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The Problem of “Equitable Sharing” By Police Departments – Part 2

In a previous post we shared information on the troubling practice of “equitable sharing” by police departments across the country. As outlined in a helpful Washington Post story this year, laws passed in the wake of September 11th to crack down on alleged national security threats are now being used to seize enormously valuable property from completely innocent residents. The practice is a striking reminder of the need to remain vigilant about protecting one’s rights. Even individuals who have never committed a crime before can find their lives turned upside down as a result of overzealous law enforcement practices.

Individual Rights

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution clearly spells out “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” without a search warrant. Additionally, a search warrant can only be issued upon a showing of probable cause and must describe the item to be seized and the place to be searched with reasonable particularity. There are a few exceptions to this warrant requirement:

  • Exigent circumstances: emergency situations where police may secure premises for a reasonable time to enable officers to obtain a warrant when they have a reasonable belief failure to do so will result in the destruction of evidence
  • Search incident to arrest: a warrantless search that is reasonable in scope and is made incident to a lawful arrest
  • Consent: serves to eliminate the need for police to have probable cause or to obtain a warrant
  • Automobile exception: allows police to search anywhere in a car – including inside passengers’ belongings — they believe to hold contraband but must be supported by probable cause
  • Plain-view doctrine: situations where contraband or evidence is clearly seen because it is in public (where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy) or is in the apparent view of an officer although it is located in a private place (where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy)
  • Administrative searches: situations involving non-consensual fire, health, or safety inspections of residential or private commercial property
  • Stop and frisk: search that occurs during a limited and temporary intrusion of an individual’s freedom of movement that does not amount to a full custodial arrest

But these exceptions are exhaustive and any searches outside their purview are presumptively unconstitutional. Thus, for example, a traffic stop alone does not give police authority to search a vehicle or a briefcase inside the trunk. Police can always ask for permission to search, but drivers may always decline. But one important extra note: police do not have to tell drivers about their right to refuse.

Get Legal Help

If you had money or other belongings seized by a police officer in a routine traffic stop or for other minor infractions such speeding or broken tail lights, you may want to consider talking to an attorney. Contact the experienced Miami criminal defense attorneys at Ratzan & Faccidomo, LLC today at (305) 330-3905 to learn more about how you can assert your constitutional rights and protect yourself against aggressive law enforcement conduct.

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