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Overturning a Conviction Based on an Illegal Search, With or Without a Warrant

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has protected us from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government for over two centuries. But it was only in the 20th century that courts began using the protections provided by the Fourth Amendment to overturn criminal convictions even when evidence seized in violation of the law otherwise pointed to the fault of the defendant.

Put another way, a bedrock of our nation’s criminal laws – whether defendants are being prosecuted in state or federal courts – is that a defendant can only be convicted based upon evidence which has been lawfully searched for and seized by law enforcement. Even if illegally seized evidence clearly shows a defendant’s guilt in committing a crime, that defendant cannot be lawfully convicted of a crime based on that evidence.

Trial Judges Sometimes Make Mistakes on the Fourth Amendment

The judge presiding over your criminal trial is mandated to follow constitutional standards by not allowing evidence into your trial that has been illegally seized against you. But judges sometimes make mistakes, either out of carelessness, oversight, ignorance, or some other reason.

If a judge wrongly allowed evidence to be admitted against you in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and you were convicted as a result, you may be able to successfully petition for a reversal of your conviction. An appeals attorney can examine your trial record to determine whether such mistakes were made at your trial and take action to work towards your appeal.

Common Fourth Amendment Violations Which Could Lead to a Conviction Reversal

The text of the Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

How does this language from 1789 play out in the present day? Volumes have been written on this topic, but common scenarios in which evidence has been deemed inadmissible in a criminal trial include:

  • Detaining a Person Without Reasonable Suspicion: The police may not detain you without reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. If the police stop you – whether on the street or in your car – and proceed to collect evidence without having had reasonable suspicion to stop you in the first place, such evidence could be excluded.
  • Searching Your Home Without a Warrant: Police must have a valid warrant to search your home, or they must have a valid exclusion to the warrant requirement. Items seized without a valid warrant, outside the scope of the warrant, or without a valid exclusion may be excluded from evidence.
  • Searching You or Your Belongings Without Probable Cause: Probable cause is one justification for searching you or your belongings (i.e. your car), but probable cause is a high bar. A police officer must point to specific facts which led him to believe a crime has been committed justifying the search to use the probable cause justification.
  • Arresting You Without Probable Cause: Similarly, you cannot be arrested without probable cause, and, thus when a search is done based on an arrest where there was no probable cause, the evidence can be excluded.
  • Using a Faulty Warrant to Search Your Home Or Belongings: Even when police do obtain a warrant, any evidence might be seized if the warrant was faulty, e.g. the police lied in order to obtain the warrant.

This is just a broad overview of the types of Fourth Amendment issues that could arise which could lead to a successful appeal of a criminal conviction. Speak to an experienced criminal appeals attorney for counsel on your particular situation.

Help in Your Washington and California Appeal

The Law Office of Corey Evan Parker is focused on the civil and criminal appeals process in Washington and California. If you are considering filing a criminal or civil appeal, feel free to contact Mr. Parker today for a no obligation 30-minute consultation.