The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that police cannot search you or your property without a warrant or probable cause.
So what happens if law enforcement officers violate this protection? Is there anything you can do if police illegally searched you and you were convicted of a crime based on the evidence they found? A recent California Supreme Court decision proves that you should never give up on your case if your rights were violated.
Can Police Search You During a Traffic Stop?
The case (People v. Macabeo, 2016 DJDAR 11973) involved a man who was riding his bike in Torrance. Under Vehicle Code Section 21200, bicyclists in California must follow the same rules of the road as drivers. So when the man rode past a stop sign without stopping, he was stopped by police officers.
This traffic violation is a minor infraction, but the officers treated it like a serious crime. They patted down the man and found his cellphone. Without his consent, the officers went through the man’s phone and discovered images of child pornography.
The man was arrested and charged with child pornography possession. However, the defendant felt that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when police searched him during a routine traffic stop. Did police have a reason to search him without first obtaining a warrant?
Police Can’t Search Your Cellphone without a Warrant
Based on the belief that the search he was subjected to was illegal, the man appealed the denial of a motion his lawyer had brought to suppress the evidence in trial court. However, the Second District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s decision. Many people would give up after this, but the defendant and his appellate lawyer took the case all the way to the California Supreme Court. Continue reading →