Two Important Things You Should Know About Search And Seizure Laws

Most people are aware the Fourth Amendment protects them from unreasonable searches and seizures of their personal property by law enforcement agents. Like most things involving criminal law, though, there are a number of misconceptions about how much protection the law actually provides. Here are two issues you may run into when trying to exert your Fourth Amendment rights.

It Only Applies to Police Officers

One of the main misconceptions people have about the Fourth Amendment is that it applies to everyone. While all American citizens are covered, only law enforcement officers employed by government (local, state, or federal) must abide by this particular mandate. Security personnel hired by private businesses are exempt and any evidence collected by that type of person will usually be admissible in court.

For example, a security guard suspects you of stealing something from one of the businesses he or she is working at. The person can search you and your personal belongings and comes across illegal drugs. The guard can actually confiscate the drugs and make a citizen's arrest (e.g. detain you) until police arrive. Because you're dealing with another private person, the Fourth Amendment prohibition against illegal searches and seizures doesn't apply, so a judge won't throw out any evidence based on any violation of on your Constitutional rights that may have occurred in that situation.

However, there may be other ways to get evidence collected by a private party excluded. If the security guard broke state or federal law to obtain the evidence, it could be thrown out (e.g. stole it from your vehicle), for instance. It's best to connect with a criminal defense attorney to develop a viable strategy for accomplishing this.

It's Not a Cure-All Defense

Another misconception many people have about the Fourth Amendment is that prosecutors won't be able to convict them if they can get evidence deemed inadmissible by courts. However, this is only true if the prosecutor's case depended solely on what is being submitted to court. If the only way the prosecutor can prove your guilt is by producing the bottle of drugs you had on you when you were arrested, you could get your case dismissed by preventing the prosecutor from using that evidence.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Smart prosecutors typically gather as much corroborating evidence as possible in anticipation that something may be thrown out. Even if the person can't use evidence obtained during an illegal search, he or she may still be able to convict you using other means (e.g. witness testimony). Thus, it's essential you determine what the prosecutor has against you and create a multifaceted plan to rebut anything he or she plans to use.

For assistance with your criminal case, contact an attorney, like Cheryl Brown Attorney at Law