Illegally obtained evidence is a problem in many drug-related cases. With the ongoing rise of heroin, fentanyl, and other opioid possession and trafficking cases in Connecticut, it’s important to look at how illegally obtained evidence plays a role in these cases.
When you are charged with a crime in Connecticut—or anywhere else in the United States—the prosecutor is required to present enough evidence to prove that you committed the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. However, prosecutors and law enforcement officers cannot simply take any evidence they want at any time and have it be admissible in court. Strict rules govern the lawful collection of evidence, and if police violate them, they also violate your constitutional rights. An experienced defense attorney can use such violations to your benefit in your case.
Your Fourth Amendment Rights
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides you the right against unreasonable search and seizure. This means that police officers cannot simply come up to you or stop you and demand to search you on the off-chance you may have drugs or other evidence of criminal activity in your possession.
Instead, the law requires that police first obtain search warrant, and doing so requires the officer to show probable cause that you committed a crime. Once a warrant is issued, the officer has the right to perform a search within the scope of the warrant, and any evidence discovered is considered lawful.
In addition, police officers have the right to perform searches in other limited circumstances without first getting a warrant. For example:
- If an officer is making an arrest, he can conduct a search of the arrestee for any possible weapons or dangerous items.
- If an officer is making an arrest at a traffic stop, he can search for any evidence of the crime for which the arrest is being made. This is called a search incident to arrest. He cannot, however, search places in a car solely to look for evidence of other crimes.
- If an officer is lawfully present at a location and evidence of a crime is in plain view, she has the right to seize evidence without a warrant. This is called the plain view doctrine.
Using Constitutional Violations to Exclude Evidence
All too often, officers don’t abide by the rules of lawful search and seizure. A common situation that can lead to drug charges is when:
- An officer pulls over a car on suspicion of drunk driving
- The officer arrests the driver and places him in the patrol car
- The officer then searches the vehicle and finds heroin tucked above the car visor
- Prosecutors charge the driver with DUI and possession of heroin
In the above case, the driver did not have access to the car, so a search for the officer’s own protection is not warranted. In addition, if the officer was conducting a search incident to arrest, she is limited to search for evidence of DUI, which is what the arrest was for. Evidence of DUI—such as bottles or cans—would not fit above the visor. Therefore, the officer was not lawfully allowed to search there without consent or a warrant.
In the above situation, a defense attorney can recognize that the drug evidence was unlawfully obtained. The attorney could then request that the court deem the drug evidence inadmissible in court because it was unlawfully seized. Without evidence of the actual drugs found, the prosecutor would probably be unable to prove heroin possession and would likely have to drop those charges.
Discuss Your Arrest with Our Highly Qualified New Haven Drug Crime Defense Attorneys
The above scenario is only one of many ways that police unlawfully obtain evidence that is then used by prosecutors. It’s essential that anyone facing drug charges have a defense law firm on their side that can fight to keep unlawful evidence out of court. If you need help after an arrest or criminal charge, please call the experienced criminal defense lawyers at Koffsky & Felsen, LLC at (203) 327-1500 today.