Understanding Search and Seizure Laws in Texas
The gathering of criminal evidence is a vital function of law enforcement. Those charged with crimes are assumed innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of proof of guilt rests solely on the prosecution. However, law enforcement cannot simply search your person or property. Your right to privacy is guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. Normally, law enforcement must obtain a search warrant from the court before conducting one.
So, can a search and seizure be legal if there is no warrant? As is true in many areas of the law, it depends.
Whether you believe your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated, or you have been arrested and charged with a crime based on evidence seized in a warrantless search and want to know what comes next, the Law Offices of Thomas R. Cox III can help.
Tom Cox began his legal career working for the prosecution. He, therefore, holds unique insight into how evidence is gathered and used to convict those charged with crimes in Dallas, Irving, Highland Park, Grand Prairie, Mesquite, University Park, and throughout Dallas County, Texas. As a long-time criminal defense attorney, he uses that insight to his clients’ advantage.
You Have Rights Under the Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment guarantees your right to privacy. As such, it provides protection for individuals against illegal searches of their person and property and against the seizure of anything during the search that may be used as evidence against you.
Warranted Search and Seizure Is Legal
Typically, law enforcement does need a warrant to perform a search and seizure that does not violate your Fourth Amendment rights. There is a legal process for obtaining one.
There must be probable cause for a judge to issue a warrant. Probable cause is a reasonable conclusion that there may be evidence of a crime on someone’s person, property, or business. Such a conclusion is based on evidence legally obtained and presented to the judge with the request for a warrant.
Warrants are limited by location and/or individual, by time, and by what is being searched for. Property seized beyond the scope of a warrant may be inadmissible in court.
So when is search and seizure legal? Answer: when a warrant is issued by the court to conduct one. However, in certain cases, warrantless searches and seizures may be legal.
Some Searches and Seizures Without Warrants Are Valid
Warrantless searches are legal if the person consents to the search voluntarily. They are also valid if a third-party owner of a property gives consent. For example, someone returns a rental car and the rental car company manager consents to allowing law enforcement to search it.
Warrants are not needed if law enforcement observes someone committing a crime or if there is sufficient probable cause to justify the search. For example, someone robs a store. Based on witness descriptions of the person and their vehicle, law enforcement can pull over the vehicle and search it for evidence of the crime without taking the time to request a warrant.
Evidence Seized in Warrantless Searches
You may be wondering what happens to evidence if a search and seizure is determined to violate someone’s constitutional right to privacy. This is where the exclusionary rule comes into play.
What is the exclusionary rule? It protects individuals by prohibiting the prosecution from using illegally obtained evidence against them at trial. If the search was illegal, then any evidence seized as a result is what is referred to as the “fruit of the poisonous tree.” In other words, because the evidence was obtained in violation of someone’s constitutional rights, it cannot be used against them at trial. The judge is obligated to exclude evidence obtained illegally.
However, that does not mean the evidence still can’t play a role. The judge is allowed to consider the excluded evidence during sentencing for a conviction on the related charges. The prosecution is permitted to use the evidence to impeach a witness. Moreover, the evidence can still be used in a civil case as well as in a deportation case.
Put Strong Legal Guidance in Your Corner
The best way to defend yourself in the wake of a warrantless search and seizure is by having a strong and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer represent you. That is precisely why clients turn to Tom Cox. His prosecutorial experience has shaped how he defends his clients with tenacity and a deep understanding of both state and federal law.
Call the Law Offices of Thomas R. Cox III in Dallas, Texas, today to learn about your legal options.