Unlawful Search and Seizure in California

Unlawful Search and Seizure

California’s search and seizure laws strive to harmonize law enforcement practices with the protection of individual rights, safeguarding against unlawful search and seizure without valid legal grounds.

Both the Fourth Amendment and state legislation in California provide these safeguards. However, not every search and seizure is illegal. Law enforcement is permitted to perform searches under two primary circumstances:

  1. With a Valid Search Warrant: This is when officers have received authorization from a court to carry out a search.
  2. Under Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement: This covers scenarios in which probable cause is established, along with other exceptions recognized by both federal and state law.

Should law enforcement execute a search and subsequently use the gathered materials as evidence against an individual, a legal recourse exists. The exclusionary rule empowers courts to dismiss evidence acquired through unlawful searches from being presented at trial, thereby serving as a countermeasure to charges derived from such searches.

Understanding Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

The search and seizure laws in California protect individuals in areas where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This expectation is not about the person but the location or situation. According to both California law and the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, areas where privacy is reasonably expected include:

  • Your Home: The privacy of one’s home is a fundamental expectation.
  • Electronic Devices: This includes computers, phones, and tablets.
  • Personal Property: Items that are personally owned and used.
  • Hotel Rooms: Privacy expectations extend to temporary accommodations.

Search Warrants

Search warrants empower police officers to search a person, location, or vehicle for evidence of a crime and to seize any evidence discovered. A magistrate or judge, whether at the state or federal level, can issue these warrants.

The Fourth Amendment mandates that search warrants require probable cause, serving as a safeguard against unreasonable searches. Thus, searches conducted with a properly obtained warrant are considered reasonable under the law.

In California, the Penal Code outlines specific conditions under which a judge may issue a search warrant:

  • Evidence of a Felony: If the item sought may prove that a person has committed a felony.
  • Stolen Property: When the property in question is believed to be stolen.
  • Intent to Use in a Crime: If the object is in possession of someone intending to use it for a criminal act.

For a warrant to be valid, it must not only establish probable cause but also clearly specify the location to be searched and the items sought

The Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement

Despite the Fourth Amendment, not all searches require a warrant. While specifics can vary, common exceptions include:

  • Voluntary Consent: A search based on someone’s freely given permission.
  • Incident to Arrest: Searches for officer safety or to prevent evidence destruction post-arrest.
  • International Borders: Searches conducted at borders are exempt from warrant requirements.
  • Automobile Exception: If police have reason to believe a vehicle contains evidence of a crime.
  • Plain View: Items in plain sight can be seized during a lawful search.
  • Emergencies: Situations requiring immediate action for safety or to prevent evidence loss.
  • Terry Stop: A pat-down of outer clothing for weapons based on reasonable suspicion.
  • No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy: Searches in areas where privacy isn’t expected.

Unlawful Searches: When They Occur

Unlawful searches happen when law enforcement conducts a search without adhering to the legal requirements set by the Fourth Amendment and California law. This includes searching without a warrant, consent, or falling within established exceptions. If officers search someone without probable cause or exceed the scope of a legal search, it constitutes an unlawful search. Victims of such searches have rights, including the possibility to challenge the admissibility of evidence obtained during the search in court.

How to Challenge Unlawful Searches and Seizures

Challenge Unlawful Searches or Seizures with These Legal Steps:

  1. File a Motion to Suppress Evidence: Argue in court that evidence from an unlawful search violates the Fourth Amendment or California laws and should be excluded from trial.
  2. Prove Insufficient Probable Cause: Demonstrate that law enforcement lacked the necessary reasonable belief of criminal activity, invalidating the search.
  3. Dispute the Validity of Consent: Argue that any consent given for the search was not voluntary or informed, making the search unlawful.
  4. Point Out Exceptions Misapplication: If law enforcement claimed an exception to needing a warrant, show that the specific conditions for the exception did not apply.
  5. Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney: Consult an experienced defense attorney to identify the strongest approach for challenging the search or seizure based on your case details.

Contact An Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Various situations allow police to search and seize your belongings without a warrant or probable cause. If you suspect an unlawful search and seizure occurred, immediate action is crucial. Contact The Law Offices of Arash Hashemi to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney with over 20+ years of experience.

Document every detail of the incident before consulting with our attorney. Understanding the sequence of events is vital for assessing potential rights violations. Facing criminal charges, whether a misdemeanor or felony, carries significant consequences. At The Law Offices of Arash Hashemi, Attorney Arash Hashemi  evaluates your case to identify any infringements on your constitutional rights and strategize the most effective defense. Contact us now at (310) 448-1529 or schedule a consultation online.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or a prediction of outcomes, as individual circumstances vary and laws may change over time. Those contemplating legal action should seek advice from a qualified attorney to understand how current laws apply to their specific situation. For detailed legal guidance on the topics discussed, please reach out to the author directly.

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