Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, Americans are protected from unlawful searches and seizures. In other words, law enforcement officials must have probable cause to search a person’s home or automobile for drugs or other evidence of a crime.
What is probable cause?
Before an officer can search your person or property, he or she must have probable cause to do so. Ideally, the officer will have a valid warrant, which would indicate that the requirements for probable cause have been met. However, searches and seizures can occur without a warrant and are legal if the officer has probable cause, or a reasonable belief that you were involved in a crime or that evidence of a crime will be found in or on the property to be searched. However, this reasonable belief must be based on the officer’s experience and knowledge of the ‘totality of the circumstances’ surrounding the case. A hunch or ‘feeling’ is not enough to qualify as probable cause.
What happens if a search was conducted without probable cause?
If an officer conducts an unlawful search or seizure, the evidence collected during that search will be disregarded by the court during your trial, as per the exclusionary rule. The criminal defense attorney representing you may file a motion to suppress any unlawfully obtained evidence, and as a result, any evidence collected during an illegal search will not be used against you in court. Without this evidence, prosecutors may find it impossible to get the guilty verdict they are seeking and drop some or all of the charges against you. Your attorney can review your case and help determine whether officers had probable cause to search you or your property.