What is an Illegal Search & Can It Affect Your Case?

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Oct 23

Lewis & Laws

What is an Illegal Search & Can It Affect Your Case?

by Lewis & Laws

What is an Illegal Search & Can It Affect Your Case?

Recently, a Washington court vacated a sleeping man's criminal conviction because they found that the officer conducted an illegal search. When a Starbucks employee called 911 for assistance, the police were dispatched to help them remove a sleeping person from their store. The officer tried to wake the defendant, but he was unresponsive. The officer began to believe that the sleeping man was under the influence of drugs. He searched his pockets and found a cook spoon with dark brown residue and burn marks. He kept searching and found drugs and other paraphernalia. The officer told the defendant that he was under arrest and handcuffed him.

A trial court found that the officer was authorized to take necessary actions pursuant to Terry v Ohio. A Terry stop in the U.S. allows the police to detain a suspect on reasonable suspicion of a crime or criminal activity. A frisk or pat-down is allowed during a Terry stop, but is limited. They may only seize contraband if the identity of the contraband is immediately apparent. The sleeping man was found guilty of possession of a controlled substance and sentenced to 30 days in jail. His legal team appealed the court's decision. 

They argued that this was an illegal search because there was no suspicion of illegal activity. He was merely sleeping at the time and no reason to believe that he was armed or dangerous. The frisk also fell outside the scope of Terry and removing the objects from the suspect's pockets was not within the laws. 

The appeals court agreed with the defendant and found that the removal of the spoon from the defendant's pocket was unreasonable and not within the scope of an emergency or community-based response. A pat-down would have been sufficient, and a thorough frisk was not warranted. The appeals court vacated the conviction.

How Illegal Searches Affect Your Case

When officers suspect criminal activity, they can search and seize items from your home, a car, or property. However, there are limitations to this search and seizure and the laws also strive to protect individuals and their privacy. The Fourth Amendment protects your right to privacy, but it also allows police officers the authority to search if they believe there is a crime or a danger present. There is some obviously gray area here.

If a police officer searched you or your property before or during your arrest, your criminal defense lawyer will look to determine if the search performed was legal. If they find that an unreasonable search occurred, any evidence seized during this search cannot be used as direct evidence. In addition, any additional evidence that is found after such a search is also deemed inadmissible. Since many cases hinge on the evidence found during searches, this could result in your entire case being thrown out of court and charges dismissed.

Your criminal defense lawyer will need to examine the details surrounding your arrest, including any searches and seizures of property. Pat downs, frisks, and other types of police activity are carefully investigated to determine if your rights were violated during the search. If so, your attorney can build a case to get the evidence dismissed, but it does not guarantee it. If the prosecutor has enough evidence against you in other areas, your case may proceed. However, if the evidence obtained illegally is the key evidence they used to build the case against you, your attorney may be able to get the case dropped.

Contact Our Seattle Criminal Defense Lawyers Today

If you are facing criminal charges in Seattle, we can help you immediately. We want to be the first call you make when you get arrested. Our Seattle criminal defense attorneys know how to protect you and your future after an arrest.

The experienced criminal defense lawyers at Lewis & Laws, PLLC, have defended clients in Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, Kirkland, and throughout the state of Washington. Contact us today at 206.209.0608 or fill out our confidential contact form. We know how to fight criminal charges and can protect your future. Call us today!



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