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The Fourth Amendment & Illegal Searches & Seizures in California

Have you been arrested in the Inglewood, California area? Was your person or home searched? Was any of your property seized? Did the authorities conducting this search and seizure conduct it properly? Do you know what your rights are? Contrary to popular belief, you do not have a complete right to privacy -- you can be the subject of a lawful search and seizure, but you can also be the subject of one where your constitutional rights have been violated. You need to hire an attorney in Los Angeles to understand your rights and your options.

Inglewood criminal defense attorney William S. Kroger knows your rights and upholds your rights in the face of state and federal authorities who violate the U.S. Constitution in pursuance of a desire to charge you with a crime.

  • First, Inglewood defense attorney William S. Kroger will inform you of your rights according to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution so you are informed and aware.
  • Second, he will identify if your Fourth Amendment protections have been violated in any way, and if so, he will pursue a remedy for it: exclusion of any evidence flowing from that violation.

William S. Kroger is fierce. He is smart. And he is strategic. Contact him today to discuss confidentially the specifics of your case during a free initial consultation.

Knowing Your Fourth Amendment Protections in Inglewood, California

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is there for a reason, and this reason is threefold: 

  1. The 4th Amendment is designed to protect you, your home, and your property.
  2. The 4th Amendment prohibits the government from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures.
  3. The 4th Amendment a search warrant before the government searches and seizes your person and/or your property, and that search warrant must be based on probable cause that identifies the place to be searched and the property to be seized.

These protections prevent the government from seizing you or your things or searching your person or your property illegally. They do not, however, prohibit the government from search and seizures that are lawful. In simple terms, lawful means either one of two things transpired:

  1. You consented to the search and seizure; or
  2. The police obtain a lawful warrant to search and/or seize specific persons or property.

This Amendment and its protections apply when the government determines it has probable cause to arrest you or to seize your property so that it can use the latter as evidence against you in a criminal case. In determining if the Amendment and its protections apply to your case, the court will often consider if there was a reasonable expectation of privacy. If not, then the Fourth Amendment may not apply.

That said, all persons have rights in the United States, even those persons suspected of a crime. Your 4th Amendment protections are there to protect you and -- with the right criminal defense attorney who knows how to identify it -- your 4th Amendment rights can be the thing that saves you.

Requiring a Warrant for a Search & Seizure in Inglewood

A police officer may have reasonable suspicion to suspect you of a crime, but the officer must have probable cause to search and/or seize your person and your property. That means, there must be probable cause to arrest you, which is a seizure of your person.

For instance, consider a DUI. If an officer witnesses you swerve from one lane to another lane, then that traffic violation is reasonable suspicion, and as such, the officer can pull you over for a traffic stop. Once pulled over, the officer may begin a certain line of questioning where he is attempting to determine if you have been drinking or driving. You pass the field sobriety tests. You pass the portable breath test. But the officer does not like you. Maybe you are a bit too smug. So, the officer begins to search your car without consent and finds a roach under the passenger seat. The officer then proceeds to read you your rights and arrests you.

The discovery of the roach may have been probable cause to arrest you but for the failure to obtain your consent of a lawful warrant to search your vehicle. You provided the officer with no indication that you had been driving under the influence, and yet he searched without a proper warrant. In this scenario, not only was there no probable cause to obtain a warrant, but there was no probable cause to arrest you. For your protection, that is why a warrant is required.

As noted above, the government is not prohibited from searching and/or seizing your person or property so long as it has applied for and obtained a lawful warrant (or in lieu of a warrant, your consent) granted by a neutral magistrate.

Warrant Application

Before a police officer can search and seize any person or property, it must apply and obtain a warrant from a magistrate. The application for a warrant must provide under oath or affirmation the following:

  • The person(s) to be searched and/or seized
  • The property to be searched and/or seized
  • The location of the search and/or seizure
  • Reason(s) for probable cause, which explains why the officer believes a crime has been committed and/or why the officer believes the person committed the crime.

The last point of probable cause is the most important element of a warrant application. Without it, a warrant cannot be justified and granted.

Probable Cause

The Fourth Amendment is silent on what probable cause is or is not. The courts have defined it vaguely to mean reasonable grounds for believing

  1. A person committed a crime and that person is the subject of the warrant, or
  2. Evidence of the alleged crime can be found at a specific location and that location is the subject of the search.

There are circumstances, however, that authorizes an exception to the warrant requirement. So, be cautious that if the above application was not properly performed, there is a chance the government was permitted to search and seize your person or property.

Exceptions to Warrant Requirement

The courts have throughout the years allowed exceptions to the warrant requirement. An exception allows a police officer to arrest and detain a person or seize property without obtaining a warrant first. These exceptions are:

  • A search of a person while he or she is under arrest;
  • A search that a person has consented to -- whether that person is the owner or occupant;
  • A seizure of property that is in plain view, meaning the officer did not actually have to search for it (e.g., an open alcohol bottle on the passenger seat);
  • A search of public schools and government offices;
  • A search of prisons; and
  • A search of a vehicle if, for instance, it is for the safety of the officer.

Identifying Probable Cause & What It Means to Your California Case

In order to ensure your rights were upheld and you were not the subject of an illegal search and/or seizure -- and assuming a warrant exception did not apply in your case -- then it is important to identify probable cause. The key to most 4th Amendment violations is in the absence of probable cause. To identify probable cause, the following questions may be helpful.

1. Did the officer have reasonable grounds for probable cause?

Probable cause exists if the officer believed

  • you committed a crime, or
  • you were committing a crime, or
  • Property connected to a crime was at a certain location.

If this belief did not exist, there was no probable cause.

If it did exist, then was the belief reasonable? Would an unbiased person not associated with the crime objectively and reasonably believe what the officer believed? If so, then the officer likely had a reasonable belief to support probable cause.

2. Was a legal warrant properly obtained?

Even though probable cause may have existed, it does not matter if the warrant was not properly obtained. As mentioned above and briefly provided, here, the below elements must have been in a warrant affidavit:

  • Probable cause must have been explained.
  • Probable cause must have been under oath or affirmation by the police officer.
  • Were details provided to describe the place to be searched or the thing to be seized?

If any one of these things is missing, the warrant was not properly obtained and is not legal.

3. Was the warrant properly implemented?

Having a proper warrant allows the officer to search and seize the person, place, or thing specifically identified on the warrant. Police officers, however, are not permitted to exceed the limits of the warrant.

  • The officers cannot arrest anyone else without probable cause.
  • The officers cannot seize anything else not listed in the warrant.
  • The police cannot search any other place not provided for specifically in the warrant.

3. Can the exclusionary rule be applied to your case?

The exclusionary rule provides that evidence can be kept out of court if it was obtained illegally. To identify if the exclusionary rule applies in your case, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Were any of your Fourth Amendment protections violated (e.g., probable cause, lawful obtainment of the warrant, lawful implementation of the warrant)?
  • If no, then the evidence is admissible. If yes, then was any evidence obtained as a result of that violation?
  • If no, then the evidence is admissible. If yes, then do the circumstances involve an exception to the warrant requirement?
  • If yes, then the evidence is admissible. If no, then the evidence is likely not admissible and can be suppressed.

Identifying Illegal Search & Seizures via Examples

The best way to determine if you have been the subject of an illegal search and seizure is by comparing your situation to situations already declared to have been illegal search and seizures. Below are just a few of many potential scenarios you could find yourself in.

Scenario 1 - The Smart Phone

A mother calls 911 regarding her six-year-old son, whom she found unresponsive on the floor of her home. He is taken to the hospital and pronounced dead a few hours later. The police arrive at the home without a warrant to talk to the mother about her deceased son. They see vomit in the trash can and sheets with something that looks like blood stains rolled up in the corner.

On the counter is a phone, and it begins to beep. The officer takes the phone without asking and begins to read text messages the mother sent to her boyfriend. As a result of reading these messages, the police begin to gather evidence in the home, including pictures of the trash can with vomit and the rolled up sheets. Shortly thereafter, the boyfriend is arrested and charged with murder.

Was his Fourth Amendment rights violated? The police did not have a search warrant and the mother did not consent to a search or of the taking of the phone to read messages. All the evidence obtained after reading the text messages may be able to be excluded from court as evidence of the alleged murder.

Scenario 2 - Drugs on School Property in Inglewood

student is caught smoking marijuana in the bathroom of a school. He is taken to the principal's office where he is asked about the marijuana. He denies the accusation. The principal checks the student's person and finds a roach in the pocket of the student. Minors are not allowed to smoke marijuana and the drug is prohibited on campus. The student claims his Fourth Amendment rights were violated because a proper warrant was not obtained and the student did not consent.

Are constitutional violations present in this scenario? Yes, but an exception to the warrant requirement also is present. The search and seizure occurred on school property. The courts balance the lack of a warrant with the need to maintain a safe environment on school campuses. Here, the evidence is likely admissible.

Scenario 3 - Traffic Stop

An officer witnesses a motorist make a right-hand turn without putting your signal on. It's late, and so the officer suspects drinking while driving. He pulls the motorist over and begins a DUI investigation. But it's not alcohol he smells on your breath; it's marijuana. He tells you to step out. He begins searching the vehicle and opens the glove compartment to find marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. Though smoking marijuana may not necessarily be illegal anymore in California, it is regulated with restrictions, including driving and smoking.

Was the search of the vehicle and seizure of the marijuana legal? No. The marijuana was not in plain sight. The officer needed a warrant to search the glove compartment. The evidence will likely be inadmissible.

Two Factors to Remember in Unlawful Search and Seizure

There are two important things to take away from this section:

  • An experienced criminal defense attorney can provide you with a clear and precise understanding if your situation is one where your Fourth Amendment protections have been violated. Small details matter just as much as the big details, so even though any one of the above examples may seem similar to you, a small detail can change that assumption.
  • It is always important to remember that you are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. So, never plead guilty at an arraignment until you have talked to your criminal defense lawyer. You never know for certain what the actual outcome of your case will be, and if your Fourth Amendment rights were violated, you may be facing a dismissal of the charges before trial or an acquittal at trial.

Legal Defense: How we can help.

4th Amendment Defense

Drug charges in Inglewood can be challenged for many reasons. Sometimes, in attempting to prepare a case against you, the government will collect evidence unlawfully. Specifically, they will collect evidence by means contrary to the 4th amendment of the US Constitution that protects against “Unreasonable Searches and Seizures”. When this occurs, your attorney can file a motion to suppress the evidence that was unlawfully obtained to convict you.

Legal experts call illegally obtained evidence the “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree”. In this case, the evidence is the “fruit”, and the means used to collect it is the “poisonous tree”. The reason that this evidence can be found inadmissible is because of the Constitution's Exclusionary rule which not just protects against evidence that is directly illegally obtained, but also evidence that the government would not have access to had they not obtained an initial piece of evidence illegally (8). In this way, evidence that is wrongly obtained can taint all subsequent evidence in the prosecution's case just as one moldy tomato can cause the rest in the bag to go bad. Inglewood criminal defense attorney we have the investigative tools and knowledge of how to use them to best represent you.

Retaining a Fourth Amendment Criminal Defense Attorney in Inglewood, CA

If you have been charged with a crime, it is important for your criminal defense attorney to review your case thoroughly. Identifying violations of the Fourth Amendment is not always easy -- some violations are blatant while others are obscure. The Exclusionary Rule prevents evidence from being used against you if it was illegally obtained, and only an experienced Inglewood criminal defense lawyer can properly identify those violations.

William S. Kroger has been aggressively and passionately defending clients with his skill, insight, and deep knowledge of the law. He believes in proving innocence or providing clients with an opportunity to start again without a criminal record. Contact us today to get started on your criminal case.

Contact William S. Kroger Today

If you are in need of an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, CA who is proficient in marijuana, drug & criminal law, there’s simply no better attorney than William S. Kroger. Contact Me

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