Unlawful Police Search and Seizures

In September 2017, M.B. Cottingham consented to be stopped and frisked by officer Sean Lojacono because he didn’t want any trouble with the law. Officer Lojacono repeatedly touched Mr. Cottingham inappropriately in the genital region, which was caught on tape. The American Civil Liberties Union sued Officer Lojacono on Mr. Cottingham’s behalf. This story made headlines, but sadly, these events continue to occur quite often. 

Most people understand that law enforcement needs to be able to decide whether or not to stop and question an individual whom they reasonably believe to be engaging in or have engaged in a crime.  But United States citizens are protected from arbitrary and unwarranted intrusions and searches by government authorities under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This creates a conflict that requires delicate balancing in order to preserve the rights of individuals while being able to successfully target criminals. 

Unlawful Police Search and Seizures

The Fourth Amendment

The U.S. Supreme Court recognizes that it is the right of individuals to be free from restraint or interference of others, especially the government. In a landmark case, Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court decided that a police officer must have reasonable suspicion to stop and question a U.S. citizen. In order to determine whether a suspicion is reasonable, the officer must be able to identify specific and articulable facts, such as seeing the exchange of drugs between hands with money, to justify an intrusion by authorities. Suspicion based on a hunch or inchoate suspicion would not be permissible in the court of law.

What is a search warrant?

A search warrant is an order issued by either the magistrate or the judge that gives police permission to search the home, office, or body of a person that they reasonably believe contains evidence of a criminal offense. It’s important to be clear about a specific distinction between arrest warrants and search warrants. Arrest warrants may be served at any time, even into the late hours at night. If there is a warrant for someone’s arrest, they can be arrested at any time. Search warrants, however, are usually issued during daytime hours.

Am I obligated to consent to a search?

If an officer shows up to your door and does not have a warrant, then do not let them into your home. You are under no obligation to give them your consent. If they try to talk to you by telling you that if you have nothing to hide you shouldn’t be worried, then you can respectfully deny them entry and request they leave. If you contact our criminal defense attorneys about your situation with the police then we will listen to you and see if you have a strong claim.

Are there circumstances when police can conduct a search without a warrant?

There are a few instances where police are authorized to conduct searches without first obtaining a warrant. One of these situations is when evidence is found in plain view, in which case they are allowed to seize it. The police are also not required to obtain a search warrant if they believe that evidence will be destroyed in the time that it takes to get a search warrant. These are called exigent circumstances, and include times when it is reasonable to believe that the search or seizure was necessary to prevent harm to the officers and other persons.

However, as you can probably imagine, the exception for the classification of an exigent circumstance gets muddy. Cases such as these have gone on to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, because of their complexity and grey areas. Each case of a potential breach in someone’s rights must be examined individually and carefully. Give our office a call to set up a consultation if you believe that you were a victim of an unlawful search and seizure.

Why You Need An Attorney

Again, you are never under any obligation to give the police your consent to a search and seizure. To protect your civil rights, give us a call today to tell us more about what happened, what the police did, what you did, and what you want. At The Law Office of Ali Najmi we fight aggressively for justice while extending our compassion to you and your family. 

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