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The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from being arrested or searched or their property searched or seized without a warrant or probable cause. Anything obtained during an unconstitutional search and/or seizure cannot be introduced into court.

Referred to as the exclusionary rule, illegally obtained evidence cannot be used against a criminal defendant in court. The prosecutor’s case is weakened.

The Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. The amendment was enacted in 1791 after being first introduced in 1789. The Fourth Amendment addresses the right to privacy of citizens and the responsibilities of law enforcement.

The Fourth Amendment protects Americans:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The interpretation of these protections and responsibilities has varied since its enactment. Cases that went before more liberal Supreme Courts tended to side more with the rights of the individual. More conservative Supreme Courts gave law enforcement more latitude.

An experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney is needed to make persuasive arguments at all levels of the criminal justice process.

A search and/or seizure is unconstitutional in the following situations:

  • Conducted without a legal search warrant signed by a judge or magistrate describing the special person, place, or things to be seized and/or searched
  • Executed without probable cause to believe that a certain person or place (including a vehicle) has criminal evidence
  • Extended the search and seizure beyond its authorized scope

Search and Seizure

A legal search and/or seizure is based upon known facts that create the belief a crime has been committed or that certain property is connected to a crime. A warrant is typically required.

Probable Cause

Arrests, searches, and seizures can occur without a warrant but usually only if there is probable cause. An example would be if a car is pulled over for a traffic violation and illegal drugs are in plain sight in the passenger’s seat. Probable cause can, however, be more subjective than the previous obvious example. A law enforcement officer must have sufficient reason based on more than a hunch. Observations, experience, and known facts can reach a critical mass for probable cause.

Warrantless searches are also legal in exigent circumstances when the officer believes evidence will be destroyed, there is a threat to public safety, or the suspect might flee. Police can also search someone who is suspected of committing a felony and fleeing.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

Fruit of the poisonous tree is a legal doctrine that states evidence found through any illegal means cannot be used in court. The “poison” goes beyond the initial breach (tree). One piece of evidence leads to another in typical investigative work. Any subsequent evidence (fruit) based on the initial breach also cannot be introduced by prosecutors.

Other examples of the fruit of the poisonous tree include the following:

  • Forced confession
  • Statements made during an interrogation where the suspect didn’t receive their Miranda warning

Understand Your Rights in a Criminal Case

When someone is questioned or arrested, it is understandable if they are nervous and fearful. They may feel pressured by law enforcement. All Americans retain their rights and are innocent until proven guilty.

If you are suspected of any crime, your first conversation should be with a skilled attorney and not with the police. At Mitchell & West LLC, our criminal defense team has the experience and insight to fight aggressively for you.

Schedule a case review online or call (305) 783-3301.