Imagine being pulled over by police for no apparent reason. Once they pull you over, two police officers come up to your car and open your door.
Then, without saying a word, one of them yanks you out of the driver’s seat.
The two officers handcuff you and sit you down on a nearby curb as they start to search your car.
This situation is exactly the type that the founders of our country hoped to prevent when they passed the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Fourth Amendment provides that:
“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 Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
While the text of the Fourth Amendment is hardly a model of clarity, it stands for everyone’s right to be free from unreasonable governmental searches and seizures.
Search and Seizure Laws in Ohio
In large part, the system of government in the United States allows for states to make their own laws.
Federal law provides a “floor,” meaning states cannot provide their citizens fewer rights than federal law dictates. However, states are free to provide additional protections.
Article 1 § 14 of the Ohio Constitution includes language that is identical to the Fourth Amendment.
While the language is exactly the same as the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Ohio courts can interpret this language independently from how federal courts interpret the Fourth Amendment.
Of course, provided that any difference confers additional rights and not fewer rights to our citizens.
Given the fact that state law confers at least as much protection as federal law, when discussing Ohio search and seizure laws, it is important to start with federal law and then look to Ohio law to determine whether there are additional protections.
What Makes a Search Illegal?
Long ago, courts determined that police must obtain a warrant to execute a search or seizure. Otherwise, courts would deem the search or seizure “unreasonable.”
To obtain a warrant, police officers must submit an affidavit to a magistrate judge. The magistrate reviews the facts in the affidavit and determines whether probable cause exists. If so, the magistrate can issue a warrant.
However, over time, courts read in several exceptions to the warrant requirement. Thus, under the current state of the law, there are several situations in which police officers do not need to obtain a warrant.
If you consent to a search, police officers do not need to obtain a warrant. For example, if police ask to search your car and you agree, you cannot challenge the search based on a lack of probable cause.
If an object is in plain view, police officers do not need a warrant to seize that item. For example, if police see a bag of drugs sitting on the seat of a car during a traffic stop, they do not need a warrant to open the door and seize it.
Search Incident to a Lawful Arrest
Once police arrest someone, they can conduct a limited search of the arrestee and the area in the arrestee’s immediate vicinity. For example, if police arrest you for shoplifting, they can search your pockets.
Stop and Frisk
If police officers have reasonable suspicion that someone is engaging in illegal activity, they can conduct a limited pat-down of the person. For example, if police respond to a call for a person with a gun and you match the description, they could lawfully conduct a stop and frisk.
Courts have held that citizens are still entitled to an expectation of privacy in their vehicles.
However, due to the mobile nature of a vehicle, the courts have held that officers can conduct a search of a vehicle without a warrant, provided they have probable cause to do so.
If police are in hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect, they are allowed to follow him or her into a building without a warrant.
If none of these exceptions exist, police officers must obtain a warrant. However, even when police conduct a search under one of these exceptions, an experienced Ohio criminal defense attorney can challenge the applicability of the exception.
What to Do After an Illegal Search?
If police arrest you based on what you believe to be an illegal search or seizure, you have options. Under Ohio search and seizure laws, evidence obtained through illegal means can be suppressed.
This means the government cannot use that evidence at trial. To challenge the admissibility of evidence, you must file a motion to suppress.
A motion to suppress is a pre-trial motion asking the court to keep evidence out of trial.
If the court grants the motion, then the prosecution is often left without any choice but to withdraw the case because they no longer have the evidence necessary to prove their case.
Have You Been Arrested After a Questionable Search?
If police arrested you after searching you, your car, or your home — you may be able to challenge the officer’s actions that lead to the discovery of evidence.
At Gounaris Abboud, LPA., our Ohio search and seizure lawyers have extensive experience getting illegally obtained evidence excluded.
We regularly litigate motions to suppress on behalf of our clients, often getting the cases against them withdrawn.
Our attorneys handle all types of criminal offenses, including drug crimes, weapons offenses, violent crimes, and more.
To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with an Ohio criminal defense lawyer, call us at 937-222-1515. You can also reach us through our online contact form.