The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution prohibit law enforcement officers from unreasonably searching or seizing persons or property from citizens in the United States. This is an issue that should be explored by criminal defense lawyers who represent those charged with possessing contraband such as drug offenses or gun offenses. The Fourth Amendment generally requires officers to obtain a warrant from a judge before searching someone’s home. To comply with legal precedent, warrants need to be specific and limited in scope so law enforcement officers do not exceed the authority given to them by the judge who issued a warrant. The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, recently reversed convictions of a defendant who was charged with drug offenses based on evidence obtained by a search outside the scope of a valid search warrant.
The defendant in the recently decided case was charged with drug and paraphernalia possession after police executed a search warrant on his home. The search warrant was limited to the defendant’s apartment and any shared common areas within the home. When performing the search authorized by the warrant, police officers entered a locked attic that was outside of the defendant’s apartment and found the drugs for which the defendant was charged. Before trial, the defendant attempted to have the evidence from the attic suppressed by the trial court, arguing that the locked attic was not part of the defendant’s apartment nor was it a shared common area in the home. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, and he eventually pleaded guilty to the charges, subject to his right to appeal the court’s decision on the motion to suppress.
On appeal, the higher court questioned whether the locked attic was an area that was included in the search warrant. Because the attic was not a part of the defendant’s apartment, the court had to determine whether the attic was a shared common area of the home as described in the warrant. Because evidence suggested that the attic was locked before the search, the court found that it was not a common area of the home and that the search warrant did not authorize entry into the attic. As a result of this finding, the court ruled that the drug evidence found in the attic should not have been admitted at trial, and reversed the defendant’s convictions which were based upon that evidence.
Law enforcement agencies and state prosecutors are required to respect the Constitutional rights of defendants when investigating and charging criminal offenses. Whether out of ignorance or bad faith, it is extremely common for law enforcement officers to violate the constitution when investigating a crime or making an arrest, and prosecutors rarely abandon or dismiss charges based upon unconstitutional searches without pressure from defense counsel. Defendants who have been subject to illegal police activity often need a qualified defense attorney to make their case and get charges dropped.
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If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, the skilled New York criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates can help. The lawyers and staff in our offices understand how law enforcement and prosecutors operate, and we know how to use the Constitution and the courts to ensure our clients aren’t wrongfully convicted. We represent clients charged with New York drug cases, as well as assault charges and other misdemeanor and felony offenses. To schedule a free consultation with one of our New York criminal defense attorneys, give us a call at 877-377-8666 or contact us through our website today.