If you are researching what qualifies as a lawful search and seizure in California, then you have come to the right place. We will address the laws behind it, define it, and explain how it works. This is not legal advice and our advice is always the same: if in doubt, talk to an attorney.
If you have been pulled over and searched or have had law enforcement request access to your personal property or even force themselves in – then you are possibly trying to understand what happened and if it was legal. In some instances, you may even have had your money, property, or even yourself or another person taken by law enforcement. And it turns out that what feels like a break-in and/or theft to is also considered legal by the courts under specific circumstances.
But sometimes those circumstances need to be analyzed to determine whether they are within the bounds of the law or not. That’s where we, as civil rights lawyers and advocates, come in. We can help you understand your civil rights and to see whether or not they were infringed upon. Let’s first define what Search and Seizure mean on the state and the national level.
The Legal Principles Behind Search and Seizure Federally
The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures and requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before searching (with some exceptions).
The 4th Amendment:
“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.”
In simpler terms, it ensures that citizens have a right to privacy and guards against arbitrary intrusions into their personal space. This means that law enforcement officers cannot simply search a person’s home, belongings, or person without a valid reason and without obtaining a warrant issued by a judge based on probable cause.
Imagine you’re at home, and the Fourth Amendment acts like an invisible shield around your personal space. Without a proper reason backed by evidence (probable cause) and a warrant, authorities can’t just barge in and start rummaging through your things. Now, let’s say you’re walking down the street, and a police officer stops you for no apparent reason and starts going through your backpack without permission or a valid cause – that would be an example of an illegal search and seizure, violating your Fourth Amendment rights. On the other hand, if there is reasonable suspicion or evidence that you are involved in criminal activity, the officer may have the grounds to conduct a search, provided they follow the proper legal procedures.
A notice goes out that a young caucasian man in a black pick-up truck with four doors has been seen leaving a crime scene. Another man, who is middle aged and Hispanic, was also seen driving in a gray pick-up truck near the vicinity of the crime. If that man is pulled over, there is probably cause to do so as any officer can argue that the factors were similar enough to justify a stop.
The same event mentioned above happens but this time a 58 year old man of Indian descent is pulled over while driving a red Mercedez-Benz Sedan 4 days after the incident. The officers obligate him to get out of the car, search the man, search his car, and detain him. The man is irritated as he is being treated like a suspect in a crime that bears no relevance to his circumstance. His verbal disagreement with the officers leads to a forceful arrest and injury to his person. This man may have a case and would be recommended to speak to civil rights attorneys like ourselves.
There are so many factors that go into what civil rights are, how they are violated and what they mean to each case. But the whole point of having the 4th amendment is to protect our civil liberties so these things don’t happen in the first place. Does this, however, change on the state level? What would this mean if this happened in California?
What Does Illegal Search and Seizure Mean in California?
In California, however, additional protections are provided that reinforce and go beyond the U.S. Constitution:
Article I, Section 13 of the California Constitution states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable seizures and searches may not be violated; and a warrant may not issue except on probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons and things to be seized.”
So as you can see, Article I, Section 13 of the California Constitution is very similar to the Fourth Amendment at the state level, safeguarding the privacy rights of Californians. In basically shields individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures, mirroring the federal protections but with a specific focus on the state’s legal framework. This means that people in California have the right to be free from unwarranted intrusions into their personal space by government authorities like the LAPD, the Sheriff’s Department, and so forth.
Picture this California provision as a virtual boundary around your personal affairs in within California itself. Just like the Fourth Amendment, it prevents authorities from conducting searches or seizures without a valid reason and a warrant issued by a judge based on probable cause. For instance, if you’re at home in California, this constitutional provision acts as a shield against law enforcement entering your residence without proper justification and legal authorization. If, however, there is a legitimate reason to believe you’re involved in criminal activity, law enforcement may be permitted to search, but only if they adhere to the established legal procedures and respect your constitutional rights.
For example, let’s use LAPD as an example. They can enter your home if they have a warrant issued by a judge. This warrant is like a permission slip based on evidence (probable cause) that they present to a judge, who decides if it’s valid. If the police have this warrant, they can come in.
Another scenario is if they see a crime happening inside or believe someone’s safety is at risk. If they, for example, hear a scream or see something illegal through your window, they might enter to stop the crime or help. In this case, they have probable cause to explain why the entered without a warrant.
Also, if you give them permission to enter, they can come in. But be careful with that one – you have the right to say no if you don’t want them inside. It’s like your way of keeping control over who comes into your personal space. So, unless they have a good reason backed by a warrant or an emergency, your home is like your castle, and you get to decide who’s invited. But if a crime is perceived to have occurred within the castle (perceived as in seen or heard), then you may lose that control. A common occurrence is when neighbors report hearing screaming. That is typically not enough to have law enforcement enter your home with a warrant. They will come and ask if everything is okay and they may even ask if they can enter your home. This is where this provision can kick in and you can say, “No!”
HOWEVER, if someone reports that there is an armed man inside your home and holding people hostage – this can lead to a unwarranted search of your home. This is a double edged sword as a call like that may seem like if it merits a response at that level, but people, like they often do, abuse this too. The term “swatting” comes from this very situation. Lives has been lost and personal injury has been caused by this vile practice. Of course, and it goes without saying, that reporting such a crime maliciously with the intent to harass someone is very illegal.
As you can see, striking a balance between personal civil rights and public safety can be tricky at times.
So, what is considered illegal search and seizure in the state of California? Illegal search and seizure occurs when your rights, both state and/or federal, are violated. Examples of these civil rights violations include but are not limited to unlawful stop and frisk, false arrest, no-knock raids without probable cause, excessive use of force during a search, and no-warrant searches without legal consent (or the necessary circumstances that justify the act) to name a few examples.
Options If You Are a Victim of Unlawful Search and Seizure
What should you do if you feel you have been the victim of an unlawful search and seizure in California? It’s simple. Contact an attorney who is familiar with civil rights law and see if you have a case. Why?
Many civil rights lawyers, like Kirakosian Law, work unlawful search and seizure cases at no cost to you unless you win.