The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution bars law enforcement officers from conducting unreasonable searches or seizures. In order to conduct a search of someone’s person, vehicle, or home, police must have either a valid warrant issued by a judge or probable cause – that is, a reasonable suspicion supported by circumstances to suggest a suspect has committed a crime. A violation of this amendment can disqualify any illegally obtained items from admission into evidence at court. In many cases, this can lead to the outright dismissal of charges against a defendant.
§ 19.2-53 of the Code of Virginia specifies what items the Commonwealth can seize. Let’s explore them in detail.
Weapons Used in the Commission of a Crime
Police may search for and seize a weapon investigators believe played a role in the commission of a crime. For example, in the aftermath of a shooting, officers can take the gun they believe was used. They can also take ammunition, spent shell casings, gun cleaning supplies, and other items that may link the weapon to the crime.
Items That Are Unlawful to Possess or Sell
Police can also seize items that are illegal to possess or sell. Such items include drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. They also include paraphernalia used for taking drugs, as well as materials and equipment used for selling them. Police can also take weapons that are illegal in Virginia, like sawed-off shotguns.
These items also include “the fruits of any crime.” Probable cause would allow police to search or seize a car reported as the subject of a carjacking or a television with the serial number removed. It could also potentially allow them to take paperwork and other documents that appear forged or stolen.
Evidence of the Commission of a Crime
Such items include biological evidence like blood and hair samples. They also include photographs, videos, written documents, and electronic records that may document criminal activity. Even if the records are your personal property, police can seize them if they have probable cause linking them to a crime or a warrant to that effect.
A Person with an Outstanding Warrant
If the police have a valid arrest warrant, they can take the subject of that warrant into custody. Law enforcement officers can arrest and detain this person even if they find the individual on private property. The police can also conduct a search if they believe evidence related to the warrant may be present.
What Types of Search and Seizure Are Illegal?
Searches without probable cause or a warrant are illegal. As such, random vehicle checkpoints and stop-and-frisk scenarios based on appearance rather than evidence are prohibited. Searches beyond the scope of a warrant are also not allowed. This prohibition includes searching areas of a home not listed in the warrant. However, items found in plain sight may be subject to seizure.
Evidence found during an illegal search cannot be used in court. If your arrest or the charges against you are based primarily on the results of an illegal search and seizure, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to have the case against you dropped.
Crucially, you have the right to refuse a search without a warrant. If an officer tries to search you, ask if you’re under arrest and if they have a warrant. If they do not, you can tell them that you do not consent to the search.
Contact a Fairfax, Virginia, Criminal Defense Law Firm Today
Any run-in with the law can feel overwhelming, but remember that you still have rights. If you believe you were the subject of an illegal search or seizure, a criminal lawyer in Fairfax, VA, can stand up against the injustice you have suffered. The experienced attorneys at Whitestone Young, PC, have successfully represented clients in Fairfax County for over 40 years, and we are ready to get to work for you. Contact us today for a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you.