The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals against unreasonable governmental searches and seizures; the overriding purpose of the warrant requirement is to protect people’s privacy interests. Every person who lives in the United States has a reasonable expectation of privacy in his/her private affairs and property; generally, people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place that they live, and/or in the items that they own. Conversely, people generally have no expectation of privacy in their public affairs or in things they hold out to be public.
Law enforcement generally needs a valid search warrant before it can lawfully search a person or his/her belongings. To be valid, a warrant must be issued by a neutral and detached judge, and must be based on adequate probable cause; the warrant must sufficiently describe the place to be searched and/or the items to be seized. Although search warrants are generally required before the government can intrude on a person’s private affairs, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement. As they say, “for every rule, there is always an exception to the rule”.
Below following are some noted exceptions to the search warrant requirement, some of which may or may not apply in Washington State:
(1) Consent exception – If a person gives knowing, voluntary and intelligent consent to a search, a police officer does not need a search warrant to conduct a search and seizure; (2) Search incident to a lawful arrest exception – Generally the law holds that when a police officer arrests a person for allegedly committing a crime, he can search the person and areas into which the person might reach to obtain a weapon or destroy evidence (Recently, this exception has been greatly curtailed both in Washington and in other states across the country; that is to say, courts have chosen to limit the amount of intrusion police can have on a person’s private affairs, space and/or property.); (3) Automobile exception (not applicable in Washington State) – A police officer does not need a valid warrant to search a vehicle that he has probable cause to believe contains contraband or evidence of a crime; (4) Investigatory stop exception – A police officer may stop a person if he has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot; the officer may conduct a protective frisk or pat down of the person’s outer clothing if he has a reasonable belief that the person may be armed and dangerous; (5) Plain view exception – A police officer does not need a valid warrant if he is legitimately on a person’s premises and sees evidence of a crime and/or contraband in plain sight, and the he has probable cause to believe that the item is evidence of a crime; (6) Exigency exception – Warrantless searches or entries can be done where there is a need to prevent imminent danger to others, to give emergency help or to prevent the destruction or the hiding of evidence; (7) Inventory searches exception – generally, a police officer does not need a warrant to search a car if he has lawfully seized a person’s car and is inventorying the content of the vehicle; (8) Entry to arrest with arrest warrant exception – A police officer does not need a search warrant if he has an arrest warrant and enters a home to arrest the person noted on the warrant; (9) Search of probationer’s home exception – A probation officer does not need a warrant or probable cause to search a probationer’s home so long as there is a valid state and/or federal law that allows such searches. This type of search commonly occurs in federal cases.
In any Western Washington criminal case, a qualified Western Washington criminal attorney will review the case to determine: (1) if law enforcement conducted a search and/or seizure, and (2) if there was a search and/or seizure, was it lawfully conducted. If it is determined that a search was unlawfully conducted, a qualified Western Washington criminal defense attorney will move to have any evidence obtained by way of the unlawful search suppressed; in other words, exclude that evidence from use at trial because it is “fruit of the poisonous tree”.
The Western Washington criminal attorneys that make up the criminal defense team of SQ Attorneys are highly qualified criminal defense lawyers that are dedicated to providing top notch, aggressive representation for those charged with committing crime in and around Western Washington and the greater Puget Sound region. The SQ team creates success by working with law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney’s office to ensure that all facts and circumstances related to a criminal allegation(s) are considered in creating the fairest, most equitable and just resolution possible. SQ Attorneys creates success without limits.