What is privacy?
Privacy means a lot of things, but in criminal court, and in the context of the 4th Amendment, it specifically means that an officer of the law cannot use evidence against you that he or she did not obtain through constitutionally approved search and seizure methods. These methods are complex and lend themselves to various interpretations, but essentially, they boil down to the following fundamental components:
1. An officer must have probable cause to perform a search.
2. If a search was illegal, then evidence seized cannot be used against someone unless an intervening event took place that would have created probable cause regardless of the illegal search (this is known as the “Attenuation Doctrine”)
The 4th Amendment protects against unlawful searches and seizures and has been a cornerstone of our expectations of justice since its ratification in 1791. As part of the Bill of Rights, the 4th Amendment and subsequent interpretations of it, dictate the limitations on our country’s police authority to infringe upon on our freedom. Essentially, our founding fathers deemed privacy to be a basic human right constituting a major component of freedom.
What are my Rights Regarding Unreasonable Search and Seizure?
Monday, May 21, 2016, the definition of privacy was changed as traditionally understood in the context of the 4th Amendment. In Utah v. Strieff, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing drug evidence, which was found as a result of an illegal stop, to be used against the defendant in criminal court. The arresting officer suspected the defendant of illegal drug activity and followed him to a convenient store and asked for his identification without cause. During this illegal stop, the police officer ran the suspect’s name through the database and discovered that the suspect had a warrant out for his arrest for a prior traffic violation. Upon learning about the warrant, the police officer performed a search of the suspect and did indeed find illegal drugs on him. The officer claimed that the discovery of the warrant satisfied the Attenuation Doctrine, so even though the stop was illegal, information obtained because of the stop gave the officer probable cause to search and subsequently arrest the suspect. The evidence was then allowed in court resulting in the suspect’s incrimination. The Supreme Court agreed.
There is of course the following argument: If John Doe has a traffic warrant out for his arrest, then he should be arrested. The polarizing issue here, however, is that the arresting officer suspected him of drug activity, and after performing an illegal stop, was able to use incriminating evidence found during the illegal stop. Essentially, the officer was able to justify the search based on a warrant for an unrelated traffic incident that he wouldn’t have known about except for the fact that he made the illegal stop. The concern is that an illegal stop can now become a means to an end, meaning a person abiding by the law now has a very different expectation of privacy. Not only has the interpretation of 4th Amendment changed in regards to a person’s basic freedoms, but we now must ask how what incentives remain in place for the police force to abide by the mandates of the 4th Amendment.
What do I do if I suspect I’ve been illegally stopped and searched?
It is critical to protect the delicate relationship between law enforcement officers and the rights of community members. If you experienced any violation of your civil rights as a result of police misconduct, contact Barney & Hourihane today to discuss your case with a dedicated Chicago civil rights attorney.