Unlawful Search and Evidence Retrieved – What Might a Court Do?

For years, evidence that police find in violation of a person’s rights under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution – the right against unlawful search and seizure- is commonly ruled inadmissible at trial.

However, over the last 20 years, the Supreme Court of the United States has been signaling in its decisions how that is not always the case. Starting in Hudson v. Michigan the consensus that unconstitutionally seized evidence is inadmissible evidence began softening. The Supreme Court ruled that an improper no-knock entry into a home did not render what police found excludable —reasoning that other remedies were available, like suits under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and administrative discipline inside police departments.

More recently in Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. 54 (2004), the Supreme Court extended their reasoning to good-faith misunderstandings of the law by police when they improperly recover evidence. There, police mistakenly believed that driving with a single brake light out was illegal. The North Carolina law was ambiguously worded enough, the Supreme Court ruled, to not merit chastising the officer for his misunderstanding and allowed the evidence to be admitted.

The Court of Appeals of Virginia recently had occasion to not follow the lead of the Supreme Court in Jones v. Commonwealth [rec. no. 0315-19-1] (Dec. 27, 2019). There, the officer mistakenly believed that changing lanes over the sold white line immediately before an intersection was a traffic infraction—allowing him to stop Jones. The Court of Appeals disagreed saying that because no law prohibited that, the officer acted unreasonably and Heien did not apply.

Issues relating to unlawful search and seizure, and evidence collected during such unlawful searches or seizures, are amongst some of the most difficult a person accused of a crime may be facing.  A criminal defense attorney can assist you in determining what, if any, evidence the police have may against you may be excluded from trial and not presented to a Court for consideration.

If you or someone you know is facing a criminal charge where there may have been an unlawful search or seizure, please reach out to one of our criminal attorneys to help at info@wmmlegal.com or 804.423.1382