Legal Blog

Fourth Amendment Violations in Indiana Drug Cases

10 January 2024 | Drug Charges,  

Attorney Sean Hessler

Written by
Sean Hessler

10 January 2024

Drug Charges,  

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A drug conviction can result in lengthy incarceration and hefty fines. But there are ways people can defend themselves because, despite what police or persecutors say, Indiana drug charges are not open and shut.

By working with an experienced drug crime defense lawyer, you can raise any number of defense options. One of the most common ways to improve your situation in an Indiana drug case is by challenging evidence collected in violation of your 4th Amendment rights.

With a case supported by evidence and advocacy from a qualified professional, by highlighting that you or your property were illegally searched, you may get your charges dropped or penalties significantly reduced.

Understanding the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, called the Illegal Search and Seizure Amendment, defines a fundamental constitutional right. It protects all people from “unreasonable searches and seizures” and requires the police to provide “probable cause” to obtain a search warrant.

Over two centuries of cases involving Fourth Amendment violations have created a hodge-podge of protections and exceptions. Typically, the police need a search warrant to search you or any location where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, including your:

  • Home
  • Car
  • Locked desk at work
  • Bank records
  • Phone records

Courts have created several exceptions to the requirement for a search warrant.

You Consented to the Search

The police can search a location after securing your consent. They can also search after securing the permission of someone else who controls the area. For example, if you are a passenger in someone else’s car, the driver can consent to a vehicle search. The police can use anything they find in your area against you.

There Was No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

The police can search anywhere that you do not expect privacy. Anything you abandon in a garbage can or drop on the sidewalk is fair game. Some cases of privacy are less clear. They involve locations where you might expect privacy, such as office cubicles or school desks, but which are open to access.

Searches Incident to an Arrest

The police can search you after arresting you. They can also search your vehicle after impounding it.

The Plain Feel Doctrine

Courts have created an exception that police apply broadly, often in situations not necessarily covered by the doctrine. To use this exception, the incriminating evidence must be readily observable by feel, smell, or view, and pressing circumstances necessitate a warrantless search.

When a police officer smells marijuana through your car window or feels a meth pipe in your pocket, they have met the first element of the test. The second element requires exigent circumstances. This means they reasonably believe you will leave the scene or destroy the evidence.

Thus, this exception might work for cars or a stop-and-frisk but not for your home.

What Do 4th Amendment Violations Look Like in Drug Cases?

When the police find evidence under odd circumstances, which is common in drug cases, you might wonder if they followed the law or violated your rights with an illegal search.

Here are some situations where your Fourth Amendment rights might have been violated:

No Probable Cause

To secure a search warrant, the police must have probable cause to believe you have committed a crime. If they have nothing except their suspicions without any concrete reasons to support them, they might not have probable cause.

Drugs Not Readily Visible

“Plain view” means the evidence must be visible without opening or moving anything. If the police had to unzip a purse, for example, the plain view exception probably does not apply.

No Consent Before Searching

The police will often try to secure your permission to search so they do not need to go through the rigors of obtaining a search warrant. If you tell them “no” and they search anyway, they might have violated your 4th Amendment rights.

No Valid Reason to Stop You

To apply the plain view exception, the police must have a valid reason to stop you in the first place. They cannot use the plain feel/view/smell exception if they simply stop you on a fishing expedition.

Proving Your 4th Amendment Rights Were Violated

In most cases, you will need the help of a drug crime defense lawyer to prove a violation of your Constitutional rights. Your lawyer will investigate and gather evidence. They can use police reports or probable cause affidavits. They will also interview witnesses. Finally, you will tell your story.

Using this information, the lawyer can present your case to a judge and argue your rights were violated.

How Does Proving 4th Amendment Violations Help My Case?

Prosecutors cannot use evidence generated during an unlawful search and seizure. Your lawyer can file motions to suppress any illegally gathered evidence. If granted, the judge will throw out the evidence.

Prosecutors bear the burden of proving the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Once they lose their evidence, they may need to drop or reduce the charges. You might also have a better chance of winning at trial once a judge tosses the evidence.

Talk to an Indianapolis Drug Crime Defense Lawyer

When you face serious criminal charges like drug felonies or misdemeanors, you need someone who knows Indiana’s drug laws well enough to answer all your questions, including “What is the sentence for drug trafficking in Indiana?”

Your lawyer will investigate the prosecution’s evidence and allegations. They will interview the prosecution’s witnesses and find the ones who can help you. They can also file motions with the court to suppress evidence and negotiate with prosecutors to drop or reduce the charges when they lose their illegally obtained evidence.

Call Indianapolis Defense Attorney Sean Hessler

Facing charges for drug crimes can be scary. Hessler Law, PC will vigorously fight for you by presenting all possible defenses. Attorney Sean Hessler has helped many clients fight for their rights in drug charge cases. He understands your challenging situation and is ready to help you avoid fines or incarceration.

We will examine all police misconduct and identify any evidence gathered illegally. Contact us for a free and confidential initial consultation. Call (317) 886-8800 or use our online contact form.