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SCOTUS Decision Erodes 4th Amendment Protections

The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits law enforcement from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. Whether a particular search or seizure was unconstitutional is at the center of many criminal defense cases, as violations of this rule can result in evidence gathered during an unconstitutional search being suppressed at trial. When prosecutors are unable to use evidence gathered by law enforcement, they are often forced to drop their case entirely. Even when they are not forced to drop a case, excluding evidence can often significantly weaken the state’s case, increasing the likelihood of an acquittal.

On June 20th, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Utah v. Strieff, in which it held that if a police officer discovers an active arrest warrant during an unconstitutional stop and finds evidence of a crime during a search incident to the arrest, that evidence is admissible in spite of the initial stop being unconstitutional. To make sense of this, it is important to understand that, generally speaking, evidence gathered as a result of unconstitutional police action is inadmissible as “fruit of the poisonous tree.” In this case, however, the court reasoned that the fact that the officer discovered an active warrant sufficiently attenuated the search from the initial unconstitutional stop as to not require the evidence to be suppressed.

4th Amendment Cases Are Often Close

While this case provides some guidance and perhaps establishes a new rule, it does not mean that the 4th Amendment has been completely gutted. For example, if you are pulled over for speeding and the officer searches your car without having probable cause to do so and discovers contraband, you will likely still be able to have the evidence gathered excluded from trial. The rule articulated in the case seems to only apply to situations in which an officer discovers a warrant during an unconstitutional stop – but the attenuation doctrine may apply to other situations as well.

In many cases in which the 4th Amendment is at issue, the case could go either way. Questions about what types of situations or circumstances constitute “probable cause” or “reasonable suspicions” are not easily answered, so hiring a skilled and persuasive attorney can have a significant impact on the way that a case is resolved. In addition to raising 4th Amendment concerns to the court, a defense attorney may also be able to do the following:

  • Impeach the credibility of the arresting officer;
  • Establish facts that make it impossible for you to have committed the alleged offense;
  • Argue that your actions were justified in light of the circumstances;
  • Negotiate a favorable plea agreement that avoids serious long-term consequences.

Call Lavalle, Brown & Ronan Today to Retain Legal Counsel

While this decision certainly does not favor the rights of criminal defendants, the 4th Amendment still prohibits a broad range of police activity. As a result, it is possible to suppress evidence in a significant number of criminal cases. For a thorough case evaluation at no cost to you, call the Boca Raton criminal defense attorneys of Lavalle, Brown & Ronan today at 888-646-1315.

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