The Law Offices of John Phebus

On search and seizure

The legal rights of people who have been accused of a crime in Arizona are well documented. There are stringent regulations governing the kinds of evidence that can be used in criminal trials, and the ways in which evidence may be gathered are the subject of an enormous body of law. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and the meaning of that term has been the subject of numerous Supreme Court cases.

The law allows certain types of searches to the police while barring others. The police may demonstrate to the satisfaction of a judge that there is substantial reason to go onto someone's private property and look for evidence of a crime. If the judge agrees that their case is sufficient, a search warrant can be issued. Special rules govern what the police can and cannot discover while executing such a warrant. The police may also intercede in a crime in progress, and there are certain circumstances under which they may stop a citizen on the street and perform some level of search.

While the Fourth Amendment precludes the issuance of a warrant without probable cause, most searches are conducted without a warrant. As an example, evidence of a crime that is left out in plain view of the police where there was no legitimate expectation of privacy can be seized and later used as evidence in a criminal trial.

Conversely, evidence seized in violation of a person's constitutional rights will likely be excluded from evidence. In such an instance, a criminal defense attorney could attempt to get the case dismissed.

Source: Findlaw, "Searches and Seizures: The Limitations of the Police", July 1, 2016

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