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Fourth Amendment Searches - Utah Criminal Attorney

The Fourth Amendment guarantees protection against unreasonable warrantless searches and seizures.  If the police have obtained evidence in violation of the Fourth Amendment, that evidence may be ordered suppressed by a judge. As an experienced Utah criminal defense attorney, Stephen Howard can perform a case analysis to determine whether there are viable grounds for a motion to suppress in your case. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation.

Effects of a Successful Motion to Suppress in a Utah Criminal Case

The United States Supreme Court has determined that evidence obtained by police actors in violation of a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights can be ordered suppressed by the trial court. Evidence which is suppressed is not available for use by a prosecutor at trial.

This suppression order can also extend to evidence that is considered to be "fruit of the poisonous tree." This means that if police initially obtain information in violation of a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights, and then use that information to obtain additional evidence, both the initial evidence and any evidence discovered as a result of the initial violation can be suppressed.

Utah Search and Seizure Law - Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

Courts will normally grant a motion to suppress on Fourth Amendment grounds only if a defendant can show a "reasonable expectation of privacy" in the place, acts, or materials that are the subject of a warrantless police search or seizure. Activities conducted in a public place or in a public manner will not receive the same protection under the Fourth Amendment. Consider the following examples:

A person's home receives some of the strongest protections under the Fourth Amendment. Because most people expect that activities in their homes are considered private, police will normally be required to obtain a warrant before entering or searching a person's home. Absent a warrant, police normally cannot use listening devices ("bugs") to eavesdrop on private conversations that occur inside a home. However, if a person inside a home is yelling so loudly that a police officer standing on the street can hear what is being said, then courts have determined that the person speaking no longer has an expectation of privacy in the conversation. Police in such a circumstance would not need a warrant.

Electronic communications may or may not involve a reasonable expectation of privacy, depending on the forum in which the communication occurs. Private email communications or text messages may receive Fourth Amendment protections, and police may not be able to obtain records of those communications without a warrant. However, messages posted in public social media forums that can be viewed by others do not carry the same expectation of privacy, and may not receive the same protections.

Exceptions to the Warrant Rule

As a general rule, the Fourth Amendment protects people, homes, vehicles, hotel rooms, telephone conversations, and other actions or property where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. If the police intend to search one of these places, or seize items from such places, a warrant will normally be required. There are, however, a number of exceptions to the warrant requirement. Following is a partial list of some such exceptions.

Police are not required to obtain a warrant if they are acting in the capacity of a public caretaker. A warrant is not required if the police can obtain consent to search. If an item is in plain view, and it is immediately apparent that the item is illegal contraband or other evidence of a crime, the police may not be required to obtain a warrant. In cases of emergency or "hot pursuit" police may not be required to obtain a warrant. A search "incident to arrest" may also be conducted without a warrant.

"Standing" to File a Motion to Suppress

Before a court will order evidence suppressed for a Fourth Amendment violation, a defendant must first establish "standing" to file the motion. In simplified terms, the defendant must establish that his or her rights were violated and that the search or seizure involved a place or property in which the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

For example, if police search a defendant's home without a warrant and find evidence of drug distribution committed by the defendant, the defendant will normally be considered to have "standing" to contest the search - because he has a reasonable expectation of privacy in his own home. However, if police search the defendant's neighbor's house and find evidence of illegal drug activity committed by the defendant, the defendant will likely not have "standing" to contest the search - because he does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his neighbor's home.

Finding a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney in Salt Lake City

The laws surrounding Fourth Amendment search and seizure are very complex. If you are being prosecuted for a crime in Utah and believe that your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated, it is important to have the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. A motion to suppress may form an important part of your defense strategy.

Salt Lake criminal defense lawyer Stephen Howard has handled thousands of serious Utah criminal felony and misdemeanor charges, and has a record of achieving real results for his clients. Contact us now to schedule an appointment for an initial consultation and case analysis.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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