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Understanding Your Fourth Amendment Rights

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Wisconsin defense attorney, Wisconsin criminal lawyer, warrantless searchesLegal disputes over the admissibility of evidence seem like they have the potential to be quite dry, but in reality they can make all the difference in the outcome of a case. For instance, if a person is charged with possession of a controlled substance, the prosecution will have a difficult time proving their case if the judge prevents them from actually introducing the drugs to the jury. In the criminal context, one of the most important rules related to the admissibility of evidence comes from the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from “unreasonable” searches. Importantly, if a police officer finds evidence as a result of a search that the court considers unreasonable, then the prosecutor cannot use that evidence in the trial as a punishment for violating the defendant's rights. Police and Warrants The general rule about whether a search is reasonable is whether it was executed pursuant to a valid warrant. Warrants are legal documents that empower the police to perform a search. The police get warrants by going before the judge, and presenting evidence that there is probable cause to believe that a search will turn up further evidence of criminal activity. The mere existence of a warrant does not make all searches valid. For instance, warrants are limited to searching specific premises for specific items. If the police exceed the boundaries of the warrant, then the search may be deemed unreasonable. Similarly, warrants are only good for a limited amount of time. Police are not allowed to seek warrants and then store them indefinitely to use as needed. Searches executed under an outdated warrant may also be considered unreasonable. Exceptions to the Warrant Rule Importantly, the rule that police need a warrant to perform a search is subject to a variety of exceptions. One of the most important exceptions is for vehicles. It would be impractical to always force police to seek a warrant during a traffic stop, so the law allows police to use their own judgment. If the police believe that there is probable cause to perform a search, then they may search a vehicle over the driver's objections. However, if that search turns up evidence of a crime, the judge at trial will have to determine whether the officer actually had probable cause. Another important exception to the warrant rule is one of consent. Police officers are allowed to ask for permission to perform searches of people or their property. People are under no obligation to consent to these searches, but if they do consent, they lose the authority to later contest the reasonableness of the search. The law provides a variety of protections to ensure that people accused of crimes do not have their rights violated. If you are facing criminal charges, and want to learn more about these protections, contact an experienced Milwaukee criminal defense lawyer today.


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