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Search and seizure rules are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and are intended to discourage the government (and law enforcement officials) from overstepping their powers and invading people’s privacy. They apply to every citizen and legal resident universally and equally.
Unreasonable searches are also prohibited under the state constitution in Maine.
However, this doesn’t prevent individuals’ rights from regularly being violated. Drug crime cases are prime examples where this happens quite frequently.
For individuals charged with drug crimes in Maine, the consequences can be dire. If, however, an illegal search and seizure was performed, the charges may be dropped, the case may be dismissed, or the defendant may be acquitted in court.
Let’s consider what constitutes illegal search and seizure for drug cases in Maine.
To ensure a “reasonable” amount of personal privacy for individuals in the U.S., the police must have a warrant or an obvious circumstantial justification for performing a search.
Generally speaking, even if you’re suspected or accused of committing a drug crime, law enforcement cannot simply search your house, car, or personal property. A search warrant is usually required if an officer wants to do anything more than an over-the-clothes frisk for a weapon.
The warrant must apply to a specific location and have a stated scope. Law enforcement must closely abide by the terms for the search to be legal.
So, if the warrant applies to a search of a car but not a house and key evidence is found in the garage near the car, it may not be admissible in court. Drug crime cases can fall apart unless the terms of the warrant are followed to the letter.
There are several exceptions to the warrant rule, where a warrantless search can be legally conducted by law enforcement.
These situations include:
Search and seizure laws are complex but can be key to a successful defense of criminal charges involving drugs. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will assess drug cases with a careful eye on how evidence was obtained.
The terminology used can be a little confusing. Probable cause and reasonable suspicion are similar on the face of it but, legally speaking, the differences can be critical.
For a legal search and seizure, an officer must have probable cause that the person:
…. and that evidence will be found in the place to be searched
Probably cause requires that the officer has a logical belief supported by facts and circumstances that a normal person could understand and agree to. An example would be hearing people shout out for help or seeing a person flee from a business premises with an alarm sounding.
Reasonable suspicion of a crime taking place or about to take place is based on the officer’s experience and training in law enforcement.
For instance, the officer may have been trained to identify the signs of illegal drug use and so, when he/she sees someone acting suspiciously while walking the streets at 3 a.m., it could be reasonable for the officer to stop and question the individual. However, a full-blown search would only be legal if the officer has clearer probable cause of a crime having been committed.
Plain view seizure is the valid seizure of evidence if a law enforcement officer sees something illegal in a place where he/she is legally permitted to be.
If, for instance, an officer is invited into your home and he/she subsequently finds illegal drugs there, responding by seizing the drugs would constitute a legitimate plain view seizure.
However, if you don’t invite the officer in and there is no search warrant or probable cause, any evidence he/she finds would likely not be admissible in court as it would constitute an illegal search and seizure.
In a recent case in Wayne, ME, a search warrant was approved by a judge after a deputy served a protection order with a firearm relinquishment order on a residence there.
The person served told the deputy there were no firearms at the residence because he was a “convicted felon.”
Upon execution of the search warrant, law enforcement found and seized 11 firearms, as well as some quantities of suspected illegal drugs, such as fentanyl, methamphetamine, mushrooms, and cocaine base.
This resulted in the arrest and charging of two individuals for the following crimes:
If you’re involved in a drug case and concerned about illegal search and seizure, calmly and politely refuse consent to search without a search warrant and contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
For experienced legal help with any drug crime, call the Maine Criminal Defense Group at 207-571-8146 for an initial case evaluation.
If you are facing criminal charges in Maine, the attorneys at The Maine Criminal Defense Group are here to help. Call our office to speak with
one of our team members, who will discuss your case with you and set up a consultation with one of our attorneys
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