhere to strict rules and mistakes could mean evidence against you is erased.

What is a Search?

First, in order to understand search and seizure law, we must first understand what a search is. Searching is essentially looking for something, but in legal terms, a search is going through someone’s person or property to look for evidence of a crime. Because the Fourth Amendment protects people from “unreasonable” searches, that means authorities can’t simply stop anyone and search them to see if they’ve done anything wrong—they have to have a “reasonable suspicion” that someone who they wish to search has committed a crime first.

The reasoning for this is important: any evidence obtained from a legal and authorized search is admissible in a court of law. This can include anything from someone’s testimony and words they’ve said to physical items and contraband to even non-physical possessions such as data. In fact, in today’s electronic age, we’re seeing more and more searches and search cases come to light regarding the seizing and reviewing of data.

Protections Helping You

While evidence gathered from legal searches is admissible in court, the opposite is also true: evidence gathered illegally is not admissible in court and can’t be used against someone in their trial. This is where you may have a valid claim. For example, law enforcement may find evidence they believe to be connected to a crime on pure accident, and arrest the person they find with it. However, the evidence gathered in this regard could be thrown out if it’s believed that the officer who found the evidence did so in a way that was not considered a legal search and thus violated the accused’s right to privacy. Because this evidence can’t be admitted to court, the case against you will likely grow significantly weaker.

But what happens when a piece of bad evidence is submitted for use against you? When something is presented before the jury that you believe was wrongfully obtained, you and your Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer can work to demonstrate that the search which found this evidence was not authorized and that the officer conducting the search had no authority to do so under the circumstances they were in. Thus, the evidence must be removed from consideration.

However, by this point it may be too late: other arguments could be created against you based on the bad or illegitimate evidence, a concept known as “fruit of the poisonous tree.” It’s not uncommon for cases where a piece of critical evidence that’s found to be illegitimately obtained be declared a mistrial, essentially forcing the whole process to start over again, and sometimes leading to the charges being dropped completely.

This concept is used particularly often in DUI defense cases, where law enforcement must follow a stringent process in order to legally establish “probable cause” and make an arrest in order to search someone. This is usually far faster than going through the process of obtaining a search warrant, which is a document signed off by a judge authorizing a search for evidence based on a testimony that includes what officers will be searching for, where they’ll be searching, and when. Any evidence found for crimes not pertaining to said warrant are not eligible for seizure and admission to court.

Have you been arrested and searched? Do you believe the search may have been wrongful? Contact Hager & Schwartz, P.A. today by dialing (954) 840-8713!