Search Warrants And Evidence Suppression

Search Warrants & Evidence Suppression in Chicago

search warrants and evidence suppressionTo help meet their Burden of Proof in a criminal or traffic case, prosecutors often rely upon evidence obtained from suspects during an investigation. It could be in the form of personal property, documents, physical evidence from one's person (DNA, blood, hair, etc.) statements, etc. But sometimes, police obtain evidence in violation of an individual's right to privacy as protected by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. When that happens, smart defense attorneys will file a Motion to Suppress that evidence. Then a hearing will be held to determine if such a violation occurred, and if the court finds a violation, whether that evidence should be barred from the use at trial or hearing as a penalty for the violation. This is known as "The Exclusionary Rule."

Your Rights Under the Fourth Amendment

While Illinois, as well as every other State, have their own Constitutions that separately delineates many of the same rights as the Federal Bill of Rights, when it comes to the Fourth Amendment, Illinois Courts interpret the Illinois Constitution to be "in lockstep" with the Fourth Amendment, and Federal precedent on any such issues will control how an Illinois court should rule. The Fourth Amendment provides as follows:

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.

Courts have read this to mean that warrants are the preferred method for police to conduct searches. The idea is that the police should first take their grounds for a search to a neutral magistrate or judge, who will then make an independent determination. The judge will decide whether or not probable cause exists to believe that evidence or instrumentalities of a crime will be located in a certain place, and after hearing that information will then issue a warrant that is limited in scope to seize a particular thing or things, within a specific area to be searched.

Requirement of a Search Warrant

Often times, though, police must act quickly, and do not have the ability to go see the judge first before conducting a search. In those instances, on a purely case-by-case basis, exceptions to the warrant "requirement" have been carved out by our courts. In these special circumstances, the courts have looked to the "reasonableness" of a search taking into account the "totality of the circumstances." Many learned treatises have been authored over the decades by legal scholars, analyzing the case law, the history behind the cases, the public policy concerns that drove some of these decisions, and how modern advances in technology have challenged practitioners to figure out how to apply a two-hundred-plus-year-old document to them.

Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement

One common situation that allows for a warrantless search is the search conducted incident to one's arrest. Basically, if you are being arrested for a suspected offense, the police may conduct a full search of your person (including strip searches and cavity searches in some circumstances), as well as the "immediate reach and grab" area where you were taken into custody. This is to allow the police to secure a person for their own safety, as well as a potential crime scene to prevent the destruction of evidence. So, if you are arrested for something, and evidence of other crimes is found in your pockets, that evidence will most likely be admitted against you, even absent a warrant.

Another common search that does not necessarily require a warrant is the "automobile exception." The first case to rule on this was U.S. vs. Carroll, which came straight out the days of running Moonshine. The Supreme Court held that due to the ability to hide illegal contraband in an automobile and transport it quickly out of a jurisdiction, that the police would not need to first obtain a warrant before stopping and searching an automobile. But this would require probable cause to believe the crime was happening, that the evidence was in the car and existed, therefore making the police conduct "reasonable" under the circumstances. Over the years, the exception was litigated from various angles, and exceptions to the exceptions were carved out, such as the rule that one may not search the entire interior of an automobile incident to the arrest, at least where the suspect has already been removed from the vehicle, the vehicle is secured, and a warrant could be obtained.

Another automobile case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court about 30 years ago, dealt with the issue of whether or not a Mobile Home Camper, parked in a downtown Los Angeles city parking lot, was a "private residence" requiring a warrant prior to a search, or an automobile allowing for the exception to the warrant requirement. In a split decision, the Court ruled that it was an automobile, in that it was not hooked up to any utilities, was on wheels, not blocks, and could readily be started with a turn of the ignition key and driven away. The case was California vs. Carney, and it was a classic example of how "bad facts" can make "bad law", because it was alleged in that case that the defendant was using his mobile home as a base for his marijuana distribution activities, where he gave marijuana to teenage boys in exchange for sexual favors.

Other exceptions to the warrant requirement include "hot pursuit", where police enter into an area of privacy, such as a home, on the proverbial heels of a person fleeing to prevent an arrest for a felony or other serious offense; "plain view", where the police, from a lawful vantage point, observe evidence of the crime out in the open; and of course, "consent", where an individual actually gives police permission to conduct a search that they might not otherwise be entitled to make. Many cases have been litigated over these exceptions.

Motion to Suppress Evidence

When litigating a Motion to Suppress Evidence, it is the burden of the Defendant to show that the police search complained of was "unreasonable." It is also the burden of the Defendant to show that suppression of the evidence is required in order to act as a deterrent to future police misconduct. The burden is by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that it must be found more likely true than untrue.

Typically, a Defendant, either through the testimony of the searching officer, or by the Defendant's own testimony, establishes that at the time of the search, the police did not possess a valid search or arrest warrant for the defendant or the premises, and that the police did not directly observe him or her violating any laws of any jurisdiction in their presence. The burden of proof then shifts to the State to show that there was a lawful basis for the search, under the many exceptions available.

Sometimes, police actually do get a search warrant, but due to defects in the process, the warrant may be invalid. As long as the police acted in "good faith" in obtaining and executing the warrant, courts will generally uphold the validity of the search, and admit the evidence seized at trial. However, if the police acted in bad faith, and either deliberately or with reckless disregard, presented false or misleading evidence to a judge that resulted in the issuance of a warrant, then all of the evidence obtained from that warrant will indeed be suppressed.

In other cases, police may obtain evidence in violation of the Fourth Amendment, but the courts may refrain from imposing the Exclusionary Rule as a penalty, due to the lack of deterrent value in the particular case. In other words, the courts may hold that society's interest in seeking justice and the proper apprehension and prosecution of criminals, takes precedence over an individual's expectation of privacy, where the privacy zone violated was one that was not due to deliberate behavior, but a mistake. The courts have held that, in those cases, suppression of evidence is not an appropriate remedy, but that such individuals may exercise their right to sue the police for any Fourth Amendment violations. While this trend has not taken hold as much as the government would like, or as much as defense attorneys fear, it is a very real consideration with each case. Many predict that this will be what ultimately kills the Exclusionary Rule once and for all, resulting in a further erosion of the Fourth Amendment, our civil liberties, and our individual right to privacy.

Protect Your Civil Liberties

If you have been arrested for a criminal, traffic, or DUI offense, you need an experienced Chicago criminal lawyer that can defend you, assert your rights in court, and fight for you against the power and might of the State. You need the attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC. We are located in Arlington Heights and Chicago, and can meet you in other locations as well. We are ready to defend you. Call us today for a free initial, confidential, consultation at (800) 996-4824.

Additional Information

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : January 10, 2023