The U.S. Constitution protects everyone in the country from government overreach. When police officers abuse their power, courts must step in to avoid rewarding them for violating a criminal defendant’s rights. One of the most important and most commonly violated rights is contained in the Fourth Amendment. This amendment protects you from illegal search and seizures.

A criminal defense attorney ensures the police and prosecutors respect your Constitutional rights. They use Fourth Amendment rights violations to suppress illegally gathered evidence and push prosecutors to drop or reduce charges. Learn more about your rights and how Fourth Amendment lawyers can help you fight your charges.

What Is the Fourth Amendment?

The Fourth Amendment places two restrictions on the government. First, it defines the standard for obtaining search warrants. Second, it protects everyone from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Fourth Amendment’s protections apply wherever you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Thus, the police must follow the Fourth Amendment when searching your home, car, or locked desk at work.

Fourth Amendment Violations in Pennsylvania Drug Cases

The police comply with the Constitution by either obtaining a search warrant or falling within one of the exceptions to the search warrant requirement. These exceptions include:

  • Consent
  • Plain sight/smell/feel
  • Incident to an arrest

What does it mean to violate the Fourth Amendment? Some ways the police might abuse the Constitution and violate your rights include the following:

Failing to Obtain Consent

Once you give a police officer your consent, they can search or seize anything illegal, even if they have no reason to believe you possess it. But when you refuse to consent, they need a warrant or one of the exceptions must apply.

Thus, proving a lack of consent puts the prosecution in a tough position. Without a warrant, they must prove the police search was conducted under an exception to the Fourth Amendment.

So the police might have violated your rights if they seized drugs from your vehicle without your permission to search. But they might not have violated your rights if you were riding in someone else’s car and they obtained the driver’s permission to search.

Seizing Evidence That Could Not Be Seen or Smelled

A commonly used exception is called the plain sight/smell exception. Under this doctrine, the police can seize anything they can see or smell if they have a legitimate reason to be where it was found.

The police violated your rights if they had no probable cause to be where the drugs could be seen or smelled. For example, if they broke into your locked shed before they saw drugs in plain view, your rights might have been violated.

They also violated your rights if the drugs were not readily perceptible. Thus, they may have violated your rights if they did not smell drugs until they opened your purse without your permission.

Failing to Prove Probable Cause to Stop You

The police can use evidence seized in a search incident to an arrest. For example, if officers find drugs while patting you down after an arrest, they can seize them. But they must have probable cause to stop you, such as a traffic violation. If they stopped you randomly or because you looked like you were high, they may have violated your rights.

Occasionally, police officers can assert exigent circumstances to justify a search. For example, they can search for evidence if they have reason to believe you did something illegal or pose a danger to the public. But if there is no urgent need, their search might be illegal.

Proving Fourth Amendment Violations in Drug Cases

In some cases, you and the police will agree on what happened and the battle will happen in front of a judge deciding whether to suppress the evidence. Other times, you will need to disprove a police officer’s account of what happened. For example, the officer might assert consent, and you might need to prove a lack of consent.

In these cases, you can use any evidence that tends to disprove the officer’s version or prove your version. Witnesses, particularly neutral bystanders, will help. Videos from the officer’s body cam or a witness’s cell phone will also help. Your criminal defense lawyer will investigate your claims and assemble the available evidence to prove them.

How Does Proving My Rights Were Violated Help My Case?

You might be wondering, “What are my Fourth Amendment rights good for?” Judges protect your rights by blocking law enforcement from using illegally obtained evidence. Without this evidence, the prosecution might not be able to prove your drug charges. For example, the prosecution cannot prove unlawful possession of drugs without the drugs.

As a result, a judge might throw out your case, or prosecutors might need to drop or reduce your charges. If prosecutors insist on proceeding, your criminal defense attorney can use the lack of evidence to create reasonable doubt. Thus, without the texts on an illegally seized phone to show an intent to distribute, you might win an acquittal for drug-related crimes like trafficking.

Why Do I Need a Chester County Drug Crime Defense Lawyer?

The search and seizure lawyers from The Skinner Law Firm have experience protecting the rights of the accused. The system only works when the police follow the law. Michael Skinner will investigate the investigators and identify any violations that could help you defend against charges or get them dropped.

Call a West Chester Criminal Defense Lawyer Now

You have a lot at stake when you face criminal charges. The Skinner Law Firm will use every defense justified by the facts of your case, including violations of your Constitutional rights, to help you resolve your charges.

Call (610) 436-1410 or use our contact form to schedule your free initial consultation.

Article Author

Michael J. Skinner, the founder of Skinner Law Firm LLC, is a former prosecutor with the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.

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