Santa Rosa Unreasonable Search Lawyer

Both the United States and California constitutions protect you from unreasonable searches by the government. Searches by the government of your house, person, car, cell phone, or other protected areas can run afoul of your Fourth Amendment Rights. If you or a loved one were subjected to an unreasonable search by the government, the Santa Rosa Civil Rights attorney at the Law Office of Kasra Parsad can help you remedy the constitutional violation.  Depending on the circumstances of your case, we can suppress the evidence of an unlawful search or even file a civil rights lawsuit due to improper government conduct. 

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The Fourth Amendment Protects Against Unreasonable Searches

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I Section 13 of the California Constitution protects the rights of the people of their person, house, papers, and effects, from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. When the government intrudes on a constitutionally protected area where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, a “search” has occurred within the Fourth Amendment. This means that if the government wants to search one of our constitutionally protected areas, they must have a warrant supported by probable cause, subject to certain exceptions.  The Fourth Amendment in its entirety 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.

Violations of the Fourth Amendment can happen when a person is unlawfully searched by the government. If you were unlawfully searched by the government, and incriminating evidence was found as a result, you may be able to file a motion to suppress the illegally obtained evidence or file a civil rights lawsuit if you suffered injuries as a result of the unlawful search. If you believe your Fourth Amendment rights were violated by an unreasonable search, contact our Santa Rosa Fourth Amendment attorneys at the Law Office of Kasra Parsad to determine the validity of your claim.

You Must Have a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy When Challenging an Unreasonable Search 

To allege a violation of your Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches, a person must have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the property searched. Without a reasonable expectation of privacy, there can be no Fourth Amendment violation. Some examples of where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy include their home, person, car, and electronic storage devices. The Constitution protects these areas and requires the government to have a warrant unless exceptions apply. The general test is

1) Whether a person had an expectation of privacy in the situation in question, and 

2) Whether that expectation was one that society at large would recognize as reasonable. 

Some places where a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy include:

    • Stolen or abandoned property
    • Garbage left on the curb to be picked up
    • Parts of your property that can be seen from the air
    • The area of your home that extends beyond the yard

The government cannot search just because a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy that is reasonable. Having a reasonable expectation of privacy merely means that the government can search so long as they have a warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement applies. If you are not sure whether you had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place or thing searched by law enforcement, contact our Santa Rosa civil rights attorney to find out. 

The Government Needs a Warrant to Search 

In simpler terms, a search warrant is a document that authorizes the government to search a person, place, or thing.  To be valid, a search warrant must be:

(1) Based on probable cause, supported by affidavit,

(2) Specifically describe the person, place, or thing to be searched, and

(3) Issued by a neutral judge

A search performed with a search warrant that meets these requirements is constitutionally valid. However, just because the government had a search warrant when they executed a search does not always mean the search was constitutional. A search warrant can be invalid if

(1) The warrant was itself invalid, or

(2) Law enforcement exceeded the scope of the search

A warrant can be invalid if the government intentionally misled the judge in their affidavit when applying for the search or if the judge was biased against the person to be searched. Another reason a search warrant may be invalid is if the particularity requirement was not met, that being, the warrant was vague about the area to be searched or the evidence to be seized. Even if the search warrant was valid, a search may be found to be unreasonable if law enforcement exceeded the scope of the search by searching areas or seizing evidence not described by the warrant.  

Certain Exceptions Apply to the Warrant Requirement

There are exceptions to the warrant requirement. The law has determined that the government does not need a search warrant in certain situations to conduct a legal search.

Consent

The government does not need a warrant if a person consents to a search. The consent must be given voluntarily, knowingly, and freely. Consent obtained through coercion or deceit will be found invalidated because it cannot be said the person gave consent freely and voluntarily.  While giving consent to a search may seem like you have nothing to hide, it is best to politely decline and tell the government actor to obtain a warrant. If you are not under arrest or there is no reason for the government to want to search but your consent, politely decline and ask if you are free to go.

Plain View

If the government can see incriminating evidence in plain view, the law does not require them to obtain a warrant to search. For the plain view exception to apply, an officer’s presence must be lawful and the incriminating nature must be naturally apparent.  For example, an officer who sees drug paraphernalia during a valid traffic stop can search a vehicle by using the plain view exception because they were lawfully present when they saw the incriminating evidence. But an officer could not just trespass on some random yard, see marijuana plants inside, and use the plain view exception. 

Stop and Frisk

An officer can detain an individual for a brief investigatory stop and frisk them for weapons. The officer must have reasonable suspicion to detain an individual, which means they have articulable facts that criminal activity is afoot and that the person stopped is involved. To be frisked during a detention, an officer must believe the person they detained is armed and dangerous. For example, law enforcement can stop a person who matches the description of a crime that was reported nearby. But to frisk that person, the officer needs to believe they are armed and dangerous. An officer cannot frisk someone by merely detaining them. 

Automobile Exception

Although people have reasonable expectations of privacy in their car, it is diminished compared to their person or house. Due to the mobile nature of a car, and the fact that obtaining a warrant can be difficult since the car could just drive off, law enforcement generally does not need a warrant to search if they have probable cause to believe it contains evidence of a crime. For example, if an officer pulls a vehicle over and sees bricks of cocaine, not only can the officer claim the plain view exception, but they now have probable cause to believe the car contains evidence of a crime. 

Search Incident to Arrest

After a lawful arrest, law enforcement can search a person and the areas within arm’s reach. The justification for this search is two-fold: officer safety and preservation of evidence. It is reasonable for an arresting officer to search a person after a lawful arrest to remove any weapons that could be used to harm them and secure any evidence that could be concealed or destroyed. However, a cell phone recovered incident to a lawful arrest cannot be searched. Law enforcement needs a warrant. 

When it comes to traffic stops, incident to a lawful arrest, a vehicle may be searched without a warrant only if the arrested person is unrestrained and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or if the officer reasonably believes the vehicle contains evidence of the crime for which the person is being arrested. 

Exigent Circumstances

Exigent circumstances allow officers to perform a warrantless search when there is an emergency situation that requires immediate police action. For example, if an officer witnessed a suspect commit a felony in his presence and the officer then has probable cause to make an arrest, but the suspect takes off and enters a home, an officer can enter the home without a warrant to arrest the suspect. Law enforcement must have a reasonable belief that immediate police action is required to prevent the destruction of evidence, stop the escape of a suspect, or prevent the imminent danger to life or serious damage to property. Just recently in a local Sonoma County case, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect does not categorically qualify as an exigent circumstance justifying a warrantless entry into a home.  

When Can Law Enforcement Search My House, Person, and Car Without a Warrant?

Based on the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement and the exceptions to the warrant requirement, law enforcement can search your home, person, and car without a warrant in the following circumstances: 

Home

Fourth Amendment protection is at its highest in the home. The government generally needs a warrant to search your home unless:

(1) Consent is given by you or someone else with authority over the premises,

(2) Exigent circumstances exist

(3) Plain view

(4) The search is incident to a lawful arrest

Your Person

The government can search your person if:

(1) You give consent

(2) The officer believes you are armed and dangerous (only a frisk-not a search)

(3) The search is incident to a lawful arrest.

Automobile

The government can search your car if:

(1) Consent is given by you or someone else who has authority to consent,

(2) The police have probable cause to believe the car contains evidence of a crime,

(3) If incriminating evidence is in plain view

(4) Search incident to a lawful arrest, only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the interior while unrestrained or the officer reasonably believes the car contains evidence of the crime for which the person is being arrested,

(5) The officer reasonably believes during a temporary detention that the occupant of the car may be dangerous and has access to weapons, or

(6) The car has been lawfully impounded for an inventory search

Suppress Evidence Seized From an Unreasonable Search

Evidence seized from a search can be used against you in court. But if the search was unlawful, then the evidence recovered was obtained unlawfully. Evidence obtained by law enforcement through an unlawful search is inadmissible in court. In these situations, our Santa Rosa civil rights attorney can file a motion pursuant to Penal Code section 1538.5 to suppress the illegally obtained evidence in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. If granted, this leaves the prosecution with little evidence to support the criminal charges against you and may lead to a dismissal of the charges.

If you were subject to an unreasonable search where evidence was obtained against you in a criminal prosecution, contact our Santa Rosa Civil Rights attorney to determine whether filing a motion to suppress would be a viable claim.

A Civil Rights Lawsuit May Remedy an Unreasonable Search

You may be able to file a civil rights lawsuit for any injury you suffered from an unreasonable search. Our Santa Rosa unreasonable search lawyer can file a section 1983 lawsuit for violations of your civil rights in federal court, or a Tom Bane Civil Rights Act lawsuit for violation of your civil rights in California state court. 

How Can a Santa Rosa Civil Rights Attorney Help?

We owe it to law enforcement to keep us and our community safe. But the Constitution has put limits on what they can and cannot do. At our firm, we believe you and your family should not have to accept being unlawfully searched without a fight. You and your loved ones deserve justice, answer, closure, and the right compensation when government unlawfully searches you. A Santa Rosa civil rights attorney can help explain the requirements and guide you throughout the process. As soon as possible, you’ll want to contact our Santa Rosa civil rights attorney to assess your options. You never know how a competent lawyer may be able to help you, so there is nothing to lose by getting in touch with our office. Our complimentary consultation comes at no cost. 

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