As readers know, search and seizure issues are potentially important areas to be explored when building a strong criminal defense case. Searches can be performed in a wide variety of circumstances, for a variety of reasons, and it is important that defendants scrutinize the legality of police investigations when building a strong defense case.
The most important question to consider when looking at the legality of any search or seizure is whether it was legal. Whether or not a search was legal can significantly change the character of a criminal case if it turns out that incriminating evidence was obtained illegally. In such a case, the defendant may be able to have the incriminating evidence excluded from trial on the ground that officers obtained it illegally.
In any search or seizure, officers must always have an adequate basis for conducting the search. In most cases, officers must have probable cause to stop and search a defendant and his vehicle or home. Probable cause refers to a reasonable basis to believe a crime has been committed or that evidence of criminal activity is present. Whether or not an officer needs a warrant, there must be probable cause to support searches and seizures.
One exception to this rule is a certain type of search known as a Terry stop, also known as the stop-and-frisk. This technique refers to a shot detention by an officer who has reasonable suspicion that the suspect is involved in criminal activity. Reasonable suspicion falls short of probable cause as it is a lesser standard, but that doesn’t mean reasonable suspicion may be flimsy.
In our next post, we’ll take a closer look at reasonable suspicion and how it can come up in the context of criminal investigations.