Illegal Search and Seizure in Drug Crime Defense

Former Prosecutors Asserting Your Fourth Amendment Rights

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure by law enforcement. This means that police must operate within certain bounds in investigating crimes, and prosecutors may not use illegally obtained evidence in seeking a conviction.

Drug crimes in particular hinge on search and seizure issues. It is critical that your legal counsel understands where the line is drawn and how to hold the government accountable for Fourth Amendment violations. The criminal defense lawyers of Martin & Kent, L.L.C., are former felony prosecutors who are well-versed in these legal issues. Our knowledge and skill have resulted in the dismissal of charges, suppression of evidence, and jury acquittals in a range of drug cases. If you face drug charges in DuPage, Kane, or Cook County, you want our defense team on your side. Call today.

What Constitutes Unlawful Search and Seizure?

Police must have a reasonable suspicion to stop or search a person, rather than a hunch or a scattergun approach. They must obtain the individual’s consent to search a vehicle or home. Law enforcement must have probable cause to obtain a search warrant, and the warrant must be specific as to the scope of where they can search and what they are looking for. If police officers do not have consent or legal justification for a search, doing so will violate the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Our attorneys have successfully challenged drug arrests and prejudicial evidence in drug cases by raising Fourth Amendment issues, such as the legality or execution of:

  • Pat-downs and search of personal belongings
  • Traffic stops
  • The warrantless search of vehicles
  • Use of K-9 drug-sniffing dogs
  • Entering a residence without a warrant
  • Insufficient grounds for search warrants
  • Exceeding the bounds of search warrants
  • Seizure of personal property
  • Asset forfeiture (cash, guns, vehicles, etc.)

If any of the above occurs, our attorneys can review what happened and determine whether the police violated your rights. We can then identify what impact such a violation had on your case.

Common Fourth Amendment Concerns

The following is some additional information about common Fourth Amendment violations that lead to drug-related charges and how our attorneys can help you in these situations.

Illegal traffic stops – When police officers stop you, it is considered to be a “seizure” for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment. In order to make a traffic stop, an officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the driver committed a violation of the law. For example, the officer saw the driver swerving and believed the driver was impaired. Additionally, a violation can be as small as failing to signal, but an officer cannot simply pull someone over because they “look suspicious” or for no valid reason. If police make an illegal traffic stop and see that you have drugs in the car, we can argue for the court to suppress that drug evidence because it stemmed from an illegal stop.

Illegal searches – Whether an officer wants to search your person, a purse, a car, or inside a residence, they need to have proper authority. Generally speaking, the police should have a valid search warrant to conduct a search anywhere in which someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, the law recognizes that obtaining a warrant is not always feasible, especially at a traffic stop. Therefore, the law provides some exigent circumstances in which officers can conduct a warrantless search.

First, officers must demonstrate they had probable cause to believe there was evidence of a crime in the place they want to search. They cannot search your vehicle during a traffic stop on the off chance you may have contraband. If there is probable cause, the police may justify a warrantless search with the following reasons:

  • They believe a suspect may destroy the evidence if they take time to obtain a warrant
  • They search your person for possible weapons during an arrest
  • They perform a search incident to an arrest, looking for evidence of the suspected crime on your person and in the area of your immediate control
  • Searches of impounded vehicles
  • Contraband was in plain sight of the officers

If police suspect you were driving drunk, they cannot search your entire car, including the trunk, for drugs or other contraband. However, this happens all too often, and many warrantless searches do not have adequate justification and violate your Fourth Amendment rights. We work to keep any illegally-obtained evidence out of your case.

Arrest without probable cause – Imagine the following scenario: An officer pulls you over and asks if you have been drinking. You have not had anything to drink, and you say so. The officer conducts field sobriety tests, with which you comply and do not show signs of intoxication. The officer insists that you are impaired, and arrests you anyway. The officer violated your Fourth Amendment rights by making an arrest without a warrant or probable cause that you were driving under the influence.

When the police make unlawful arrests, everything that stems from the arrest is the product of the unlawful arrest. The court should suppress any answers you give to police, any evidence of a crime found in your car or belongings, and more. Often, if we can prove an arrest violated your rights, we can have the entire case dropped.

Invalid warrants – In some cases, police officers do obtain a warrant, though the warrant itself is defective. Warrants must meet certain requirements, including asserting sufficient probable cause to justify the warrant and providing specific information regarding where officers can search for evidence and/or who they can arrest. A warrant cannot be overly broad, and officers should not exceed the scope of the warrant. If that occurs, prosecutors should not be able to use any evidence found against you.

In addition, some authorities will include false information on a warrant, either intentionally or unintentionally. If a judge signs a warrant based on false information, the warrant is invalid, and the court should keep out any evidence stemming from that warrant.

The Effects of Search and Seizure Violations

Our criminal defense lawyers understand how to demonstrate that a constitutional violation occurred and that the court should suppress any resulting evidence. Often, this can mean having your entire drug case dropped. For example:

  • The police illegally searched your vehicle during a routine traffic stop and found cocaine
  • The prosecutor issues drug possession charges
  • Our attorneys identify the unlawful search and file a motion to suppress the illegally-obtained evidence, which is the cocaine itself
  • Without being able to use the cocaine evidence, the prosecutor has no other material evidence that you possessed drugs
  • Without any additional evidence, the prosecutor knows they cannot prove your charges beyond a reasonable doubt
  • The prosecutor drops the entire case

This is a more common result than you may think when police officers conduct unlawful searches or arrests.

When police officers violate your Fourth Amendment rights, the court will not automatically take action to suppress evidence. Instead, you must request that the court takes action to suppress evidence due to the violation. Without having extensive criminal defense experience, most people likely do not know how to petition the court to throw out evidence. This is only one of many reasons why you need a skilled criminal defense attorney on your side.

Not every case involves a Fourth Amendment violation, though there may be numerous other ways to defend against your charges. Our lawyers regularly obtain a dismissal or reduction of charges for our clients. We will ensure you do not face more serious consequences than necessary, and we work to hold authorities accountable for their errors. Whether or not your case involved a warrantless search or arrest, you should immediately speak with a member of our legal team to find out how we can assist you.

Let’s Discuss Your Case in a Free, Confidential Consultation

Our partners have handled more than 10,000 criminal cases in their roles as prosecutors and defense lawyers. They are leaders in professional organizations who have received peer accolades such as Illinois Super Lawyers and the 10.0 Superb rating from Avvo for both Timothy Martin and Scott Kent.

Contact us immediately if you have been questioned or arrested in connection to drug offenses. If you believe that your rights against illegal search and seizure were violated, we will fight to get evidence tossed out or otherwise mitigate the adverse and unfair impact on your right to due process and a fair trial.

With offices in Wheaton, we defend clients throughout DuPage, Kane, and Cook Counties. You can reach Martin & Kent, L.L.C., 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at (630) 474-8000.