Illegal Search and Seizure: Know your Rights

Police officers and federal agents must follow privacy laws. If they don’t, it can lead to an unauthorized or illegal search and seizure. This happens when they search without a good reason or a warrant, which is against the law. Evidence found this way might not be allowed in court.

In 2021, there were over a thousand reported offenses in Texas, as per the Crime in Texas Report. When someone is suspected of a crime, the authorities may search their home, car, or belongings for evidence linking them to the crime.

But whether this evidence can be used in court depends on how the search and seizure were done. Generally, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects people from illegal searches and seizures. So, it’s vital to know and follow your basic rights when facing criminal accusations.

What Does Unlawful Search and Seizure Mean?

Illegal search and seizure refers to actions taken by law enforcement officers that violate an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights. This amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. In Texas, as in the rest of the United States, it is essential to understand the principles behind this constitutional right.

What is Considered an Illegal Search and Seizure?

  • Search without a valid search warrant or a recognized warrant exception.
  • Searches conducted without probable cause or a reasonable belief that a crime has occurred
  • Violation of the Fourth Amendment rights, which protect against unreasonable searches and seizures
  • Evidence obtained in a way that breaches an individual’s constitutional rights
  • Searches are executed without the individual’s consent or outside the bounds of the search warrant’s scope.

How the Fourth Amendment Protects

In Texas, people accused of crimes have more legal protections compared to federal law concerning illegal searches and seizures. Texas has its own regulations requiring warrants for specific types of evidence, which federal law doesn’t have. Additionally, Texas laws prevent the use of unlawfully obtained evidence in court.

Many individuals aren’t aware of all their rights under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which focuses on ensuring that the police can only search you reasonably.

The Fourth Amendment plays a crucial role in Texas’ illegal search and seizure cases. The Texas Constitution also safeguards people from unjust searches and seizures, as stated in Article I, Section 9, which protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures in their person, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.

Exclusionary Rule

The exclusionary rule stops the police from using evidence collected unconstitutionally. It lets Texas courts toss out such evidence, especially if it’s from an illegal search. If evidence was gathered without a proper warrant or a good reason, it’s an illegal search. The exclusionary rule acts as a punishment, excluding this evidence. Defendants can ask the court to remove it through a motion to suppress, thereby preventing its use at trial. Consequently, if your arrest was dishonest or illegal, the charges might be dropped. This rule applies to evidence indirectly related to the illegal search as well.

Texas Law Against Illegal Search and Seizures

In the state of Texas, additional safeguards exist to prevent unlawful searches and seizures, extending beyond the protections provided by the U.S. Constitution.

  1. Texas Penal Code Section 38.23: This law says that evidence obtained through an illegal search or seizure cannot be used in a defendant’s criminal trial. It also states that evidence gathered in violation of the Texas or U.S. Constitution is not admissible in court.
  2. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure (Article 18.01): This rule requires that search warrants have an affidavit with enough information to show there’s a good reason for the search, ensuring it’s based on solid grounds.
  3. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure (Article 18.02): This regulation sets a time limit for executing search warrants and makes sure that the search only covers the specific areas and items described in the warrant.
  4. Texas Law vs. Federal Law: In Texas, only peace officers or prosecuting attorneys can request a search warrant, and they must confirm that the information is true. In contrast, federal law allows any law enforcement officer to ask for a warrant.
  5. Texas Notice Requirement: Texas law obligates the officer conducting the search to inform the person being searched and show them the warrant, unless a “no-knock” entry is permitted. In federal law, “no-knock” warrants are allowed in certain situations and don’t require prior notice.

Illegal Searches and Seizures: When Are They Permissible?

While the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, there are exceptions to the rule. Law enforcement may conduct warrantless searches under specific circumstances. In the following instances, some examples of situations where warrantless searches might be permissible include:

  • Consent: If you voluntarily give your consent to a search, law enforcement may proceed without a warrant.
  • Exigent Circumstances: In situations where there’s an immediate threat to safety or the loss of evidence, officers may bypass the warrant requirement.
  • Search Incident to Arrest: When a person is lawfully arrested, officers may search the arrestee and the area within their immediate control.
  • Plain View: If law enforcement sees evidence of a crime in plain view, they can seize it without a warrant.

Protecting Your Rights in Texas

If you believe your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated through an illegal search and seizure in Texas, there are steps you can take to protect yourself:

  1. Stay Calm: Comply with law enforcement officers, but assert your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney.
  2. Document the situation: If possible, take notes and record any details about the search and seizure, including the officers involved, the time, and the location.
  3. Seek Legal Counsel: Contact an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney. They can assess the circumstances of the search and seizure and determine if your rights were violated.

Arrested? Don’t Plea, Call Me!

While the Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unfair searches and seizures by the police, specific situations can affect these cases. If you’re accused of a crime but think the evidence was gathered unfairly, it’s important to hire a strong criminal defense lawyer for guidance and to protect your rights.