Planet Defendant: Search and Seizure

Being charged with a crime can feel like being transported to another world called Planet Defendant. Like all worlds, Planet Defendant has its own customs and procedures that one should learn. A very important custom and procedure on Planet Defendant is called search and seizure.

Search and seizure comes from the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The Arizona State Constitution has a similar provision found in Article 2, Sec. 8:

“8. Right to privacy Section 8. No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.”

Many constitutional challenges under search and seizure involve warrantless searches. Whether or not a warrantless search and seizure violates the Fourth Amendment and/or Article 2, Sec. 8 depends on the particular facts of a case. Some of the particular facts are:

  • A person’s status such as arrestee, probationer, homeowner, guest, driver, vehicle owner, or passenger;
  • A person’s initial actions that attracted law enforcement attention;
  • A person’s actions during the search and seizure such as consenting or seeming to consent to the search;
  • Law enforcement’s actions during the search and seizure;
  • Nature of what is being searched such as a home, hotel room, business, vehicle, backpack, luggage, or purse; and
  • Whether there is valid probable cause for the search.

If a court determines that the particular facts of a case violate either the Fourth Amendment or Article 2, Sec. 8, it then decides whether the prosecution’s argument(s) that an exception applies so that the warrantless search and seizure is constitutional after all. Some exceptions are search incident to arrest, plain view doctrine, and good faith doctrine.

In the 18th century, the Founding Fathers did not have computers, smartphones, gps, and the internet. The United States Supreme Court is continuously redefining what constitutes search and seizure when it comes to modern technology. Law enforcement must have a search warrant in order to search a person’s smartphone according to Riley v. California, 134 S.Ct. 2473 (2014). Law enforcement must also have a warrant to collect location data about cellphone company customers pursuant to Carpenter v. United States, 585 U.S. __ (2018). Finally, law enforcement must obtain a warrant to put a GPS tracking device on a vehicle to monitor the vehicle’s movements according to United States v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012).

Search and seizure is a complex constitutional doctrine. If your case has a warrantless search and seizure, you need an experienced defense attorney to determine whether it was constitutional. Law Offices of Gary Rohlwing Criminal Lawyer has over thirty years experience. Call him today for a free consultation.


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