The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution ensures that we, as citizens, are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. The protection this amendment provides protects us from both searches executed by federal law enforcement agencies and from searches executed by state and local police. The Fourth Amendment allows law enforcement to execute a search and seizure on your property only if they have a valid search warrant from a judge or if the search is an exception to the rule based on the warrant requirement that are recognized by federal and California courts.
A search warrant has to be authorized by a state or federal judge and the judges in question look at evidence before signing a warrant—meaning they look to make sure that there is in fact enough evidence to grant a search. Warrants allow the police to search for and possibly seize items that may be evidence of a felony being committed or that may be evidence that a particular person committed a felony. The search warrant has to specify the area that is being searched and specifically what is being searched for.
There are situations in which it is possible to challenge the evidence that was found and its admissibility in court. If the warrant was somehow defective or invalid or if the search that was conducted went beyond the parameters of what the warrant allowed—this could mean that the police either searched in an area that was not covered by the warrant or that they found something that they weren’t supposed to be looking for through the search warrant. A warrant itself may be invalid or defective if the police officer purposely lied to the judge in order to justify a warrant, if the warrant was not specific enough on what the officers were searching for or if the judge issuing the warrant was biased.
For homes and residences the police may search the property without a search warrant if they have been given permission to search the property by the owner or by someone who has authority over the property, if there was a situation where there is danger to a person or the property or if the search takes place in connection with an arrest—in this case, the search has to be done in order to protect the officers at the scene or in order to preserve evidence.
Police can search vehicles if you or someone else with the authority over the vehicle gives them permission, if they have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains something illegal or evidence relevant to an investigation, if they are legally arresting the person in the car, if they are detaining the person in the car and have reason to believe that the person may have access to weapons in the car or if the vehicle has been impounded.
Cellphones and computers may be searched even without a warrant if you or someone else with authority over the phone or computer allows them to, if there is an emergency situation where the police can show an immediate need to search it—such as to find a fleeing suspect or to help someone who is injured, or if you are carrying the device over an international border.
This exception states that when police are searching property legally—with a warrant or under an exception, they may also search items that are in plain view and that are incriminating.
You may not always know what your rights are in a situation where you have been subjected to a search and seizure so having an attorney there to help you through the process is an invaluable asset. An attorney can try to figure out what the officers are searching for and work on a defense theory all while making sure that your rights are not being violated.
If you or a loved one has faced a search and seizure or fear facing one soon, you need an aggressive Orange County criminal defense lawyer on your side. With offices in Costa Mesa, we serve people throughout Southern California, including in Huntington Beach, Irvine, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, and Los Angeles. Call (855) 505-5588 or contact us online for a free initial consultation.