UNDERSTANDING DRUG SEARCH AND SEIZURE LAWS IN OHIO
If you have been charged of a crime -- and even if you are subsequently convicted of that crime -- it's essential to remember that you still have a number of rights as provided by the U.S. Constitution. Although nearly 1.9 million people in the state of Ohio have criminal records, all of those people are granted specific rights that ensure that a speedy and fair trial takes place and that no punishment can be deemed cruel and unusual. Another right all U.S. citizens have is the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Outlined in the Fourth Amendment, this right makes certain that all persons are protected against unlawful searches and seizures of personal property except in cases of probable cause.
For those facing drug charges, it's important to note that your personal property cannot be searched or seized unless you have given consent, a warrant is granted, or there is probable cause to execute those acts. Law enforcement officers have been known to act unlawfully in their pursuit of justice; in those cases, people who are arrested on drug possession charges as a result of unlawful searches may be able to fight the evidence against them. In today's post, we'll talk about what kinds of searches are allowed in drug cases, which kinds of searches and seizures may be deemed illegal, and the possible exceptions to the requirement of a search warrant.
In general, a warrant is required to conduct a search of personal property. In order to secure a warrant, law enforcement must show a judge that there is probable cause that a crime has occurred and that evidence linked to that crime is likely to be found on that alleged criminal's property or on their person. Police will typically need to provide reliable, observable evidence to back up these claims. If a judge feels the claims are credible, they may choose to grant a search warrant -- meaning law enforcement will obtain the legal authority to enter and search the premises for the evidence outlined in the warrant.
There are exceptions that could allow a legal search to occur without having to secure a warrant. If evidence is out in plain view of where police are authorized to be (i.e., on public property or in an area into which they've been invited), officers may not require a warrant. In some cases, consenting to a search may also allow police to gather evidence that can be used against you in court without warrant approval. However, even if you grant consent for police to search, there's a chance anything they find might not be obtained lawfully. Emergency situations, wherein the public could be in danger, could also allow officers to search without the use of a warrant. In addition, law enforcement officers are also allowed to search an individual and their immediate surroundings for weapons following an arrest to ensure the safety of others.
In drug cases that involve the search of a vehicle, what's allowed may not be quite as clear. Essentially, there's an automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment that allows for law enforcement to search a vehicle if they have probable cause to justify it. How valid that probable cause actually ismay be up for debate depending on the circumstances of the case. There is a clear distinction between probable cause and what's referred to as "reasonable suspicion." In other words, law enforcement officers can only conduct warrantless searches and seizures of vehicles when any reasonable person could ascertain the likelihood of criminal wrongdoing. Reasonable suspicion describes a situation in which criminal activity would be apparent to any trained police officer. In this case, an officer's training could make them biased to believe there's evidence to support criminal activity. If an officer uses their experience on the force or a hunch to justify a search rather than real probable cause, they'll likely be violating the person's protection against unlawful searches and seizures.
If you find yourself in a position wherein a law enforcement officer wants you to consent to a search or you feel your property has been searched unlawfully, you deserve reputable legal assistance. For more information, please contact our firm today.