When a government agency (state or federal) wants to collect evidence to assist in the investigation or prosecution of a crime, with certain exceptions, it must obtain a search warrant to do so. This requirement is established by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and it appears in the laws and constitutions of all 50 states as well. The requirement for a search warrant is deeply ingrained in our criminal justice system, and it provides one of the most basic protections for citizens who are suspected of committing a crime.
Unfortunately, criminal defendants in Texas and throughout the country, at times find themselves defending against charges that rely on evidence that was illegally obtained. As a result, if you are facing criminal charges, it is critical to understand when search warrants are required, what it takes to obtain a search warrant, and what it means if the government has violated your constitutional rights.
When a Search Warrant Is Required
As a general rule, the police and federal authorities must obtain a search warrant in order to conduct a search on private property. This includes your home, your place of business, your vehicle, and even your clothing and other personal items. However, while the Fourth Amendment’s language is clear (“The right of the people to be secure . . . against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause . . . .”), there are several exceptions to this general rule.
For example, some common situations where the police do not need a search warrant include:
- You (or someone else with control over the area to be searched) consent to the search;
- While lawfully present, the police or federal agents see something within plain view;
- A search incident to a lawful arrest; and,
- A “stop and frisk” when the police reasonably suspect that someone has been involved in a crime and presents a danger to the public.
Requirements to Obtain a Search Warrant
When a search warrant is required, obtaining one requires probable cause. This means that the police or federal authorities must have a reasonable basis to believe that (i) someone has committed a crime, and (ii) there is evidence of the crime in the location sought to be searched. Warrant requests must also include information sufficient to identify the location to be searched or the evidence expected to be seized.
What if the Government Illegally Obtained Evidence Without a Valid Search Warrant?
If the police or federal authorities conduct a search without a warrant (if a warrant is required), if they exceed the scope of the authorized search, or if they misrepresented a fact in order to obtain a warrant without probable cause, any evidence obtained during the search can be suppressed from your trial. Any evidence obtained subsequent to, but as a result of information obtained during, the search may become inadmissible as well. These are complicated issues, and to protect your rights it is best to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to represent you.
The Criminal Defense Firm | Criminal Defense Lawyers in Houston, TX
If you believe that you may be a victim of an unlawful search or seizure, we invite you to contact us for a free case evaluation. Our attorneys represent clients throughout the United States, and we have decades of experience getting our client’s charges dismissed. To learn more, call 866-603-4540 or submit our online form today.
Dr. Nick Oberheiden is a national litigation and trial criminal defense attorney who practices exclusively in the area of federal law.