If you currently have criminal charges pending the State of California you undoubtedly hope those charges do not result in a criminal conviction. Avoiding a conviction can occur in one of three basic ways – dismissal, plea agreement, or acquittal. An acquittal means that you took your case to trial and a judge or jury decided the prosecution failed to prove your guilt. A plea bargain requires you to plead guilty to at least one offense; however, other offenses may be dismissed as part of the agreement. An outright dismissal of all charges usually only occurs when the prosecutor makes the decision that there is insufficient evidence on which to proceed with the prosecution. One way in which this may occur is if your attorney is able to exclude critical evidence from trial. In fact, excluding illegally obtained evidence in a California criminal case is a common defense strategy.
Police officers are required to obey the law as well as uphold it. Although law enforcement officers have a considerable amount of leeway when investigating a crime they cannot obtain evidence illegally and then use that evidence in court. So, how is evidence obtained illegally? Typically, illegal evidence is obtained by conducting an illegal search and seizure.
Both federal and state laws require a police officer to obtain a search warrant before conducting a search in most cases. This applies to a search of your home, your business, even your person. Though the Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS, has carved out a number of exceptions to the warrant requirement, even those exceptions must be justified. Moreover, even if a warrant was obtained prior to a search, the search and seizure could still be declared illegal for a number of reasons, such as:
- The affidavit on which the search was based lacked the probable cause required to secure a warrant
- The warrant was too broad with regard to the geographic area to be searched.
- The warrant lacked specificity with regard to the items that were the subject of the search.
- The warrant was technically defective (ie: had the wrong address, lacked a signature etc.)
- The officer who executed the search exceeded the scope of the warrant.
Even if the warrant was defective, however, the judge may allow use of the evidence if the prosecution can establish “good faith” on the part of law enforcement.
As you should be able to see by now, there are a number of ways in which a search and seizure can be declared illegal. If a search is declared illegal, all evidence obtained during the search becomes inadmissible at trial.
If you believe that the police conducted an illegal search and seizure in your pending care, be sure to discuss the possibility of excluding evidence obtained during the search with your California criminal defense attorney.