What Constitutes Search & Seizure In Houston, Texas?
While many individuals in the United States generally understand their Miranda rights when being arrested, few individuals understand their rights when it comes to legal and illegal search and seizures. The issue of search and seizure is governed by both the U.S. Constitution under the Fourth Amendment as well as Article 1, Section 9 of the Texas Constitution.
Legally, under both constitutions, individuals have a right to “reasonable expectation of privacy”; what is deemed private by the individual and what society deems private is protected. Laws were put into place essentially to keep unreasonable search and seizures from occurring by police. Specific procedures were included in both constitutions that describes the legal search and seizure process.
Exceptions To Search And Seizure Laws
When your constitutional rights are violated, a search and seizure attorney is absolutely essential in order to right the wrong that has been done. A violation of this magnitude is exactly what our fore fathers sought to protect. Having an advocate on your side is required when fighting an illegal search and seizure. An attorney on your side can help ensure a successful outcome.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in U.S. v. Terry that if there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, a police officer can stop an individual on a public street, sidewalk, park, etc., and “frisk” them for illegal items or weapons. This became known as the “Terry pat down”.
Additional exceptions apply as well. A search and seizure can be broader after an arrest is made, allowing the officer a chance to do a wider sweep for weapons, illegal drugs or contraband, or other relevant evidence.
Inviting Or Giving Consent To Enter Or Search
If you invite or give consent for an officer to enter your home or consent for them to search through private areas such as your locker or vehicle, then any reasonable expectation of privacy can be compromised or waived. What can be even more confusing for many individuals concerning their search and seizure rights is the ability to say no to a police officer.
If a police officer asks to come in your home or look in the trunk of your car, you have the right to say no, assuming there is not a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is taking place.
Any evidence that is collected during search and seizures that individuals consented to can and usually are, used against that individual. Keep in mind that, if you invite an officer into your home and any incriminating evidence is in plain view, an officer has the right to search and seize that evidence. Plain view is considered any item that is not hidden or can easily be seen without having to move other items.
Criminal defense attorneys will generally advise against consenting to any searches without a warrant. Citizens of the United States have a reasonable expectation of privacy, exercising privacy is your constitutional right, it should not be given up if it is not required.
If police officers wish to enter your home or search your vehicle, they can follow the legal procedure that is available to them. However, there are some cases that the refusal to allow a police officer to search an area can be used against you. It is best to discuss any concerns with your Houston attorney.
…if you invite an officer into your home and any incriminating evidence is in plain view, an officer has the right to search and seize that evidence. Plain view is considered any item that is not hidden or can easily be seen without having to move other items.
The Exclusionary Rule (Exclusion Of Illegally Obtained Evidence)
If a search and seizure has already been conducted, the defendant and their attorney will begin to collect evidence and evaluate how the search and seizure process was handled. The attorney will typically request to inspect all evidence against his client in order to ensure it withstands Fourth Amendment scrutiny.
This means that evidence obtained under an illegal search and seizure must be excluded from evidence, also known as the exclusionary rule. Any evidence that was found as a result of the evidence obtained illegally must also be excluded, this is known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine.
This rule protects individuals from the state introducing incriminating evidence, even a confession (if a confession was made before contacting an attorney), that was unconstitutionally seized.
If your attorney challenges the search and seizure of incriminating evidence, then the first step is the court deciding if there was a “reasonable expectation of privacy” with regard to the search. In the U.S. Supreme Court case U.S. v. Katz, the Court eloquently explains, “what a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection…but when he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.”
It is a huge burden for the courts to take on, and an issue that is heavily appealed when it comes to whether a search was constitutional or not. When courts start having to define “reasonableness”, this can result in such a variety of definitions that the idea of reasonable becomes convoluted. Typically, whether a search and seizure is constitutional is evaluated on a case by case basis.
Motion To Suppress
When charges are filed and a court date is set, your attorney will usually file a motion, which pauses the criminal case, to suppress evidence he believes to have been obtained illegally. Your search and seizure attorney is an expert at handling these types of cases and will not only explain the law to you, but walk you through the process.
A brief overview of filing a motion to suppress begins with a request to the state, also known as the opposing party, for any and all searches and seizures, as well as arrest warrants, conducted throughout the entire investigation.
Your skilled attorney will evaluate all evidence and construct a generic motion to suppress without revealing the specific reason the evidence should be suppressed.
Rest assured, that if you do not win your motion to suppress the evidence, under Tex. Code Crim. Pro. Art. 38.23 (the same statute the “exclusionary rule” falls under), there is an option for a “jury charge”. This means that even if the evidence is allowed in the main criminal case, the jury will be instructed that there is doubt about how the evidence was collected. Unless the state proves that the evidence was obtained legally beyond a reasonable doubt, then the jury should disregard the evidence.
Privacy and the right for an individual to not have their property or person interfered with is one of the foundations of the legal system in the United States. Illegal search and seizures are a serious violation and should not be tolerated. Contacting an expert attorney can help protect you from constitutional rights violations.
Contact A Skilled And Experienced Search And Seizure Attorney If You Think Your Rights Have Been Violated
Consulting with an attorney as soon as possible in the event you have been subject to a search and seizure is very important in order to preserve your rights, explain the law to you, ensure evidence is properly collected, and safeguard a successful outcome. An attorney can help protect you and advise you on your rights and if they have been violated.
Hiring a knowledgeable and experienced attorney will ensure the process is expertly conducted and your interests are well represented.
Contact our firm today if you feel your rights have been violated or have questions. Call (713) 229-9992 for an initial consultation.