Search and Seizure Laws

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is designed to protect citizens from unlawful searches and seizures by law enforcement. In particular, police officers are required to obtain a search warrant before conducting a search. If the police search people unreasonably on their own property, any evidence that is seized may be inadmissible in court. While this seems straightforward, there are circumstances under which police officers can conduct a legal search without a warrant. If you believe your rights were violated, you need the advice and guidance of an attorney who understands search and seizure law in Florida.

Located in Miami, Valiente, Carollo and McElligott PLLC is committed to protecting the rights of citizens in South Florida. Our legal team is well-versed in the applicable state and federal laws and relevant court rulings regarding search and seizures. If you have been charged with a crime as a result of an unlawful search and seizure, we will work tirelessly to protect your freedom.

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What is a legal search and seizure?

Both federal and Florida law protect individuals from illegal searches when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. A legal search occurs when a law enforcement or government agent conducts a search of your property, information or conversation after obtaining a warrant first.
If the police search your property and find something illegal (e.g. narcotics, weapons) without a warrant, they must have probable cause to conduct a reasonable search. Any evidence seized by the police without reasonable cause, or without you being under arrest, may not be admissible in court. In addition, if you are being detained or “seized” by law enforcement agents, there must be probable cause or a reasonable suspicion that you were involved in a crime.

What is a warrant?

A warrant is a court order that authorizes law enforcement to conduct a search of a specific location and to seize specific materials at a specified time. To be valid under Florida law, a warrant must contain a signature by an impartial judge and a description of the specific persons to be searched or items to be seized. The warrant must also be supported by an oath or affirmation by law enforcement of the basis for probable cause and served by the officers or agents requesting the warrant.

There are a number of circumstances under which law enforcement may conduct a search without a warrant, however, including:

  • Consent — if an individual has given the police permission to conduct a search without coercion, any items or evidence discovered can be legally seized
  • Plain view search — evidence that is located in an area the police can access or that is clearly visible, such as the front seat of a car, can be legally seized
  • Search incident to an arrest — the police have a legal right to protect themselves during an arrest by searching for weapons or evidence that might be destroyed
  • Search of a vehicle during a traffic stop — if the police have reasonable suspicion that a vehicle contains something illegal, they can search the vehicle during a traffic stop
  • Exigent Circumstances/Search for an emergency purpose — if law enforcement believes that taking time to obtain a warrant would jeopardize public safety or that evidence would be destroyed, a search may be conducted without a warrant

Florida law also specifies that it is not necessary to issue a search warrant of a private dwelling if certain crimes or child abuse offenses are being committed therein.

What Should I Do If Have Been Arrested After an Illegal Search and Seizure?

If you have been arrested and believe your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated, the team at Valiente, Carollo and McElligott PLLC can help. We will take the time to learn about the circumstances surrounding your arrest. Did the police have a warrant? Was the warrant properly prepared and executed? Did the police have probable cause to conduct a search without a warrant? Did the police trick or coerce you into consenting to the search?

Our experienced criminal defense attorneys are keenly aware that the search and seizure laws are complicated. We also recognize that the police must often act quickly in pressure-packed, dangerous situations in order to enforce the law and protect the public. This does not mean that they have a right to forcibly enter your home or violate your civil rights by conducting an illegal search and seizure. If the police have seized items illegally, we can file a motion to suppress the evidence. If the prosecution’s case relied substantially on the illegally seized material, the case against you may be dismissed. Guided by a belief that anyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty, Valiente, Carollo and McElligott PLLC is the informed choice in search and seizure law.

Please contact our office today to set up a consultation.