illegal search and seizure | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Procedural Law

Illegal search and seizure refers to actions by law enforcement officers or government officials that violate an individual’s constitutional rights, specifically the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Illegal search and seizure is a term that refers to certain actions by police or other government officials that go against the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. To understand it fully, let’s first break it down into its two parts: search and seizure.

Search and Seizure Defined

“Search” refers to the action of law enforcement officials examining a person, a location, or property to find evidence of a crime. “Seizure” is the act of police taking possession of persons, property, or evidence relevant to a crime.

The Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment plays a central role here. It protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. It requires that for most searches or seizures to be lawful, the police must first get a warrant from a judge. A search warrant is a legal document giving the police permission to search a specific place and seize specific items or people.

Illegal Search and Seizure

An illegal search and seizure happens when the police perform a search or seizure in violation of this protection. For instance, if the police search a person’s car or home without a warrant, without a legal basis, or without probable cause, that could be an illegal search. Probable cause means the police have reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed.

Consequences of Illegal Search and Seizure

Violating the Fourth Amendment is a serious matter. It can have big consequences for both the people involved and the legal process. If the police find evidence through an illegal search, that evidence usually can’t be used in court against a defendant. This rule is known as the exclusionary rule. It’s designed to protect people’s rights and to discourage the police from conducting illegal searches and seizures.

For example, imagine a police officer finds stolen items in a person’s home without a warrant or probable cause. The person is charged with theft. But because the officer found the items through an illegal search, the court can’t consider them in deciding the case.

Seeking Legal Redress

People who’ve been subjected to an illegal search or seizure also have legal remedies. They might be able to sue the police or government officials for violating their constitutional rights. If they win their case, they could receive monetary damages.

Real Life Instances

Let’s illustrate with some examples. Suppose a police officer stops a driver for a minor traffic violation. The officer then searches the car and finds drugs without any valid reason to believe they would be present. This could be an example of an illegal search.

Or consider a case where the police enter someone’s home without a warrant or valid legal reason and take away a computer they believe was used in a crime. This could be an instance of both an illegal search and an illegal seizure.

Summing It Up

In summary, illegal search and seizure involve law enforcement officers overstepping the boundaries set by the Fourth Amendment. This could be by searching a person, their property, or their home without proper justification or by improperly seizing property or evidence. This conduct is serious and can lead to evidence being excluded from court and lawsuits against the officers involved. It’s a key part of our legal system’s effort to balance the need for effective law enforcement with the rights of individuals.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/22/2023

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