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.