Illegal Search and Seizure – Know What to do if it Happens to You

officer with evidence bagOne of my clients recently “walked” after a special unit of the Nebraska State Patrol trained in drug enforcement caught him with about $40,000 worth of illegal drugs. Was it fancy lawyering that got him off? Well, I think it was good lawyering, but that’s not all.  My client went free from the felony drug charges against him because of laws that protect us all, and because of his smart moves during the police encounter leading to his arrest. It’s important to understand, however, that the laws that set my client free aren’t intended to protect the guilty. Rather, they are to protect the innocent – to protect us all. That’s why, when it comes to illegal search and seizure, you should know what to do if it happens to you.

Illegal Search and Seizure – It Could Happen to You

We’re all guaranteed Constitutional protections from government intrusion on our privacy — innocent and guilty alike. With few exceptions, the police can’t legally bother you with a stop, or search you, unless there’s a credible reason to believe you’re breaking the law (ie. probable cause). But can’t and won’t are two different things.

As we’ve seen in the news, despite laws against unreasonable search and seizure, it still happens. Whether or not you think you’re doing something illegal, this is stuff everyone should know. After all, it’s not only guilty people who are subjected to unlawful police searches. It could happen to you, too. While most of the law enforcement officers I know are good cops who don’t purposefully violate citizens’ rights, everyone makes mistakes sometimes.  Law enforcement officers are no different.

Why my client walked

In the recent Douglas County, Nebraska, felony drug case in which my client “walked” instead of serving what could have been a lengthy prison sentence, it happened because the court threw out the evidence against him. All of it.

I made a motion to the court and the judge agreed with me. He refused to allow into evidence the tens-of-thousands of dollars worth of drugs the State Patrol seized from my client’s suitcase, or anything else found during the search. The judge suppressed the evidence because he agreed that it came from an illegal police search. That meant the prosecutor had no choice but to drop the felony drug charges.

I won that Motion to Suppress for my client because law enforcement violated his Constitutional rights with an illegal search. They stopped him without a good reason and they searched his bags without a warrant when there was no exception allowing them to do it. That rendered the evidence they got during the search inadmissible.

I also won because, during the stop, while the Nebraska State Troopers were violating his rights with an unlawful search, my client made the right moves.

What my client did during the stop that was smart

Pay attention to this part. I’m going to tell you exactly what my client did that helped him walk out of the courthouse after being caught with tens of thousands of dollars worth of drugs.

  1. He didn’t run from police when they approached him
  2. He didn’t argue, resist or obstruct during the encounter

It’s pretty simple stuff, but it’s not always easy. Emotions can run high during a police encounter, especially if you feel like they’re violating your rights. In my client’s case, staying calm and cooperative and not arguing or telling the troopers how to do their jobs (like they’d listen anyway) paid off for him. Had my client done any of the above, his case could have ended much differently.

How you can be smart too

If law enforcement stops you, whether or not a search follows, the best things to do to help yourself and your lawyer down the road (should the need arise) are:

 

 

If the police perform an illegal search and find evidence, a good lawyer will try to have it suppressed so it can’t be used in court. If the search was without a warrant, there may be a chance your lawyer can find a legal argument to give you some leverage in court.

Don’t make it harder on your lawyer by doing something during the cop encounter that could end up making an exception to the warrant rule, clock more charges on your docket, or give the prosecution something to use against you in court.

Remember, you aren’t going to settle any disputes over your rights there on the scene. Those will all have to be hashed out in court later. All you are likely to accomplish by resisting police or arguing with them is to make more trouble for yourself.

This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts. 


For details about the author, Hightower Reff  Partner Attorney and criminal defense lawyer Susan Reff, visit her profile page.

Find out more about how Susan and Hightower Reff can help with your criminal case. 

If you need help with a criminal defense case, contact Hightower Reff Law todayand come visit with Partner Attorney Susan Reff at the firm’s Omaha office

Using GPS to Track Your Spouse During Divorce – Forbidden or a Free-for-all?

cell phone tracking and gps trackingUsing GPS to track your spouse during divorce – or tracking them via their cell phone – is a relatively new thing. Beware however, digitally tracking your spouse is a legally dicy deed.

If you think your spouse is digitally sleuthing you, there are some things you can do.

Using GPS to track your spouse – forbidden, frowned upon, or a free-for-all? 

This month marks the five year anniversary of the first Supreme Court Case to address protection of our privacy rights against digital age government intrusion. In that case, the government used GPS without a warrant to track a suspected drug dealer. The Supreme Court decided government use of GPS tracking is a “search,” that triggers Constitutional protections of our privacy.

However, when two private citizens are involved (like using GPS to track your spouse), and there’s no government action at issue, the rules are different. Sometimes those rules aren’t so clear.

To track or not to track? 

In a Nebraska divorce case or other Nebraska family law case, (or in criminal court) the Judge is likely to view recording sound or images of people differently than only tracking whereabouts of a vehicle.

Not long ago, a Nebraska woman involved in a domestic relations case sewed a recording device into her four-year-old child’s teddy bear. As a result, the court ordered her to pay quite a bit of money in damages, plus attorney fees and costs, for violating her ex-husband’s privacy.

Clearly, if you’re considering using GPS to track your spouse, or tracking your spouse via their cell phone, you should consult with an attorney. Ideally, that attorney should have deep experience in both family and criminal law. Here at Hightower Reff, we practice in both areas of law – family law and criminal law. That means when a client’s question crosses practice area boundaries, we can give them a quick, knowledgeable answer.

Ownership is key

In general, in Nebraska, if you’re thinking of installing a GPS unit on a vehicle to track the vehicle’s movements, make sure your name is on the title. If you’re thinking of using an app for cell phone tracking, make sure it’s through a device on your account.

In Nebraska, you could also hire a private investigator to do spousal surveillance for you. Most PI’s in Nebraska use electronic surveillance after they’ve watched the subject enough to establish a pattern of behavior.

If there’s a protection order against you however, paying someone else to follow your ex for you isn’t likely to play well with a Judge (to say the least).

Foreseeable fails 

Beware – using GPS to track your spouse during a divorce (or otherwise) could put you in hot water. Depending upon the situation between you and your spouse, and how you go about monitoring his or her movements, you could run afoul of harassment or stalking laws.

Additionally, if there’s a protection order in place against you, tracking of any sort is an automatic no-go.

Also, emotions are often intense during a divorce. If your spouse finds out what you’ve been up to, your digital detective work may make bad feelings between you and your soon to be ex-spouse even worse.

Tracking cost-benefit analysis

Another thing to consider if you’re thinking of using GPS to track your spouse, or tracking them via their cell phone, is whether the value of information you may get is likely to be worth the risk. If you’re considering using the information in court during your divorce or other family law case, talk to your attorney about whether it’s likely to be admissible.

Consider also that, even if the Judge lets in the evidence, you could be the one who comes out looking the worst. It may appear that you have control issues, are unreasonable – or you’re just a jerk.

All states aren’t the same

Keep in mind that Nebraska law is different from laws of some other states, so this information may not apply elsewhere. Also, whether tracking or surveillance of a certain nature is legal can change depending on what, if anything, is recorded.

It’s always best to consult with a trusted attorney licensed in your jurisdiction before you do something that may get you in hot water. This is especially true when it comes to something that could have criminal penalties – like GPS or cell phone tracking or surveillance.

Protecting your own digital privacy during divorce – what you can do

While you’re considering going modern-day Inspector Gadget, your spouse may have already beat you to the electronics store (or website, or app store.. or to your phone). But there are some things you can do to protect your privacy from digital disruption during your divorce.

 

If you think you’ve been tracked (digitally or otherwise), tell your lawyer. She or he can ask written questions of opposing counsel to find out whether your spouse or anyone acting for them has used cell phone tracking or monitoring, GPS, or the services of an investigator.

If you find out your spouse or someone acting for them hired an investigator, your lawyer should subpoena the investigator and get every last bit of information they’ve dug up about you. If your spouse un-truthfully denies hiring an investigator, they can’t use any information from the investigator in court.

 

This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts. 


For details about the author, Hightower Reff Attorney Scott Hahn, visit his profile page.

More information about Hightower Reff’s divorce practice is available here.

If you need help with a Nebraska divorce, contact Hightower Reff Law today and visit one of the attorneys at the Omaha office. 

Male domestic violence survivors

Domestic violence brings can bring to mind an image of a woman with bruises and black eyes. While this is one face of domestic violence, there are others. Some of them – more than you may think – are male domestic violence survivors.

According to a Centers for Disease Control survey, more than 1 in 4 men will be victims of intimate partner abuse during their lifetimes.

Getting help in a domestic violence/intimate partner abuse situation can be frightening and humiliating. As an attorney who’s worked in this specialized field of law for nearly a decade, I’ve found that embarrassment can be especially intense for male survivors.

If you’re a man experiencing intimate partner abuse, know that there are attorneys who are sensitive to your circumstances and will listen to you. Also, the law is here to protect ALL survivors of domestic violence – male and female.

Nebraska Criminal Domestic Assault Statutes are Gender Neutral

Nebraska law recognizes domestic assault as a separate crime from other forms of assault. Additionally, the language of the statute does not require that there be an actual physical injury for a domestic assault to have happened. In certain situations, threats can be enough.

This law is drafted the way it is in recognition of the fact that domestic abuse takes many different forms – from threats and intimidation to physical assault with weapons or other things that cause injury.

Nebraska Family Law Statues Offer Protection for Male Domestic Violence Survivors 

Nebraska Family Law Statues include the Protection from Domestic Abuse Act. The Act protects all victims of domestic violence and is intended to provide services to help deal with its trauma.

As its name indicates, the Protection from Domestic Abuse Act also provides protection from domestic abuse in the form of protection orders and penalties for violating them.

Domestic abuse protection orders can prohibit an abuser from “threatening, restraining, assaulting, molesting, attacking or otherwise disturbing the peace” of his or her victim. The orders can also forbid phone calls and all forms of contact, remove an abuser from the place where the victim lives and provide for temporary custody of children, among other things.

Emergency Protection Orders 

A traditional protection order requires that the alleged perpetrator be given notice and the opportunity to appear at a hearing to defend themselves against the proposed order. However, the Protection from Domestic Abuse Act allows for emergency protection orders where the victim can show they are in immediate danger of abuse.

These emergency hearings, during which only the survivor is present, are called “ex-parte” hearings. If the court refuses to issue a temporary, ex-parte emergency protection order, it will schedule a hearing where both sides have the chance to present evidence. If the alleged abuser doesn’t show up for that hearing or shows up and fails to convince the court, the court will issue the protection order.

If the court agrees to enter a temporary protection order, the order will remain in effect while the court allows time for the accused to be served with the order and to appear and defend themselves against the protection order continuing.

Once the alleged abuser is served with the ex-parte protection order, it can go several ways:

  • If the alleged abuser is served with the protection order, but doesn’t contact the court to request a hearing within 5 days of being served, the temporary order becomes a final order for one year.
  • If the alleged abuser does request a hearing within 5 days of being served, but  doesn’t show up for the hearing, the order also becomes final for one year.
  • If the alleged abuser requests the hearing within the required time period, and then shows up for the hearing, the court will hear evidence from both sides and decide if the protection order should stand.

When Children are Exposed to Domestic Violence

Along with recognizing that men are sometimes the victims of domestic violence, Nebraska law also recognizes that children exposed to that domestic violence are affected – regardless of who is the victim and who is the abuser.

The law says that both parents are responsible for protecting children from the physical and psychological trauma of domestic violence. This means getting the children out of environments where they’re exposed to domestic violence.

Parents who fail to keep their children out of harm’s way when it comes to domestic violence may lose custody. This could mean the children are placed in foster care – with strangers or with a relative. Whether you’re mom or dad, if you’re a victim of domestic violence and your kids are exposed to it, you’re putting your children and your parental rights at risk.

Protecting Children When you Leave

Regardless of your gender, it’s crucial to take steps to protect your children when you leave a domestic violence situation. That means getting protective orders and custody orders in place. An attorney who knows the ins and outs of the legal and safety issues involved is an important support.

The Nebraska Parenting Act has special provisions for developing Parenting Plans in custody cases involving domestic violence. In all custody cases, specially trained mediators are required to screen for domestic violence. If they determine that domestic violence is an issue, they may find that mediation isn’t appropriate, or that another form of specialized dispute resolution is advisable during which a parenting plan with appropriate protections can be developed and agreed upon by both parties.

If mediation is not an option, or not successful, and the court has to develop a parenting plan in a domestic abuse case, the plan will include provisions to protect the child and/or the child’s parent from further harm.

Don’t Go It Alone

Hightower Reff has a team of attorneys experienced in the specialized issues and procedures that come with domestic abuse cases.

From the criminal end to protection orders and family law and custody issues, we can help. One of our lawyers would be glad to meet with you to talk about how we can help with your case.

Call the office at 402-932-9550, or contact us and make an appointment to come visit with us about your case at our downtown Omaha, Nebraska office.  Don’t go it alone.

This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts. 


For details about the author, Hightower Reff Attorney Scott Hahn, visit his profile page.

More information about protection orders is available here.