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Overview of Search and Seizure Law

What is search and seizure law? And how can you tell that you need to contact a Fairfax, VA criminal defense attorney? Read on to learn more about your constitutional rights and protecting your privacy against unwarranted intrusion.

Understanding Search and Seizure Law

According to the 4th Amendment of the US constitution, the law places limits of the authority to search people, search property, make arrests, and/or seize contraband such as weapons and illegal drugs. Essentially, these limits form the bedrock of search and seizure law. Our blog, Do I Have To Let The Police Search My Car? also has some useful tips.

There are a number of things you need to know to better understand this law. The best way to go about doing this is by talking to a Fairfax, VA criminal defense attorney. Additionally, consider reading this short guide to improve your knowledge.

Protecting Your Privacy

The search and seizure provisions of the Fourth Amendment are designed to protect your privacy. As such, this amendment protects you against unreasonable search and seizure by federal and/or state law enforcement authorities. Your Fairfax, VA criminal defense lawyer will also use this amendment to protect you if you are charged with a crime.

However, this is not without exceptions. In fact, the amendment permits reasonable searches and seizures. This means that law enforcement might override your concerns for privacy and search you, your home, property, or documents if:

  • They have probable cause that leads them to believe that they can uncover evidence of a crime you committed, and they have a court warrant for such a search
  • The circumstances justify a search without the issue of a search warrant
  • To this end, the Fourth Amendment does not provide exclusive protection. As your attorney will inform you, this law will only protect people who have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the thing or place to be searched.

Legitimate Expectations of Privacy

A court of law will generally use a 2-part test to determine whether the defendant had legitimate expectations of privacy when the search was conducted. This test includes:

  • If the person actually expected some level of privacy
  • Are these expectations objective and reasonable? Can society recognize these expectations?

However, if you are stopped by an officer and they notice you have weapons on the passenger's seat of your car, then no search has been performed. This is because even if you considered the passenger's seat to be private, society would not extend the protections of privacy to this location.

To this end, if you use a public restroom, you expect not to be spied on. This means that you expect privacy. Most people (judges included) would consider such an expectation to be objective and reasonable. Therefore, installing hidden video cams by the authorities in restrooms can be considered to be a search and would fall subject to the requirements of reasonableness.

However, if you are stopped by an officer and they notice you have weapons on the passenger's seat of your car, then no search has been performed. This is because even if you considered the passenger's seat to be private, society would not extend the protections of privacy to this location. In this case, there would be no objectively reasonable expectation of privacy with regards to those weapons since they were in plain view.

Private Security Personnel

Private security personnel are common sights in business areas and residential centers.  As a direct result, you are more likely to deal with these personnel than with the police in housing projects, office buildings, pharmacies, and supermarkets.

To this end, you need to understand that the Fourth Amendment and its provisions do not apply to the searches that are conducted by these non-governmental employees. This is precisely because they do not act on behalf of the government.

For instance, if you are searched by a security guard at a mall and they find illegal drugs in your backpack, the guard might detain you, call the authorities, and turn you in. In such a case, the drugs would be admissible as evidence in a court of law.

Fourth Amendment Violations

So, what would happen when the search and seizure violated the Fourth Amendment? And how would your criminal defense attorney protect you?

a) Exclusionary Rule

Essentially, if a court of law finds that the search was unreasonable, then the evidence that was seized will not be used directly against the defendant in the case. This principle is today referred to as the exclusionary rule.

b) Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

According to this doctrine, not only will the original evidence be inadmissible, so too will any evidence later found as a result of the initial search.

Contact The Law Office of Wilfred W. Yeargan Today

There is a lot more to learn about search and seizure law. In case you feel like your rights to privacy were violated and your property seized illegally, contact The Law Office of Wilfred W. Yeargan—your Fairfax, VA criminal defense attorney today by giving us a call or sending us a message online. We will help you understand your rights and provide you with the protection you need.

Areas Served by the Law Firm

The law office serves clients throughout Virginia including those in the following localities: Fairfax City; Fairfax County including Annandale, Burke, Centreville, Herndon, and Vienna; the City of Alexandria; Arlington County including Arlington; the City of Falls Church; Augusta County, including Staunton; Fauquier County including Warrenton; Frederick County including Winchester; the City of Fredericksburg; Loudoun County including Ashburn and Leesburg; Clarke County, including Berryville; Fluvanna County, including Palmyra, Prince William County including Occoquan, Triangle, Quantico, Woodbridge, Dumfries, Haymarket, and Manassas; Spotsylvania County including Lake Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse; Stafford County including Stafford, Aquia Harbour, and Falmouth; Warren County including Front Royal; Shenandoah County, including Woodstock; Rappahannock County, including Washington; Madison County; Greene County, including Stanardsville; Fluvanna County, including Palmyra; Caroline County, including Bowling Green; Hanover County; King and Queen County; New Kent County; King William County; City of Hopewell; Prince George County; York County, including Yorktown; Chesterfield County; Henrico County; Westmoreland County, including Montross; King George County; Greensville County, including Emporia; Prince George's County; Dinwiddie County; and Sussex County.