What are Federal and Maryland Search and Seizure Laws?

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights are intended to protect each of us from illegal searches and seizures.

The Fourth Amendment declares that:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

A search, with or without a warrant, may be conducted of a home, a car, or a person. It is best for an experienced attorney to assess if a search was unlawful and to argue the issue in Court. A successful defense can prevent you from spending years in prison or facing other penalties due to the violation of your Constitutional Rights.

If you or a loved one have wrongfully been charged with a crime as a result of an improper or illegal search and seizure, let our attorneys help. We have decades of experience in the State and Federal Courts of Maryland fighting these issues, and our offices are conveniently located in Rockville and Greenbelt.

Want to learn more about Maryland search and seizure laws or unlawful search and seizure cases? Let one of our attorneys walk you through the following aspects of search and seizure law, and assist you with the legal advice you may need.

What is Search and Seizure?

Searches and seizures occur in many different ways and in all types of cases. Examples of searches include, but are not limited to:

  • The examination of a cell phone or computer
  • Search of a home or vehicle
  • Search of your person and pockets, or of a container, briefcase or suitcase

Examples of seizures include:

  • Traffic stops (whether you are the driver or a passenger)
  • Arrests
  • Taking of property of any type
  • DNA warrants, and many more

Searches and seizures may occur with or without a warrant signed by a judge authorizing the search. Warrantless searches and seizures are not strongly supported and often allow for strong arguments to suppress or exclude evidence obtained through a warrantless search.

Searches are conducted to obtain evidence of a crime or to find and seize property for forfeiture. Searches and seizures can be undertaken in all types of cases for a multitude of crimes, ranging from drug offenses to white collar and violent offenses.

Searches and seizures of property may even occur when you are not present!

Lawful vs Unlawful Search and Seizure Cases

There are many variables to consider when determining if a search is legal or not, so it is important to have a knowledgeable attorney interpret the circumstances from a legal standpoint.

MD Search Warrant Requirements and Probable Cause

Generally, a search warrant is required to perform a legal search, though there are many exceptions. A judge can issue a search warrant when a law enforcement officer presents a sworn affidavit to a judicial officer.

To justify the search, the affidavit must include sufficient probable cause for a search warrant. This means that the officer must explain why there is a reasonable probability that the results of a crime, tools used in a crime, or evidence of the crime will be found at a particular place at a particular time.

In addition to stating probable cause, search warrant requirements dictate that it must describe, with sufficient detail, the items that will be seized. In a recent case handled by Houlon Berman, law enforcement officers seized bank accounts based on a search warrant for drugs and drug paraphernalia. We were able to successfully Petition for Return of the Money because the description of the property seized did not match the property described in the warrant. For more details, review this article about the case.

Legal Searches Not Requiring a Warrant

There are times when searches may be legally conducted without a search warrant. Specific circumstances dictate whether a search without a warrant is legal, so it is difficult to provide a comprehensive list.

For example, laws on search and seizure state that a search may be performed on an individual when he is arrested (known as search incident to arrest). Other examples include an “inventory” search of a vehicle under certain circumstances, or a limited search for a weapon may at times be permissible.

However, in each case, the search has limits and experienced counsel is required to show that those limits were exceeded and that the search or seizure was therefore unconstitutional.

Illegal Searches

A search or seizure is deemed illegal if it occurs without the necessary level of suspicion (probable cause), or without any consent and/or without a warrant. The legal standard for whether a search is valid is subjective or subject to change. This means that the legality of a search or seizure is decided by the Courts depending on the circumstances of each case. An experienced attorney can show the Court why a particular search is not lawful.

What Happens to Property Seized by the Police?

Property taken by the police during a search and seizure can be held as evidence or forfeited, if it is not returned to the owner.

Items are returned to the owner if the judge believes any of the following:

  • The items taken are not what was described in the warrant
  • There is no continuing reason for retention of the property as evidence of crime (for example a computer or cell phone after the contents have been copied and downloaded)
  • There is no basis to forfeit the property as proceeds of or items used in a crime or for restitutionary purposes.

Protect Your Rights – Contact Houlon Berman

If you believe you or a loved one have been charged with a crime based on evidence obtained illegally, contact Houlon Berman. We can help you understand your 4th Fourth Amendment rights and make arguments in Court to enforce those rights. If you have questions regarding Maryland’s search and seizure laws, speak to one of our attorneys today.

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