Search and Seizure In New York

Getting arrested often involves being searched by the police, whether it’s your car, your person, or your home. In some cases, this can lead to the police discovering additional evidence that can be used against you or lead to additional charges. For example, being arrested for assault can lead to drug charges if the police discover drugs in your possession. What many people do not realize, however, is that the police have very limited authority to conduct a search without your permission, and illegal searches occur more often than you might think. In many cases, the people facing criminal charges don’t even realize they have been subjected to an illegal search. On top of all of that, the underlying arrest may itself have been illegal.

Neither the judge nor the prosecutor is obligated to point out when the police have made an illegal arrest or conducted an illegal search. Search and seizure laws are very technical, so it’s important to have an experienced lawyer on your side who can assess whether your rights were violated from an unlawful search or seizure. Cody Warner can review your case, determine whether you have been subjected to an illegal search and seizure, and then build an effective legal strategy for your defense.

About Illegal Search and Seizure

Your constitutional rights protect you against illegal searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution 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.”

Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

  • Unreasonable arrests or searches of your person, your home, or your “effects” are not permitted;
  • Arrests and search warrants must be based on probable cause;
  • Arrests and search warrants must be specific as to who is to be arrested or the place or persons to be searched, and what the police are looking for

While this sounds straightforward, a complex body of court decisions has grown around the Fourth Amendment to define what is considered “unreasonable” and what constitutes “probable cause.” These court decisions attempt to balance two competing interests:

  1. A citizen’s right to privacy; and
  2. The government’s interest in law enforcement.

The attempt to balance these two interests has resulted in a highly complex body of law. Seemingly insignificant facts can make a significant difference as to whether your constitutional rights have been violated, which can substantially impact the outcome of your case. If you have been arrested and charged with a crime where the police searched your home, your vehicle, or your person, you need to speak with an attorney as soon as possible.

Was Your Arrest or Search Unreasonable?

One of the threshold questions pertaining to search and seizures is whether the search or arrest was reasonable or unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The answer to this question turns on the specific nature of your arrest or seizure and the facts that the government relied on to justify their intrusion. Some related general principles are that:

  • People are considered to have a greater expectation of privacy in their homes than in their vehicles. Consequently, the police have more latitude in searching your car compared to searching your home. Under most circumstances, the police need a warrant to search a home, whereas the police can search your vehicle without a warrant so long as they have probable cause to justify the search.
  • People do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in items they abandon. So, if after being pursued by the police on foot, you discard drugs in a public trash can, you do not have an expectation of privacy in the trash can and cannot therefore successfully challenge the police’s search of the trash can and seizure of the drugs.

What is Probable Cause?

Probable cause is required by the Fourth Amendment for police to make an arrest, conduct a search, or obtain a warrant. Probable cause is generally considered to be a reasonable basis for believing that some fact or circumstance exists.  For example, if a police officer observes a person commit a crime–like assault–in public, the officer has a reasonable basis to believe that the defendant committed an assault. Consequently, the police officer would have probable cause that the crime of assault was committed and could justifiably arrest the defendant.

To obtain a warrant to search your home, the police must first demonstrate to a judge that they have probable cause that evidence of a crime is inside your home. This means that they have a reasonable basis to believe that evidence of a crime is inside of your home. The requirement the police obtain a search warrant–absent a few exceptions–before searching a home is due to courts historically holding that people enjoy a greater expectation of privacy in their home. Accordingly, a judge must review the police’s purported probable cause before the search of a home will be legally authorized.

Courts have long grappled with what may or may not be probable cause in specific cases, and unfortunately, it isn’t always clear how judges will apply search and seizure law to any given case. Contact Cody Warner as soon as possible if you believe that you have been subjected to an illegal search or false arrest.

When a Search Warrant is Not Required

There are several situations where the police may conduct a search without a warrant.

  • Consent. The police can search your car or your home without a warrant if you give them permission. They may not explicitly ask you for permission to conduct a search without a warrant. Instead, they may ask something like, “Mind if we take a look around the property?” or “Would you mind opening the truck for us?” When you give the police your consent to conduct a search, you waive your Fourth Amendment rights.
  • Emergency. The police may not need a warrant to conduct a search in emergency situations where the safety of the public is at stake.
  • Searches incident to arrest. The police can conduct a search of your person or the surrounding area to look for weapons that could endanger their safety. Criminal evidence found during such a search may be admissible in court.
  • Vehicle inventory searches. The police have the authority to search a vehicle and inventory all property within at any time that a vehicle is impounded.

What You Need to Know About Your NY Search and Seizure Rights at a Traffic Stop

For many people, their first contact with the police comes from a traffic stop. These are some basic rights you have related to search and seizure laws at traffic stops in New York.

  • A basic traffic violation by itself is not normally probable cause for a search of your vehicle.
  • You don’t have to consent to a search, and you should not do so if the police ask.
  • Police don’t need a warrant for vehicle searches if they have probable cause that you have evidence of a crime in your vehicle. Furthermore, the police can search the “grabbable area” of your vehicle if you are acting suspiciously and they are worried for their safety.

If you believe the police unlawfully searched your car during a routine traffic stop, contact an attorney at your first opportunity.

DUI Checkpoints in NYC

While they may seem like an unlawful seizure, DUI checkpoints are legal provided that they meet the following criteria:

  • The checkpoint is not unreasonably intrusive drivers;
  • There is fair and adequate warning that the checkpoint is upcoming, such as signs or warning lights
  • The checkpoint is not simply for crime control and instead serves a legitimate state interest (such as stopping drunk drivers from causing car accidents);
  • The police use a pre-set formula for choosing which cars to stop,
  • A law enforcement supervisor is present at the checkpoint; and
  • Drivers are not detained for an unreasonably long period of time.

If the police failed to observe these requirements, you might be able to get your DUI charge dismissed. Before pleading guilty to DUI, contact Cody Warner to discuss your options.

New York Property Searches

Unless the above-mentioned exceptions apply, the police must obtain your consent or get a warrant before searching your property. Once a judge grants the search warrant, it authorizes the police to search specific property for specific items. A warrant is valid for only a short period of time specified by the judge. The officer must present the warrant for your review and can use physical force to execute the warrant if you refuse access.

Are You the Victim of an Illegal Search or Seizure? Contact Cody Warner Today

If your constitutional rights have been violated, you may be able to get your charges dismissed. However, proving that you were subjected to an illegal search or seizure can be complicated. Cody Warner has the knowledge and experience to make sure that your constitutional rights are protected. To discuss your case and how he can help, call or email Cody today to schedule a free consultation.