A search and seizure may sound like something for lawyers and judges to argue over during criminal cases. However, the law surrounding searches and seizures is very much relevant to you, no matter your past relationship with the law or criminal justice system.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, which includes Texas state police and your own local officers. You are also protected under Article 1, Section 9 of the Texas Constitution, which states people shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and possessions from all unreasonable seizures and searches. Without this right, you would essentially have no privacy from law enforcement’s prying eyes and hands.
If you do not understand what searches and seizures include and your rights in regard to police actions, you will have a difficulty asserting your rights and protecting yourself. If you believe your rights have been violated by the police, call skilled Houston search and seizure lawyer Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767.
What is a Search?
A search occurs when the police look for something in a particular area. They can look for something specific, such as the weapon used in a crime, or something general like any illegal drugs. The police can search public areas as much as they want. Your right to be free from unreasonable searches is activated in areas in which you reasonably expect an amount of privacy from others like in your vehicle, office, and home.
If the police want to search an area where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, they must have probable cause or a search warrant. Probable cause is a reasonable belief that an individual has, is currently, or will commit a crime. To be a reasonable belief, the police must have observable facts connecting you to the crime. The police cannot search an area based on a hunch or gut feeling.
One of the ways police gain probable cause to search a place is if they see an item that relates to the commission of a crime in plain sight. However, there are other exceptions that allow the police to search your home without a warrant, such as if they are responding to an emergency or calls for help from inside the house or apartment.
What is a Seizure?
A seizure occurs when the police take an item or person into their control. If you are seized by the police, it is known as a detainment or arrest. The police must have probable cause that you committed a crime, were in the process of committing a crime, or were just about to commit a crime in order to take you into custody. Like for a search, this probable cause must be based on facts, not a feeling that you are taking part in a crime.
When the police take a piece of property, it becomes evidence. The police can confiscate items that you had on your person or in your vehicle when you were arrested or items they believe are connected to the commission of the crime.
The Emergency Doctrine
Texas and most other states recognize that the police cannot always stop and go to a magistrate or judge to get a warrant before they need to search a person or area and potentially take property into their custody. One of the ways police can reasonably and lawfully perform a warrantless search and seizure is when there are exigent circumstances, also known as the emergency doctrine.
The police in Texas can perform a search and seizure if they need to:
- Protect property
- Prevent destruction of evidence
- Protect a person, such as by offering first aid
- Pursue a criminal or suspect
Texas police are allowed to stop a person when they reasonably believe that person needs their help. This is known as the community caretaking exception because the police are often asked to do more than fight crime. They help the community manage difficult situations and maintain order and safety. Under the community caretaking theory, the police do not have to believe the person is connected to a crime. Police can detain people to determine if they are in distress or a danger to themselves or others. However, this right does not extend to the right to search the individuals stopped.
In order for a warrant in Texas to be valid, it must be signed by a magistrate or judge. A magistrate will only sign a warrant after he or she has received enough facts to amount to probable cause for the search or seizure. The warrant must have all of the correct information on it, including your name or the address of where the search is to take place. It must also describe the person or property the police are looking for as closely as possible.
If you are ever presented with a warrant, carefully review all of the information on it and call criminal defense attorney Ned Barnett right away.
Call Ned Barnett if Your Rights Were Violated
If you believe you were unlawfully arrested or subjected to a search without probable cause or warrant, you should contact an experienced search and seizure lawyer immediately. Because search and seizure rights have developed over hundreds of years of legal cases, it can be difficult to know your rights in the middle of something happening. That is why Ned Barnett has dedicated his practice to helping individuals understand and protect their constitutional rights.
If your rights were violated and an unlawful search led to the police gathering evidence against you, Barnett will fight to have all illegally obtained evidence suppressed. Once it is suppressed, the prosecutor can no longer use that evidence in court.
To learn more about your search and seizure rights, call Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767 to schedule a free consultation.