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How can I fight back if an unlawful police search led to criminal charges?

Both the U.S. Constitution and crucial court precedents protect you from unlawful searches by law enforcement. Specifically, the Fourth Amendment grants you freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and numerous court rulings over the years have helped reaffirm those rights.

Police officers typically either need your permission or a search warrant from the court to conduct a search. However, in cases involving reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, police officers can search a home, a person or a vehicle without either consent or a warrant. Still, some officers will search and then try to justify that decision based on what they find.

So, if you now face criminal charges because a police officer conducted a potentially unlawful search, what can you do to fight back?

Understanding the exclusionary rule regarding seized evidence

Essentially, the Fourth Amendment provides theoretical protection. In more practical terms, you have to know and exercise your rights if you are facing a criminal charge based on an unlawful search. The best way to do that is to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney. If you are facing a charge in Wisconsin, it is crucial that you have an attorney who knows the courts in Wisconsin. If your lawyer can show that the police lacked legal grounds to conduct a search, your lawyer can potentially invoke the exclusionary rule, which allows for seized evidence to be excluded from court proceedings.

What is the exclusionary rule?

The criminal courts in the United States cannot use evidence obtained through police misconduct. The decision to perform an illegal search is one of the more common forms of police misconduct that affect criminal cases, and it will often result in defense attorneys invoking the exclusionary rule while presenting their client’s case to a judge.

If a judge agrees that a police officer violated someone’s Fourth Amendment rights, the judge may prevent the use of seized evidence in the criminal proceedings. In many cases, the exclusionary rule eliminates enough evidence that the state has to dismiss the charges against the defendant.

For more on these matters, please see our previous post, “3 examples of when evidence in a criminal case may be thrown out.”