Unreasonable Search and Seizure - Your Rights

Tampa Drug Crime Defense Attorney

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment can be suppressed through the filing of an appropriate legal motion.

Search of the Person

There are three levels of police-citizen encounters that the law recognizes. The first is called a "consensual citizen encounter". In this scenario, a police officer approaches a person and initiates contact. The person is under no obligation to speak to the officer, and is free to leave. At this level, constitutional safeguards are not invoked. If the police officer asks the citizen for consent to search his or her person, and consent is freely and voluntarily given, then the police officer may lawfully do so. Under these circumstances, any narcotic items located incident to the search are not suppressible.

The next level of encounter is an investigatory stop, or a "Terry" stop. Here, a police officer may lawfully detain a person if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. During a Terry stop, the officer may pat down the person's outer clothing to check for weapons. If the officer has reason to believe that a concealed item is a weapon, the officer may retrieve it. If the item turns out to be contraband, it will typically be admissible in a subsequent prosecution. If, during a Terry stop the citizen consents to a search of his or her person, the officer may proceed to do so.

The third level is an arrest. Here, the police officer must have probable cause to believe that the person has committed, or is in the process of committing a crime. Incident to a lawful arrest, the police officer is authorized to search the person, including the contents of their pockets, and any items or containers within the person's immediate reach.

Search of the Home

To search a person's home, the Fourth Amendment requires that a police officer make a sworn statement to a judge that he or she has probable cause to believe that evidence of crime may be found in the location. If the judge is satisfied that probable cause exists, the judge will sign a search warrant authorizing the police to enter the person's home to search for illegal drugs or related contraband. Should the police neglect to get a warrant when one is required, or overstep the scope of the search as authorized by the judge who signed the warrant, the evidence obtained may thereafter be suppressed. Police sometimes sidestep these requirements in their zeal to locate and arrest drug offenders.

There are certain exceptions to the warrant requirement with regard to the search of a person's home by law enforcement. Where the police have probable cause to believe that illicit drugs or other contraband are present in the house, and the exigencies of the situation would preclude them from taking the time to draft a warrant and have it reviewed by a judge, they may enter to seize the drugs. Exigent circumstances include, for example, situations where the suspect is in the process of destroying the narcotics or contraband to avoid subsequent prosecution. If it is later determined that the police did not have sufficient probable cause to believe illicit narcotics were present, or that the circumstances were not "exigent," the evidence may be suppressed.

If you have been arrested following a search of your home, you are urged to contact a drug crimes defense lawyer in Tampa.

Searches of Cars

It is rare that the police will seek a warrant to search a person's vehicle. Because they are readily mobile and highly regulated by various government agencies and law enforcement, there is a reduced expectation of privacy in a vehicle. A warrantless search of an automobile is legal under certain circumstances. First, the police must have a valid reason to stop the car. If the owner or operator of the vehicle gives a police officer consent to search, then the officer may do so. If, upon making contact with the driver, the police officer observes illegal drugs or other contraband in plain view, the officer can search the vehicle's passenger compartment and any containers found therein. Locating narcotics in the passenger compartment will usually justify a search of the trunk thereafter.

If an occupant is arrested for a criminal offense, such as DUI or DWLSR, or on a warrant, the police may search the vehicle's passenger compartment incident to that arrest. The authority to make a warrantless search under these circumstances typically will not include the trunk unless the officer develops probable cause to believe that contraband will be found there, or the officer obtains consent.

If the police smell the odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle's interior, the officer can search the vehicle's passenger compartment, containers found therein, the trunk, and each occupant.

If the owner or operator of the vehicle is arrested, the police have the option to impound the vehicle and can conduct what is called an "inventory search" of the passenger compartment and trunk. Any incriminating items found pursuant to a valid inventory search are typically not suppressible.

Drug Crime Defense Lawyer in Tampa

At The Law Office of Timothy Hessinger we offer legal services of the highest quality in all types of criminal cases, including drug crimes, throughout the Tampa Bay area. Attorney Hessinger is a former veteran prosecutor with an intimate knowledge of how the criminal justice system works and how to identify potential weaknesses in the state's case. Drug charges can carry severe penalties, including prison time and fines, which may be avoided if there was a violation of your constitutional rights. We urge those who have been charged with drug crimes to contact us for a free confidential consultation as soon as possible.

Contact a Tampa drug crime defense attorneyfrom the firm to defend your rights against unreasonable search and seizures.

Contact a Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney Today!

Get In Touch