One of the basic tenets of American culture is that citizens have a right to privacy that prevents the government from invading their private space without a significant and pressing need. In fact, contesting government intrusion is a charge that many criminal defense attorneys use in the fight to protect a client’s rights. This right to exclude others is also seen in other aspects of American life. For instance, if one has a desire for large houses and yards, in parts of the country where such space is possible, that keeps neighbors at a distance from one another, or the personal space that Americans expect and demand even when standing in line, it is apparent that privacy is always a concern. This is especially obvious when considering the measures people take to keep others out of their homes and their cars. Home and car ownership are both prized in America to a much higher degree than elsewhere, perhaps in reaction to the higher level of privacy we enjoy, and as a consequence, people invest a lot of money into security measures to keep others out. Thus, when the government does come knocking, one expects them to stay out unless given permission to enter. However, while the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and Article I Section 13 of California Constitution both do protect against unlawful search and seizure, courts have carved out a number of exceptions to this rule that allows law enforcement to search a person’s property without consent or a warrant. These exceptions, in the context of home and vehicle searches, will be discussed below.
As a preliminary point, it is important to note that a right to privacy only exists if the expectation is legitimate and reasonable. Thus, it is reasonable to expect privacy in one’s home or computer, but not in abandoned property or the contents of a stolen car. When it comes to home searches specifically, police can enter without consent or a warrant in the following circumstances:
- someone’s life is in immediate danger or serious damage to property. Police must be able to articulate the need for direct action and cannot justify such a search on suspicion alone; or
- the search is conducted in connection with a lawful arrest. Specifically, the search must relate to securing officer safety or safeguarding evidence that may otherwise be destroyed.
If a search was conducted outside these exceptions, and was therefore unreasonable, a criminal defense attorney can ask the court to suppress any evidence seized under California’sexclusionary law.
The exceptions for law enforcement searches of vehicles without a warrant or consent include:
- the police have probable cause or reasonable belief that the car contains evidence of a crime;
- the police are lawfully arresting an occupant of the car, and the arrestee is within reach of the car’s interior or law enforcement believes the vehicle contains evidence related to the arrestee’s crime;
- the police are temporarily detaining an occupant of the car related to a suspected crime, such as DUI, and search the car in the belief that the person is dangerous and/or has access to dangerous weapons; and
- the car was lawfully impounded and an inventory search is conducted, which is usually done to secure the contents of the vehicle from theft or loss and protect law enforcement safety.
If you believe the police unlawfully searched your car or home, it is crucial to consult with a criminal defense attorney to protect your rights. Police will attempt to use any evidence collected against you, but an experienced criminal defense lawyer will know how to fight to keep illegally-obtained evidence away from the jury. The attorneys at the Manshoory Law Group, APC in Los Angeles will work to get the best possible results in your case. Contact us for a free consultation.