Does Police Misconduct or Negligence Automatically Result in Evidence Suppression?

March 10, 2022 Criminal Defense

Does Police Misconduct or Negligence Automatically Result in Evidence Suppression?

Whenever the authorities conduct a search and/or seizure, there are specific rules that need to be followed. If there have been any illegal searches that have taken place, most people assume that the evidence is automatically suppressed and not used during the trial. However, the rules are a bit more complex than that.

There are certain cases where evidence can be deemed admissible, even if there was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. If a judge decides that the law enforcement misconduct or negligence resulted in no prejudice to the defendant, or that the police action was completed in good faith, then the evidence can still be used against you in court.

An overview of the Fourth Amendment along with an example case will be provided to give more insight on when police misconduct or negligence can still lead to the evidence collected being used against you in a court of law.

The Fourth Amendment and Violations

Under the U.S. Constitution, the Fourth Amendment states that it protects:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by the Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

There are various Fourth Amendment exceptions when it comes to conducting searches, seizures, and the admissibility of evidence. To read more about the exceptions as well as the remedies for a Fourth Amendment violation, read our blog post here.  

If a defendant believes that there has been a Fourth Amendment violation, they will usually file a motion to suppress, alleging that the evidence was collected in violation of their rights. In order to do this, the defendant must be able to prove that they were the victim of an invasion of their privacy which falls under the Fourth Amendment’s protection. Most searches of private property without a warrant are direct violations of the Fourth Amendment. However, there are exceptions to the rules.

The following are potential instances where a warrantless search would be considered lawful by the authorities:

  • If the officer asked the defendant if they could conduct a search and the defendant consented to the search;
  • If the search is incident to a lawful arrest;
  • If there was probable cause to conduct the search and there was a pressing circumstance calling for the warrantless search. This can happen in situations where there is imminent danger, where the evidence in question faces imminent destruction, or prior to a suspect’s imminent escape.

A Case Example

One case sets an example of a circumstance when the evidence can still stand against evidence that law enforcement acted negligently in conducting the search or collecting the evidence. In the case United States v. Nicholson, a man was charged for committing sex crimes against two young girls. The defendant was arrested in Kentucky while he was driving his 18-wheeler work vehicle. The FBI were the ones who were in charge of the case and effected the arrest warrant coming from the Kentucky police.

After the defendant was arrested, his work truck was taken in for safekeeping and was being kept by a wrecker service. When the defendant requested his personal belongings from the vehicle, the employees at the wrecker service refused, claiming that the authorities would want them for inspection.

Yet there was not an immediate inspection. In fact, almost six months passed before the FBI obtained a search warrant for the 18-wheeler. The defendant also had another vehicle in the state of New York that the FBI obtained a search warrant for. Incriminating evidence was found in both vehicles, including a laptop and camera both with child pornography that were introduced during the case trial.

The defendant faced multiple sex crime charges and received a sentence of life in prison. However, he issued an appeal for an issue with the FBI’s searches. The defendant claimed that there was an issue with the Kentucky vehicle not getting searched for almost six months, and that the search for the New York vehicle happened after the warrant’s deadline expired.

The 11th Circuit Appeals Court stated, “[t]he FBI’s negligence does not justify excluding the New York or Kentucky evidence.” They backed this statement by saying the technical violation of the rules given the time frame of the warrant did not result in prejudice to the defendant. The FBI employee who conducted the search of the New York vehicle claimed that he wasn’t even aware of the warrant’s deadline. The Kentucky police kept brought in the 18-wheeler assuming the FBI would do a search in a short amount of time, so although the confusion can be argued as “negligent” the appellate court agreed that it should not result in the suppression of the evidence.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime and believe your constitutional rights might be implicated, it is important to seek out the help of an experienced Tallahassee criminal defense attorney. The right legal advice can be the difference between jail and freedom. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have the skill and experience to protect your rights and fight for your freedom. Call (850) 681-7777 or send an online message today and receive a free consultation regarding your case.       

Written by Karissa Key

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