Understanding Search and Seizure Laws in Oklahoma
The Bill of Rights is now over 220 years old and within it are some of the most fundamental civil rights that we still can count on today as Americans. One of these, the Fourth Amendment, protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures and remains a powerful protection that is still honored under the law. Of course, there are nuances to this right and if you’re facing a criminal charge that involves a search and seizure, you likely have many questions surrounding it. When is a search and seizure legal? Can a search and seizure be legal if there is no warrant? Can evidence that was found in an illegal search be used against me?
When you contact my firm at the Military Law Group, I can answer all of your questions to the best abilities. I understand how stressful these times can be, which is why I am here to guide you in the right direction. From my offices in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I’m proud to help those throughout the Tulsa metro area including Rogers County, Creek County, and the Creek and Cherokee Nations.
Your Rights Under the Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment outlines some fundamental rights that everyone should be familiar with. The text of the amendment reads, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” Of course, what constitutes an “unreasonable” search and seizure is open to some interpretation, which can make using the Fourth Amendment as a defense complicated at times.
The text also goes on to state that “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” This part of the amendment further describes the process under which a search and seizure can take place, namely when a valid warrant is issued by the courts.
It's important to emphasize that this warrant does not give an officer permission to search anything they want; it must be specific to the person and crime under investigation.
Warranted Search and Seizure
Typically, in order for a search and seizure to be legal, an officer needs either your consent to perform the search or probable cause.
Consent: If an officer asks you if they can search your property—whether it's your car, home, backpack, or person—and you say yes, you have essentially just forfeited your Fourth Amendment rights. Now, any incriminating evidence that the officer finds in the course of their search can be used against you.
Probable Cause: If you do not give your consent to a search, then the officer needs probable cause, which means they have reason to believe that if they search you they'll find incriminating evidence. If this happens during a traffic stop, probable cause to search your vehicle could be the smell of alcohol or something clearly visible in the back seat like a weapon. Another way an officer can legally search your property is by obtaining a search warrant which they can request by presenting evidence showing probable cause to a judge.
Valid Searches and Seizures Without Warrants
If the officer doesn’t obtain a warrant, there are still several instances where they can search you legally. One way that this can be examined is by asking whether the person had a “legitimate expectation of privacy,” and if they did not, then the Fourth Amendment typically does not apply. This is tested by asking two questions:
Does the person expect privacy?
Is this an objectively reasonable expectation? (i.e. would another reasonable person also expect privacy under the same conditions?
For example, almost everyone would agree that you have a reasonable expectation of privacy when you’re in your own home or using a restroom at a public place. However, there are other examples where you may not be able to expect as much privacy. For instance, if you’re standing in a public place committing an illegal act or if you’ve left something out that’s incriminating in plain sight (like the example above of an officer clearly seeing through a car window that there’s a weapon on the seat).
Understanding the Exclusionary Rule
One last concept to understand regarding searches and seizures is called the exclusionary rule. So what is the exclusionary rule? Essentially, it allows certain evidence that was discovered during a search and seizure to be excluded for use against the defendant if it was later found to be obtained illegally. This rule allowing the court to exclude evidence can be very helpful in some defense strategies.
Once the evidence has been deemed inadmissible under the exclusionary rule, the prosecution can no longer use it as part of their argument—even if it’s already been presented to the jury.
Enlist Strong Legal Representation
If you’re searching for an experienced criminal defense attorney in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area, reach out to me today at the Military Law Group. I can help you better understand your rights surrounding searches and seizures and will work tirelessly to defend your best interests.