Illegal Searches and Seizures
For a prosecutor to obtain your conviction for a drug-related criminal offense in Indiana, he or she must have solid evidence against you. Often, the strongest evidence against you will be the items that the police obtained during a search of your person, vehicle, or property. When the police conduct such searches, and seize the property of a suspect, they must abide by the strict restrictions placed on the government by the United States Constitution’s Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.
These provisions of the Indiana and United States Constitutions guarantee the people’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures conducted by government authorities. These limits on government authority often come into play in criminal cases, because the prosecutor cannot use any evidence against a suspect that was obtained in violation of that suspect’s constitutional rights.
When Can the Authorities Legally Search Me?
If a police officer has reasonable suspicion that you are doing something illegal, he or she may legally stop you to ask questions. These so-called Terry stops may result in a search of your outer garments, or a “pat down”—but only when the police officer has reason to believe you are armed and dangerous.
If the police officer develops reasonable cause to believe you have committed a crime, he or she may place you under arrest. When placing you under arrest, the police may search for weapons and evidence on your body, in your clothing, and the area “under your immediate control.” For example, if the police arrest you in your home, they may search the room you were sitting in, but they may not search the whole house.
Unless the police are arresting you, you have the right to end the police encounter. If an officer is questioning you in the street, and you want the encounter to end, you can ask if you’re free to go. If the officer does not say that you are under arrest, he or she does not have the authority to detain you any longer than a few minutes. The best way to exercise your rights in these situations is to remain calm, polite, but assertive.
When Can the Police Pull Me Over and Search my Car?
The police’s authority to pull over a suspect’s car operates much in the same way as a Terry stop. This means that a police officer can only pull over a vehicle when he or she has reasonable suspicion that the driver has committed a crime. So if an officer observes you running a red light, speeding, or driving erratically (which may indicate you are intoxicated), the officer will have authority to pull you over.
The officer cannot detain you at the roadside for long. He or she can ask you questions, but you don’t need to answer them. You are within your rights to politely decline to answer the officer’s questions, and to ask whether you are under arrest. Basically, if the officer does not have probable cause to arrest you or search your vehicle, he or she must let you go. Here are some examples of factors that may give an officer probable cause during a traffic stop:
- Incriminating objects in plain sight — A bag of drugs on the dash, an open container of alcohol in the console, a weapon on the seat…
- Signs that you are drunk or on drugs — Irregular speech, lack of coordination, odd behavior, smell of weed or alcohol, blood shot eyes…
- Your own statements — If an officer asks you whether you had a drink before driving, answering in the affirmative may give rise to the probable cause necessary to give you a breath test.
- A K9 Unit marking your car —The police can have dogs sniff your car any time you are pulled over, so long as the use of the dogs does not unreasonably extend the length of the traffic stop
Once the officer has probable cause to believe you are doing something illegal, he or she may not only place you under arrest, but also search you and your car. The police can also search your car if you give them consent, and can legally use deceptive tactics to get you to agree to a search. No matter what an officer says, you have an absolute right to refuse a search of your car unless the officer has probable cause.
Do the Police Always Need a Warrant to Search My Home or Property?
The police can enter your home under three circumstances:
- You give them consent
- They have a warrant
- They are responding to an emergency
The only time the police can conduct an extensive search of your home is when they have a court-issued search warrant against you. This is different from an arrest warrant, which gives the police the authority to enter your house and arrest you, but not to conduct an extensive search of your home. With an arrest warrant, the police may only search the immediate area under your control to determine whether you hid or attempted to destroy weapons or evidence.
When the police enter your home because of an emergency or because you gave them consent, they can only seize objects that are in plain sight. For example, if the police enter your home in response to a domestic abuse call, they may confiscate any illegal weapons or drugs they see lying around the house. They may not, however, move furniture or open closets to find incriminating items.
While the police need a warrant to search your home, garage, and the property immediately surrounding these places, they do not need a warrant to search other parts of your property, such as fields or forests. This is because the law assumes that people only have an expectation of privacy in and around their homes—not on the far reaches of their property.
What If the Police Violate My rights When Searching or Seizing My Property?
Criminal suspects enjoy the protection of the so-called exclusionary rule, which dictates that a prosecutor cannot use illegally obtained evidence against a defendant. For example, if the police searched your car without your consent but did not have probable cause, the prosecutor cannot use any evidence of that search against you at trial.
A skilled criminal defense attorney will interview the arresting officers and determine whether they actually had probable cause. If there’s a possibility that the officers overstepped their authority, your lawyer can file a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the search. If successful, this motion will cause that evidence to be removed from the prosecution’s case. In some cases, a motion to suppress will leave the prosecutor with so little evidence that it may be possible to have your charges dismissed altogether.
With eight years of experience as a prosecutor, Attorney Sean Hessler knows how prosecutors build their cases. This means that he also knows where the weaknesses in their cases may lie. Let Indianapolis drug defense attorney Sean Hessler put his deep experience in criminal law towards defending your rights.
How an Indianapolis Drug Defense Lawyer Can Help
If you’ve been charged with a crime, the prosecutors will need solid evidence against you in order to convince a jury that you are guilty. By reviewing how each piece of evidence was obtained, a skilled Indiana drug defense attorney may discover that some evidence was obtained in a way that violated your Fourth Amendment rights. The attorney can file a motion to suppress the evidence, which if successful will bar the prosecution from using that evidence against you at trial.
For this reason, every criminal defense attorney must also be knowledgeable in constitutional law. At Hessler Law, we have often been able to successfully fight our clients’ criminal charges when the evidence against them resulted from illegal searches or seizures. If you’re facing criminal charges and want to speak with an Indianapolis criminal defense lawyer, call attorney Sean Hessler with Hessler Law today for a free and confidential phone consultation of your case at (317) 886-8800.